Three Tools You Can Use to Make Effective Lessons

The skill of writing lesson plans is crucial to running an effective classroom. This is common knowledge I am sure most will agree. The question for the effective teacher then becomes:

What teaching tools are out there to use to make effective lesson plans?

In this post I give you three tools, though there are many others, to do make effective lesson plans.

The first tool is a standard, or objective. Here in my state of California, we have made great inroads toward success by using the state standards framework. The Common Core will be here soon and that is also a great way to map out lessons. The objectives for each grade level have been articulated on aour academic standards website and teachers are free to access them. They are also responsible to teach from them and show results at the end of the school year. Every state and district give guidelines, that are usually online, to teaching everything in your year. Continue reading “Three Tools You Can Use to Make Effective Lessons”

Teaching Tips for Classroom Behavior Management

When it starts getting incessantly noisy in your classroom, you have to do something about it. The kids can take over the class and everyone can believe you are shouting at them for no reason.

Becoming a teacher educates you about classroom management right away. When it starts getting incessantly noisy in your classroom, you have to do something about it.  The kids can take over the class and everyone can believe you are shouting at them for no reason … and that’s what they tell their families.  You don’t deserve that and it doesn’t have to be the case.  Here’s something I have done and in fact am currently doing to keep my room a sanctuary for learning:

1) One of the steps to becoming a teacher is to make sure the teaching parts of the day are very enthusiastic and energetic.  Go the extra mile to get them moving and involved in what you are teaching.  You probably will never “wear them out” but look at that as your ideal goal when teaching. Continue reading “Teaching Tips for Classroom Behavior Management”

Guided Practice

Guided practice is showing and releasing the students to do the task or standard at hand. It is probably the most important step of a dynamite lesson plan.

Guided practice is showing and releasing the students to do the task or standard at hand. It is probably the most important step of math lessons especially but of any subject you can teach.  You model the way a problem comes to a solution.  In some ways, it’s the easiest part of the lesson because you are doing the learning objective.  If you are teaching about fractions, you would show the way to do the learning objective only later to release them (independent practice) to do it on their own. Incidentally, there are an increasing number of sites for teachers that can help you with guided practice.   An important part of this step is “checking for understanding” (CFU).  I use playing cards and number off kids.  Then I randomly call on them. Using “random non volunteers” in your CFU is crucial to seeing if they get it.  Your goal is to have them master the learning objective with 80% proficiency prior to closure.  After closure comes “independent practice.” Here are some guided practice lessons.

This brings up an interesting topic on homework.  Homework is not guided practice because no one is guiding the student. In my experience, worksheets are bad homework because the students often do them wrong repeatedly and then they learn it wrong.  It has been said “practice make perfect.” That is not true.  It is true instead to say “practice makes permanent.” Students should only do homework that they have 100% mastered.  This should be determined by the teacher based on assessment during the lesson. Apart from that, silent reading for comprehension is an excellent form of independent practice.  Teachers must remember the difference between guided and independent practice and when each is the appropriate step in the lesson. Educational websites should always promote guided practice as a foundation.

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”

Tip for Improving a Professional Teacher Evaluation

Professional evaluations for teachers can produce stress. However, focusing on the criteria for evaluation can alleviate much of that while also aiding professional growth toward becoming a more accomplished teacher. In this article I share a simple tip.

Teacher evaluations can produce stress. However, focusing on the criteria on teacher evaluations forms can alleviate much of that while aiding professional growth toward becoming a more accomplished teacher. In this article I share a simple tip. Throughout the teaching year, good teachers create and innovate daily to produce results in their students. The federal and state governments set goals for us and we strive to meet those goals, and hopefully exceed them. Unfortunately, during the time of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the goal was, and I am being 100% frank here, to have EVERY child in America score proficient on the same standardized test given each year. I never agreed with this goal for education but I have always striven to make it happen. Now that Obama and Arne Duncan are in office, I understand they are out to revise NCLB rules and expectations. That may be a good thing, time will tell. I can say the most trivial of teaching materials made a world of difference in my evaluation: a plastic desktop cover. Continue reading “Tip for Improving a Professional Teacher Evaluation”

The Organic Teacher vs The Robot

For the past 15 years, the California Teaching Standards have run the show in education. I’m not complaining. For 13 of these years, my job success has relied on them. I have embraced them, made them my own, taught them, and internalized them in the 6 hours a day I am with students in the classroom. In the other daily hours, I strive to come up with ways to make them relevant and memorable. I have tried very hard to not be a robot, simply speaking out standards without any importance or buy-in. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the teachers in the country. I hear news stories about teachers who really have no interest in getting the standards across. They make a facade to the public audience that produces only the bare minimum of learning results. It is enough to get them through to the next contract but fails to raise students to the high level of performance they need to compete in the world.

Those robotic teachers use the standards to negative ends. I feel that teaching to a test can never produce the kind of student that will thrive in the modern world. I am hopeful about what’s coming. I think of it as an “organic teacher.” That means someone who gets earthy and relevant with the standards. The organic teacher is not afraid to be controversial if it meets students needs. The organic teacher paves a path followed by those who want the same measurable success. It can take many forms but it will involve technology such as the best laptop computers. It is not, however, limited by technology. I have often imagined that a simple pencil on paper can be named technology, so don’t let the term steer you off. The organic teacher will kill the robot’s facade. She/he will bring students to a higher level through making the standards real and tangible. Success for students in these classroom will be “caught” more than taught. These teachers will thrive on what they do and the success with students they make. I see these teachers coming on the horizon whether they be teachers like me already in the classrooms or new ones. The shared element is a passion for bring kids up. My hope is the “common core” standards will encourage this sort of teacher. Instead of stifling innovation, my hope is that administrations will foster and encourage it no matter how different it may appear. Youth culture has changed more in the past 15 years than I think it did in the 20 years prior. We need to speak a new language and take on a new job to save our schools and save our kids from irrelevant robot teaching.

Trophies in the Classroom

I recognize students in the classroom year after year with 7 trophies I only needed to buy once.

Student recognition
I recognize students in the classroom year after year with 7 trophies I only needed to buy once.

Recognition is powerful in motivating students. The question is “How should we do it?” There are many ways teachers and employers do this every day. Plaques and awards are among them. Some ways present less of a challenge than others. Material rewards can be costly to replace and simple verbal rewards can seem canned. I thought I’d found a happy medium when I discovered one teacher in Santa Ana Unified who had been using a recycled trophy to recognize students. I saw a unique idea and wanted to try it with multiple trophies. Continue reading “Trophies in the Classroom”

Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform

My article below was first published as Three “I”s Suggested for Education Reform on Blogcritics.

Public education in America is in a state of flux. In 26 states, including California, legislators are adopting the “Common Core” standards and curriculum to teach our nation’s kids. As a teacher for the past 14 years, I have taught mostly from the multiple choice assessment standpoint. It has its pros but there are certainly many aspects where it just doesn’t work. What I would like to see is a more “real world” curriculum where kids are nurtured in their individual ideas and inventions. Currently I see this in education reform California. We don’t just want kids that can pass tests, we want kids who can invent the next iPad and help save hour healthcare system. Inspiration, innovation, and invention

Most agree with the thought above. Unfortunately however, the path is not as clear. I don’t have many ideas on how to make every school successful. I do, however, think there are some universals that should be taught in the public school classroom. The first one is inspiration. The simple question teachers should ask themselves here is: “What things inspire ME to be productive.” I don’t know how everyone would answer that question but I can tell you my answer: music, movies, restaurants, travel, the beach, just to name a few. Listening to great music empowers me and makes me want to do amazing things. All the other things do as well. We need to help kids identify passions and then make the connection to inspiration so they can lead productive lives. Students that have been shown the inspiration connection will make a larger contribution in their early adulthood.

The second classroom “must” is innovation. We need to put kids in situations where they can make solutions in adversity. A great way to do this is to show them how we do it as adults. This can include bringing in successful grown-ups as guest teachers to share how they get through their day to day, not just paying the bills, though that is important, but creating inspiration for themselves and others through solving problems. Kids who learn how to innovate and solve problems in school will be more productive members of society. In the advanced cases, these are the types that will cure cancer or create pathways to peace.

The final part of classroom curriculum we should focus on in education reform is invention. Bill Nye the Science Guy has an amazing episode on this topic. He shows how important it is to every day life. When I put a piece of tape on my alarm clock button, it makes hitting snooze easier. That is a simple example of human invention. Students who have coaching and practice inventing will invent better things in their homes, communities, and worlds. If a teacher can inspire invention in her/his students, they can truly change the world.

Once again, there is much disagreement on what education reform should look like. At the same time, I think all Americans want to see higher productivity in our land. I really feel that as well look to alternative frameworks, we should consider these “three I’s” as equivalent in value to the “3 R’s:” Inspiration, Invention, and Invention. Our kids, the future citizens of America will thank us if we make urban education reform a reality.

5 Altruistic Values of Teaching

These are five things I value above and beyond financial compensation that make me want to come to work as a teacher every day.

Being a teacher is a wonderful career choice if you value the intrinsic rewards it brings. There can be a place for you and there are also online teaching job openings as well. Before you seek employment however, you should examine the reason people become teachers and the nature of the job itself. I’ve always thrived on seeing a student grow in academics or social skills.. This is what I think of as the “human-profit” margin. For example, one of my goals is always to see each kid improve scores over the preceding year. There are many altruistic values of teaching that motivate and keep us on track in our job. If you are a new teacher, take a look at these occupational traits. They are five things I value above and beyond financial compensation that make me want to come to work every day.

  1. Kids are now what we once were and they will one day run society: This can be both exciting and daunting. Knowing one day the child I am teaching long division may one day perform open heart surgery on someone. On the other hand, they could become homeless and jobless if I don’t do my part to give them the skills and motivation to succeed.
  2. Many times you are the only role model of a normal life: I had a parent conference a few years back where the parent had told me right there at the table that all 5 of her kids had different dads. That alone is staggering. I grew up in a house where my dad was always there fore me: tucking me in, coaching my soccer teams, teaching me guitar … I know not everyone has it that good but this was a lighter shade of pale. I felt sad for the confusion the child must live with each day. I couldn’t be that child’s dad (who wasn’t in the picture) but I started paying more attention to him and giving him the best advice I could during that year about life and academics. I hope I made a difference. Each day I have that opportunity as an educator. This one reason you might look for teaching opportunities as your career.
  3. Students need a frame of reference to understand art: We forget sometimes how much kids do not know about the world. Most adults can tell you the difference between classical and pop music … most 4th graders can’t. Unless someone explains the difference between an 18 century painting an something modern my a cubist such as Picasso, or Andy Warhol for that matter … it’s all just blurs of sensation. A person may go their whole life and never appreciate art until someone tells them about it.
  4. Students don’t always know how to be nice: We as adults get a million thoughts in our heads daily that are negative and self-defeating. If we are lucky (as I was lucky) we learn about positive self talk and talk with others. A person can go their whole life and never learn how to speak positively. I get to teach that every day (not always a walk in the park let me tell you).

Finally, kids need to learn respect for authority. A person can get to 15-18 or even 80 without that and suffer greatly because of it. As a teacher you are like a “soft” police officer, or judge. You represent authority and if you don’t teach then what respect is, chances are they will not have it when they are older. I like to think that every child who passes through my classroom in a given year knows how to respect her/his elders and her/his superiors. I know this will save them much trouble.

To close, these are 5 reasons I come to work each day. I am not rich by monetary standards but the reason I don’t feel poor is because each day I get to act on altruistic values. They are what give me the most satisfaction in my career. As a final note, I have found keeping an online teacher journal very helpful in measuring my progress toward altruistic goals, I highly recommend it. At the same time, it isn’t for everyone. Please note there are more online teaching opportunities manifesting daily. This new “tech” kind of teaching may really be worth looking into for the right type. Is teaching for you? Share why in the comments.