Graduated Expectation

Have you ever witnessed a student do something really immature only to tell them to “grow up?” When you catch yourself and recall they’re 9? I have and it helps to have a sense of humor when it happens. I believe we need to set an age appropriate expectation for our students but as we work toward that end, we should be flexible and have a graduated expectation.

Little by little, poco a poco, inch by inch life’s a cinch. Rome wasn’t built in a day and in the case of some kids, it wasn’t ‘t built in a month either. As the teacher, it’s your privilege to make the expectation. I’ve seen too many however set it way too high and chastise the kid for just being a kid. It can be compared to Procrustes bed. He was a legend who had a bed he invited passers by to lay in. If they were too short he’d stretch them. Converse visitors would get their feet lopped off. To me, that a great image of why we should have graduated (modified) expectations as wise leaders.

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Getting Buy in from Students

Power of Positive with KidsMost the years I’ve taught I’ve been able to produce results in my students’ motivation. This year it has been especially challenging. Maybe it’s because the test and the academics thereof have become the primary focus of school. Perhaps this has understandably burned out student motivation. In doing so it’s given way to days consisting of “A, B, C, or D” answers. I’ve been trying some new things this year that are working to get buy-in and I wanted to share them with you. Check this out:

  1. To go along with your assessment strategies, have them grade each other’s papers. This will add peer pressure and praise to the mix. It can help them realize what they do is observed by others.
  2. Give them “pseudo” assessments that look like the final standardized test in May. This will ease their nerves and help them see that success on the test can be attained.
  3. Send a note home with the score on one of these tests. Let parents know how their kids are doing but if you do so, make sure you have suggestions for parents on how to improve their child’s score.
  4. Have a lot of ongoing student recognition. Tomorrow I am allowing all the students who got 80-100% to have lunch with me in the classroom. These kids need to be rewarded for their student academic achievement and of course, this will probably rub off on some of the kids who scored below 80%.

I firmly believe that kids in elementary learning as well as higher will do better when they have buy-in. Just like a company offers stock options to employees to keep them productive, so teachers should seek buy-in from their students. Remember this from my experience and probably yours too about work in general:

To get results from students or workers, you must have their “buy-in.”

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”

No Superman – When Tests Scores are Human

Low standardized test scores are not an indicator of talent, either by the student or the teacher. Rather, they indicate incorrect focus.

Teaching is a task that should come from the heart and reach to the heart of children. After that, there is a test. The Standardized testing that goes on in every state in the union is keystone to student placement and, some would argue, future achievement.

Teaching “from the heart” is crucial at all times in my career and sometimes I need to take a quiet walk or something akin to that to remember it. At the same time, teachers are valued on the basis of their test scores in many schools and in many districts that I have been familiar with. That’s why I chose to write today about addressing low scores.

Low standardized test scores are not an indicator of talent, either by the student or the teacher. Rather, they indicate incorrect focus. Many teachers go through their day with a vision of some sort. One teacher might actually aim for high test scores and teach as closely to the test as possible. Another may see socialization skills as a more important focus and teach through those as a lens. It varies as much as teachers do. While it is important to have values and teach from your heart, we as teachers have to remember the “steel horse” we ride: the standards test. If our heart isn’t in it, we will not succeed but with our without “heart,” we won’t make it as teachers in this millennium without decent to great scores on our standardized testing.

When you get low data from a test as a teacher you can feel overwhelmed. It can even feel as if you are failing at your career. The truth is, with a little strategic planning based on the data (your best friend) you can get the “correct focus” that turns the dreaded low scores into the tool they should be to score high. There have been years when all my kids ever scored was high, there were others when the kids just never seemed to “get” certain standards on the test. Now I aim for high scores that are taught “from the heart.” I suppose in a perfect world I wouldn’t care about the test and just give kids what I feel they need to be well-rounded 4th graders. Unfortunately, this world is not perfect so to a certain extent, it is back to the old drawing board to make a way toward student achievement on the standards test. Work with what you have.

Love Connects Us All

16346052419_3e64205cc0_zLeafleting the parking lot with the parents of our Adelanto students was a miracle treat for me. As a public school teacher since 1997, I’ve always appreciated parents but most teachers sometimes wonder how parents really feel about teachers. My school is akin to an inner city one but not exactly like it. Thought it’s suburban, the closest grocery store is about 10+ miles away. 16344866750_959c6d4c1f_zWe did just get a new Family Dollar right by my school but some families whose students attend my school are struggling below the poverty line. In short … it’s not a wealthy neighborhood. Nonetheless I have more respect for some of our families than I do for those in Beverly Hills by far. They prove they have integrity. Today was 16342472380_426c5d01e9_zValentines day and my teachers union’s struggle with the Adelanto school district continued throughout the day and remains still unresolved as I type this. Nonetheless I feel lighter about it because of the parents, remember the ones in the families I just talked about who have high integrity? They heard our call to action and came out to the parking lots without being asked to inform the public about the struggle that is going on. It made my heart soar to see these families coming out on a holiday when they should be with their families having fun, eating, drinking, and being merry and instead standing strong with us sharing our message with the community. Continue reading “Love Connects Us All”

Assess the Entire Class in an Instant

White dry-erase boards are an excellent way to check for understanding (CFU) during and after a lesson. They are also a great way to avoid wasting paper in your lesson plans. Of course, they are also very useful when stating the learning objective. Instead of printing up a class set of the material I am covering in a lesson, I print up one for each class I teach and project it on the screen. The students interact with me through dry-erase markers and white boards and it makes for an almost sport of a lesson.

This can be used in any subject. I teach the concept, use CFU throughout the teaching, then I model the concept in guided practice, asking students to gradually join me. Eventually I “release” them to do questions on their own and once again I CFU through the use of the white boards. I use the term “1 … 2 … 3 … show it to me” and then I can instantly assess a class of 33 kids. I can see if 80% or more are getting it.  If they are, I usually move on. 100% mastery is always the true goal though it isn’t always achieved. As I share anecdotes about my teaching, my goal is to help my readers achieve that goal. If we can get closer through teacher tips like this, we will be more effective in the classroom.

There are challenges getting the kids to leave the caps on the markers and not “doodle” on the white boards. It needs to be stressed to them that they are not doing “art” but rather they are answering questions to show me they “get it.” They get a kick out of it when I say 80% accuracy or better yet 100% accuracy. Sometimes they even cheer. While exuberant, they are focused. This is what makes white boards a great tool for classroom management.

I’ve written here before about how I am moving away from the use of copies and paper in my classroom. I think these changes have only benefited my students. It might be true to say that too much paper improves the presentation but widens the disconnect between the teacher and learner. Then again, this is just my personal experience. I know not everyone is ready for what I am calling “The paperless classroom.” I encourage the use of white boards for CFU. They are simple, always on hand, and you can assess the entire class in an instant.

Breaks Produce Innovation and Creativity

Workaholic teachers and “civilians” sometimes question the effort teachers put forth. They think we enjoy time off only to return complacent and unable to affect change in the educational world. While it may be true for some, I know it is not true for the majority of teachers I come in contact with. My perspective is that teachers are very hard working professionals who deserve a break when they can get it.

I also find it troubling when people refer to teacher’s days off as “vacation.” We are not paid for these days. They are contractual days off that are negotiated and they figure in to our annual salary. College loans do not get forgiven (though I understand there are programs now Obama has created for new teachers) and the expense of time in college learning how to be a great teacher remain forever. We deal with bloody noses, kids that have special learning needs, unruly kids who do not respect us, administrative demands, and so forth. When you hear a teacher is taking time off, wish them rest and renewal. We most certainly need it when we return “to front” teaching the future citizens of the world. Teachers should learn to relax to do their optimal job with kids. To my colleagues out there still working or on breaks I say …

Let your inner hippie come out teachers! You deserve a break.

Using Google Calendar as a Lesson Plan Tool and Syncing With Work

This is not meant to be a tutorial but rather a heads up to a tool I am using to assist my productivity. I usually write my lesson plans in a book each week and that becomes the basis of what I pull to teach. Sometimes I leave the book at work and can’t get to it to prepare my week. I have really found a lot of value in learning to use Google Calendar and specifically the extra calendar adding function. I even added the ical address to my work email “Outlook Web App” and I can bring up whatever I add at home there at my work computer. I can read it without ever leaving the schools native Outlook application. The Gcal lesson plan tool with the Outlook web sync at work is a really cool thing so I’m sharing. Below is a screenshot of how a given week might look on Gcal. Below that is a screenshot of the sync’d version at work. It’s automatic:
-Below is the Outlook Web App sync at work-

A Flight Simulator, a Briar Patch to get our Kids Ready

brerrabit3The fear and reverence of Common Core is all around. It permeates education. Kids who are gifted and self-starters will likely welcome the opportunity to answer high level thinking questions on a computer screen. They also will not mind the copying, pasting, bulleting, and other technical aspects of the tests. But for the rest, it’s going to come as a shock. Some kids will just give up and type nonsense into the answer boxes. Others will flutter the screens as they learn to select text and not much more. What can we do for these students? I have a suggestion.

Just like flight students work in a simulator to decrease the affect of flying, so we should put kids in a simulated session of the Common Core test. For us here in California it is called the “Smarter Balanced” or SBAC Practice Test. It’s totally free and akin to the released questions the cde used to offer on their site. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s too bad there is no way to download it in case they ever upgrade or otherwise choose to take it down. I still have all my material the cde put out for the “1997 standards,” or so they are now called. It comes in handy sometimes. But this is more valuable than any of that. It gives the child a chance to click around within the framework and interface of the common core test that will shine before all students’ faces in April/May. If you don’t use this, make sure your test prep includes something like the interface they will be in. Remember Brer Rabbit when he got caught? He cried and cried for them not to throw him into a briar patch. When he escaped, he yelled “I was born in a briar patch!” laughing his way out of sight. We need to get our kids exposed to the common core test. Of course, daily instruction in the standards is the most crucial thing but after that, we need a flight simulator, a briar patch to get our kids ready for success.