Clarifying Questions

Of all the lesson planning strategies one of the best is to use clarifying questions.  These help the teacher see if what has been taught has truly been conveyed and received.  Teaching, of course, is a human communication system.  Therefore, the effective use of clarifying questions in marriages, friendships, and the workplace are also a good practice when teaching.  You might say it simply this way:

What works for big people works for smaller ones.

Here’s an example.  If I tell my students I would like them to discuss solutions to the bathroom problem we are having where kids are trashing it, I should ask a clarifying question before I get them working in pairs on ideas.  I could say:

Ok. Let me ask a random, non-volunteer to tell me what it is I just asked you to do … (Then call a number or pick a popsicle stick etc.)

In this case, the clarifying question is a “Check for Understanding” (CFU) question by the teacher to the students to verify they understand.  Continue reading “Clarifying Questions”

How Fast Do You Learn a New Skill?

imageHow long does it take you to learn a new skill? I recently got a little folding my iphone and when I started using it, despite my excitement, I made horrendous mistakes and it wasn’t a bit comfortable. I kept at it, typing on it a few days and now, it’s very natural and I see what a great device it is! Note that it took a lot of time for me to see that. Now imagine your students. All the skills they are required to learn in a year can feel overwhelming, especially if they don’t have the pre-requisite foundation. Remember that it will take time and repetition for them to get the feel for new skills, just like it takes adults time to learn their new gadgets and skills. Why would you expect it to be any different? Continue reading “How Fast Do You Learn a New Skill?”

Power of a Recital

I teach guitar to a group of about 40 kids nearly every weekday. It is a great feeling sharing the art of guitar. My students are all different but most all doubt their ability to excel at the beginning. Tonight’s recital proved to them they were finally guitarists. They played two songs: Jingle Bells and This Land is Your Land. Perhaps there is someway to do a “recital” with my academic groups in the day. The energy is powerful and get get encouragement from their family, friends, and peers. If this stuff could be bottled, one could easily become a billionaire.

Kids always want family approval. If a child gets praise from playing guitar, they will undoubtedly continue in the discipline. If she/he is ignored or even put down for the pursuit, that child will probably drop out or fail to put forth a decent effort. Playing guitar for me was an identity. I became “the kid who played guitar.” It wasn’t enough to be the GATE kid, or the kid who spelled well. I found my true identity in the instrument. Now the kids I teach hardly know what their identities will be. Their feeble fingers reach and strain to form new chords. As they practice, often through pain, I see them gain strength. They get understanding of how chords inter-relate. They learn how to tune an instrument. These are life skills but so much more the stuff of identity that nowadays so many of our students seem to be lacking.

A groan grasps the peanut near the offending anthology.

Random Non-Volunteer Success Today

I used the cards today as usual but something different happened. I think a few kids actually finally “got it” that they have a good chance of being called on. I noticed the who class was more alert when I said, “Here’s the question now have an answer ready because I’m calling names from my random cards pile.” After a few blank stares, the whole class appeared to be on the edge of their seat when I’d ask a question. When 3 or 4 had no clue about the answer, I used pair share as a strategy. This takes the affect filter down quite a few notches. It also produced the correct answer several times.

At the end of the day, I played some of our favorite classroom songs: This Land is Your Land, The Rainbow Connection, The Candy Man, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad to name a few. I think it’s great when the kids can relax with me in some songs. It helps me as their teacher gain trust with them so they can take more risks answering things in class. Plus, music is relaxing and by the end of a long day of learning, their heads are tight and tired. Nothing like a song for that.

Teaching Responsibility and Patience with Marbles

100_4838In our middle to lower class majority, one rarely sees someone buy a large item like a car with cash. Kids don’t have a concept of what it means to “make payments.” Furthermore, most don’t remember what layaway is and all have a hard time deferring gratification and saving for a large ticket item. One way to teach these things is through marbles in jars. Each jar can be labeled the item or reward they get when it’s filled. If it’s an expensive one for me, I make it a large jar. When the kids do something well and receive a reward, the class can vote or one person who earned the marbles can decide what reward to save for. By making payments to that jar, they invest in that reward. Continue reading “Teaching Responsibility and Patience with Marbles”

Teacher as Coach

star-badgeBefore I start talking about a sports analogy, let me inform you I am not a big sports fan. I ran x-country and track in high school. I learned the value of a each back then. Having said that, I do not watch organized sports much in the year. Okay, now that I hopefully have avoiding alienating those who don’t like sports, I want to talk to you about the teacher as “coach,” and expert on student motivation. We have a group of kids we are to “model” the lessons for and then foster their ability to do it as independent practice. I sometimes forget about my role coaching kids. For over 13 years I have set clear goals for my class and we have worked tirelessly to achieve them. Sometimes my class meets the goals, sometimes they fall short. Every year they have a goal and I coach them toward it. One year we were shooting for a percentage of proficient kids in the class. We ended up missing the goal but scoring highest in the district for my grade level. That was extremely gratifying to me professionally. So much so that I set higher goals for the next year’s kids. That didn’t work out quite as well. I saw my kids getting burned out when I’d say I wanted 20 students advanced on a test and we ended up with 18 for example. The “proficient only” ones sort of got ignored. Continue reading “Teacher as Coach”

Throw a Little Guitar in There

Guitar as Academic Teaching ToolOk, so the kids aren’t paying attention. It’s been 5 hours of the same old academics with mixed results across the board. How about this? Throw a little guitar in there. It could be my personal standby old reliable This Land is Your Land of any number of a million others you have ready for them. Trust me, I’ve had a guitar in my classroom as an antidote for burnout, both teacher and child, and it works like gangbusters every time. If guitar isn’t your thing, try something else to break up the monotony once in a while. You’ll be encouraged because you’ll experience your kids in a new way, a restful, laid back way. Later, this may even translate into higher academics because they feel more comfortable taking risks. Continue reading “Throw a Little Guitar in There”