Closure

appleWhen you have gone through all the steps of EDI you arrive at closure.  But wouldn’t you know it? There is still another step after closure but it doesn’t involve the teacher.  It’s called Independent practice.  This is where you release the kids independently to do a test or a worksheet.  They show they learned the concept through that assessment piece.

Closure is simply checking for understanding (cfu) one last time.  Throughout the lesson you should be using cfu to make sure the kids are there with you.  As a teacher, you adjust your pace to reflect their needs.  CFU is crucial the the dynamite lesson plan.  CFU takes effort. It is something every teacher should use and use often. You simply go through the standard and ask questions to check they know it.  If they don’t? RETEACH.  If they do, go to independent practice. Here are some sample lessons.

The Enigma of Setting Up Desks

Every new year teachers ask themselves “How should I put the chairs?” I know this because I have been a teacher for 13 years and I have seen the amazing difference desk placement and patterns can make in the classroom. I think what you decide to do depends a lot on what your goals are with the given group you have. And finally, the way you teach is very important to how you set the desks up.

Pair Share

If you look into my posts here on EDI and the CFU used in that teaching method you will see that pair share is frequently mentioned. There is a reason for this, I use it all the time. Often times kids can clarify new ideas to each other better than I can in my lesson. For this reason, it is important to me to put desks close enough so that they can engage in pair share. I used to think this could only happen with two desks connected at a time. Later, I tried it with 4 desks in a group. Pair share was not always happening in either of these groupings so I tried rows. These rows were just as conducive to pair share as the 2 by 2 setting. My conclusions? As long as students know who their assigned partner is, the desk arrangement matters little.

Behavior

I used to think rows were the worst arrangement for behavior but the last two years have taught me differently. My conclusion is to try rows this year and make observations about it. Students don’t have a small ecosystem, like a group of 5-6, where they can be distracted. I know it sounds old fashioned but I have tried all the newfangled ways from the modern books. They work ok but just about as good as rows.

Accessibility

I could write on and on about this. I think it is pretty self explanatory what it means. My random non-volunteer calling system keeps them on their toes. At the same time, I value a setup that allows me to get across the room easily from any place. The kids learn quickly that I can get to them and there is less off-task time. However this is achieved is not important so play around with that axiom.

My conclusion:

As many as there are ways to decorate your living room, so are there ways to arrange the desks in your classroom. The specifics are up to you. I value: access to pair share and teacher access to get across the room quickly. Of course there are individual concerns but for me and my year, these are what’s most important.

Making Do With Less Assessment

Assessments are not as fun for kids as they are for teachers. I need to remember to teach lessons that add value to students’ lives and not focus on assessments all the time. They are not what’s most important to families.

I realize the almighty standardized test is what measures our effectiveness as teachers, in some settings. At the same time, what do you remember most fondly about school? I know for me, tests are not at the top end of the list. I remember learning songs from other cultures, writing creative stories, learning about society and culture and other stuff that was non-assessment related. Here in California, the standards test has become the arbiter of success for teachers. We work all year to get a final stamp showing if we as teachers passed or failed. I don’t know if this is the best measure for our public school system. Still, the pressure exists. There can as a result be an emphasis on “practice tests” for the kids on a regular basis. We can use these tests to map what we need to review and/or reteach altogether.

At the same time, we can get a “rush” from seeing the kids perform as we have taught them to. But we aren’t in teaching to get a rush. If there are any rushes to be mentioned, they are the rushes students should get from the learning transaction. I have learned this year that I can assign way too many assessments. These can actually burn the kids out on tests.

I have always given the analogy in my writing on this topic of the “briar patch” method of teaching. Just like Brer Rabbit knew how to escape Brer Bear and Brer Fox through the briar patch where he was born, so I hoope my students can sail through the standards test in May because they have “lived” with it the way Brer Rabbit lived in the briar patch. Unfortunately, I think I have become a little stodgy thinking they can handle the rote, ABCD multiple choice drills day after day.

Kids need real life examples and experiences to really have success in school.

I think it’s time in my career and also on my blog to be promoting those real life things in school. Instead of being concerned about teat scores, shouldn’t I as a teacher be more concerned on real life value my teaching will bring them? Every lesson in our curriculum has a human application. I will be focusing more on that rather than whether a benchmark test matches closely to the standards test. Tests are assessments of one sort. Success in life and enjoyment of school (real learning) are another sort. One can’t exist without the other because we have to measure what is happening with students. Having said that, how much faith do you have that if you strive to connect the curriculum to real life it will translate into good test scores? Maybe we are at the point where we all need to have that sort of faith as we plan lessons for our students.

If we give 10 assessments a year, let’s make it 5. The results will be an impassioned set of students connected to the stuff they are tested on. This is my current thought: I assess too much. I plan between now and May to focus more on creating valuable lessons and letting the assessments go however they go. Of course, I assume they will go positively. I can’t think of a better teaching focus than real life value for the student.

Absorbing Common Core

3-kitchen-sponges-lgn-86344707Common Core is the innocuous name of a set of standards yet people treat it as if it were a religion. There are people for and against it and I think, as is true with religion, a middle ground is preferable. Of course I mean no respect to zealous religious folk, I just don’t live that way. Okay, hopefully my introduction has offended those to which I could never communicate with, now for my point.

ccss-sbacCommon Core is perplexing to some because it uses a multi-cognitive approach to lessons. While comedians and civilians will make fun of the approach, it really is neither better nor worse than what we teachers have been ordered to teach with snce as far back as 1997. We are given uniform state standards, materials and curriculum, and expected to show mastery of these standards in our student data. Common Core simply combines what was once 7-8 (say for instance) standards into one Common Core standard. We have to teach a concept to incorporate multiple standards from before. There is nothing more difficult in this. It does require imagination and creativity but hasn’t teaching always required that?

20130110-123237.jpgAs I move into the third week of lessons with my 4th graders currently, I find myself increasingly absorbing Common Core. It’s like a snowball effect. My hope is that this year on the blog I can bring more understanding to the public including teachers out there doing the same. How about we hear from you? How are you doing with internalizing the Common Core. If you are a blogging teacher, or a blogger in general, please feel free to leave a trackback or link to this post so I can help spread your ideas on the subject. Onward!

Professional Learning Communities – Worth the Effort

Professional learning communities are revolutionizing teaching. We are learning at my school how powerful it can be when teachers work together. Unfortunately, it does require a lot of patience and work to make happen.

IMG_0045-1024x768Professional learning communities are revolutionizing education. We are learning at my school how powerful it can be when teachers work together. Unfortunately, it does require a lot of patience and work to make happen.

In teaching, as with any professional job, there are times when you have to make professional conversations happen. This might be be over an issue of student motivation or just plain getting along issues. They can be awful to do and they make your stomach churn but they are hugely important and have to be done whether comfortable or not. It would be nice if we could just stay in our classrooms until dismissal and not bother anyone and not be bothered by anyone but that is a fantasy land. To keep kids “moving” up from one level to another or staying at the top level, it requires teachers engaging in professional conversations on a regular basis. It’s not about who’s cool or not or who likes who or not. It is simply a commitment to moving kids upward by all means available. When teachers agree to work this way … everybody benefits and at the end of the year, great progress is inevitable.

The dynamite teacher ensures and fosters professional learning communities.

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.

Backward Map Review – A Great Way to do Test Prep

If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold.

With about 20 days left to the California Standards Test (CST), it is challenging how to spend your teaching tie. Of course, the free mind of a teacher can analyze similar tests and divine what to reteach. This is only a little useful. The best way to do test prep is to analyze the data of your assessments and then “backward map” reteaching the questions that 50% or less missed. This is when an item analysis report comes in handy.

I have my data and it’s magneted up on my white board. Every day for the past week and now into the next days before the standards test I have been teaching test prep and reteaching the concepts where it appears only less than 50% understood. When direct lessons are happening it feels like the best way to teach. Of course you can’s always teach this way. You need to apply yourself to solid, direct instruction and doing backward mapping will help your teaching be more relevant and of more value on the CST. If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold. (It works!)

Why to Have a Learning Objective

IAT_CL1_PX00768When you teach kids, a learning objective is like the train track you can’t deviate from.  It keeps you focused and keeps your students minds from wandering away from your education.  It’s like the old adage: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll surely hit it.”

An example of what happens without an objective is like when you are having coffee with a dear friend and your conversation juts and skips all over the place.  If you’re like me with my best friend, there is nothing linear about it.  In this context it makes perfect sense to not have an “objective.”  When you are teaching kids, on the other hand, a learning objective can get your class to 80% mastery (or higher) faster and more efficiently. Online lesson plans that have a learning objective are far more superior than those who don’t.

An example of a learning objective I do in fact is:

Today we will identify predicates in sentences.

We have a test coming up where they will be asked to do this.  That is called “backward mapping,” looking at the end assessment and then creating your objective based on what they will be tested on. While teaching materials have some value, a learning objective is a must.

Puppet Communication

Puppet Communication in Upper ElementaryCommunication should be of the utmost importance to a teacher. She/he should consider all tools at her/his disposal to get the point across to kids. All the planning and research in the world can’t be used unless the teacher knows how to communicate it to students. Direct communication like speaking to a class or one-to-one has it’s place of course as probably the most important and effective mode of transporting knowledge from teacher to student. Still, indirect or implicit communication can have a stronger impact in select situations. For example, when teaching social rules of the classroom, a skit or puppet show may be more effective than a lecture. The stuents can see themselves and their peers in the puppet and not feel self-conscious or defensive about the content. Sometimes, even having the kids make brown bag puppets or other type and then allowing them to speak through the puppet.

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