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.

Continue reading “Puppet Communication”

To Teach Same Kids or Rotate, that is the Question

Teaching groups that rotate has advantages. Staying “self-enclosed” with one group of students all day can also be helpful. Which is right for your teaching goals and learners’ needs?

I’ve written a few posts on what might be called the single subject intervention model for elementary school. Up to now I have always heralded the strengths of the single subject intervention. To recap, this is simply a model where students rotate into specialist teachers who teach a single subject rather than all core subjects in the same classroom all day long. I have learned this year for the first time in 5 years that I have been doing this that behavior and maturity levels should be considered. If the students are unable to behave, the single subject intervention model might not work. In fact, it may cause the year to be less effectual and much more taking on the teachers. Immature students will take advantage of not having a single teacher in charge. In the single subject models, whicl curriculum varies, must unclude a uniform and progressive class-to-class system of consequences.

This is something to definitely consider in your grade level collaboration as you discuss this intervention as a possibility. The single subject model or “specialist” model is a good one for many reasons. For example, each teacher can focus more time and energies on one subject. In theory, this will produce more interesting, weathered lessons that get better over time. In a self-enclosed “multiple subject” model, one teacher must create and innovate lessons on all subjects required in the district core curriculum. I hope to go into more detail as to what worked for us last year and those before. There were many positives. I plan to publish an article here over the Summer on single subject teaching as an intervention and why this might or might not work for your school and your palette of students. A lot worked and some didn’t. Mostly, what held the intervention back most were student behavior problems.

As part of my preparation for the article, I appreciate any comments on the topics. Tell me your opinions and your experiences.

Questions to Improve Classroom Communication

IMG_0045A teacher hoping to foster autonomy and mastery in her/his students should ask themselves a few questions about communication: First, What different types of communication are used in my classroom? This is an excellent question. The simple answer is “English.” To reach a wider array of students, I think one must branch out beyond that. Visual aids are probably the most obvious form but audio, video, realia, and gestures are also some to consider. The advent of document cameras and projectors has brought visual aids to a new height. Kids can see visuals now on the screen that we had to open encyclopedias to see when I was in elementary school. Instead on one source in the classroom having a few visual aids to help us understand, we have access to Powerpoint and the internet to give abstract concepts a concrete foundation. In planning lessons, I try to be aware of what visuals I can use to get the lesson across. Audio and video are the same way. The more modalities a teacher can appeal to the better the chance of getting the student to master the information. Besides that, it’s been proven that we learn in different parts of our brain. Something stored in visual and auditory  can be recalled longer and with more clarity than something stored in only one. Another way a teacher can communicate with students is by putting their work on the wall. Continue reading “Questions to Improve Classroom Communication”

Introduction to Explicit Direct Instruction

A table of contents to a powerful and proven teaching method called Explicit Direct Instruction, or EDI.


IAT_CL1_PX00768Explicit Direct Instruction is a teaching method created by Data Works that uses proven scientific data to teach kids. It is a part of my dynamite lesson plan for teaching every day. This method has been used at my
school in teacher training with student achievement as a result.  Here is just one of a few examples of good edi lessons (Word format) you’ll find in this series.  Above is the table of contents to my posts describing the lesson plan steps in detail. Each step was created with the learning processes of kids in mind.  The goal of it was to foster student achievement in public school.  My hope is that this method will help you as it has helped me to create and teach dynamite lesson plans. You can access information on each step through the links above. I think you will find each component has a powerful place in student achievement.

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.