One Question Tests

I thought it would be great to give a 1-2 question test each morning on the challenge standards, or the ones the whole class scores below 70% accuracy on. That in and of itself is not the great idea. Grading them is!

48095_10151460458076117_1282058836_nI was driving back from Del Taco tonight and had an epiphany about my class and how I can help them all achieve standards mastery. It would be really helpful to see if they can actually work through math problems I have been teaching. I mostly do two kinds of assessments currently, whiteboard “on the spot” picking random-non-volunteers with playing cards and formal multiple choice paper tests. I find that there are usually a few who somehow get through these assessments and don’t really master the material. I thought it would be great to give a 1-2 question test each morning on the challenge standards, or the ones the whole class scores below 70% accuracy on. That in and of itself is not the great idea. Grading them is!

In class or at home I can see almost instantly if a kid is getting say long division or place value standards. I can make 2 piles: Those that “got it” and those who didn’t. In minutes, I have valuable assessment information that I can make a plan to address. I can work in a small group with those kids in the “did not get it” pile. I can also pair students who did get it with those who didn’t. I have found numerous times that some students respond better when taught by their proficient peers. It’s an especially great idea for middle to end of the year because in that time segment you have a pretty good idea which standards need extra work. The best part of these “piles” of tests is that you can put a post-it with the standard and save them for anytime you have the time to reteach and address these deficiencies. It’s very simple and very helpful I think. In theory, you could even avoid the copier by simply putting the 1-2 problems up on the overhead. If you have a Mobi or other writing device for your overhead that can be a great way to correct the test and reteach as well. In theory, you will have a stack of several standards paperclipped together that will help you work toward entire class mastery of the standards.

Revising Your Teaching Strategy

It’s very complicated and different for each classroom. Having said that, I would divide a complete overhaul into three areas and apply strategies as needed

clip1Try as we might as teachers, sometimes we don’t get classroom management right. To adapt and fix it, we must be open to change. This often requires tweaking little things here and there and sometimes it means a complete overhaul of your lesson plan and classroom management approach. Even when you’ve been at it many years, you are never immune to change. Ours is a career where change is always happening so we must adapt. Revising your strategy is the solution to the challenge we call change.

It’s very complicated and different for each classroom. Having said that, I would divide a complete overhaul into three areas and apply strategies as needed:

  1. PLAN. Identify focus standards. Most schools in California are focused on the California content standards. Gone are the days when teachers’ differed in their opinion on what should be taught. While shades of that remain, teachers know the biggest recognition comees from high standardized test scores. Even though I know that is the best target, I will be flexible and say a teacher should identify what they want to teach. You’d do well to simply identify standards but the point here is that you are focused on something. It has been said, and it is true, that if you aim at nothing you will surely hit it. Get a yellow pad and write down 2-3 focus standards a day. These become the measuring rod of whether you did you job.
  2. TEACH. For each standard use a teaching method such as edi or the Madeline Hunter lesson plan and write lesson plans. Teach them, check for understanding throughout and finally, assess that 80% or more of the class has achieved mastery.
  3. PLAN CONSEQUENCES. Plan how you will control classroom discipline. Some classes will not require much of this and others will demand hours of planning in a trimester. Read up on the subject and be open to trying things other teachers do that are working for them.


I hope as you are revising teaching strategies you don’t feel like a failure. It can feel like that sometimes as a teacher in a challenging environment. Make sure you take the quiet time to reflect, research and converse with positive colleagues. In time, the hardest challenges will become your greatest strengths. The reason I am qualified to tell you this is because I have revised my teaching several key times in my career and the end product is seeing myself as an accomplished teacher. You can have that assurance as well if you always stay open to revising your teaching strategy.

Dont Over Stuff Your Brain

When it comes to our brains, less is more and quality is better than quantity. Slow down and take more breaks, you’ll be amazed how much more you retain for life!

Whether you are learning or teaching, it’s important to not over stuff your brain. Studies have shown that the mind cannot absorb more than three things at a time. So, if you are writing, don’t make more than 3 main points or they will be wasted on over-fed minds. If you are looking to read and understand something, break it down into three or less main categories. Yellow pads are great for this. You’d do well to “space out” the time you have to study as well. The theory of time spaced learning got me through College Algebra at the junior college. I have always struggled with math and a teacher shared with the class about it. My life has been improved ever since!

The theory goes like this: instead of studying to absorb new material over the course of an hour, break up your time into 15 minute increments. The data shows that memory is strongest when you start and stop a study time. Therefore, instead of having strong memories only twice in an hour, you will have them at the start and stop of each mini session. This equals more knowledge retained! Now this was great news to me, because I loved taking breaks from math!

When it comes to our brains, less is more and quality is better than quantity. Slow down and take more breaks, you’ll be amazed how much more you retain for life!

10 Tips to Teach Kids with Repetition

Repetition is a powerful teaching tool. Here’s 10 ways I use it effectively as a teacher.

  1. Enunciate new vocabulary clearly and slowly and repeat it in the lesson
  2. Have them write concepts verbatim.
  3. Have them respond to you verbally their own synthesized answers.
  4. Have them do the same in writing.
  5. Have them share verbally in pairs.
  6. Have them share on white boards and hold up (an instant assessment tool)
  7. Give them a short written test.
  8. Pick a random non-volunteer.
  9. Do the similar lessons after complete after 24 hour period pass.

Result?  Proficent kids!

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.

Using Acronyms to Be a More Effective Teacher

Teachers can increase the productivity of teaching degrees by following an acronym. I’ve used acronyms a lot in my career to become an effective teacher. My “MAP” strategy below is an example of one.

Teachers can increase the productivity of teaching degrees by following an acronym. I’ve used acronyms a lot in my career to become an effective teacher. My “MAP” strategy below is an example of one.

Monitor – The M in MAP stands for the time you analyze and place students.  This can be through standardized test scores or results of local assessments.  Once you see where you kids need to be and then learn they aren’t there, you can better move on to sections A, and P.  Monitor can cover a whole slough of things teachers do when analyzing data for better instruction.

Assemble – Now don’t get that confused with assessment.  This is not that at all.  This is the step where you gather the curriculum you have to address the needs you discovered in “monitoring.”  If you’ve been a teacher the last 10 years you will agree with me that teaching is changing to less of a “district hands down the holy grail to teach with” and more to a “go through the smorgasbord and take the stuff you need” kind of approach.  The “A” represents that time to assemble the tools you need to address the need. One may be beginning to see the teaching degree requirements aren’t everything teachers need?

Prepare – The reason I created this method was for P.  My copier went out again and I had to time to get what I needed for the next day.  Later I went to the copy machine and realized I had no idea what to copy for the next day!  I created the 3 items in this acronym to keep myself aware of my students’ needs, the materials I have, and to be prepared.  The “P” is the copying, the getting it all together.

Time passes quickly in ones career. I recall when the online teaching degree came on the scene. Now, it is as common as a traditional one. If you follow the M.A.P. strategy as a teacher (or another professional) you can be a trendsetter. Of course, you may come up with a better one. Please leave your ideas in the comments to help us all be better teachers.

Focus on Three Things (or less) Today

tumblr_m8z4yltfxY1qiph2fo1_500If you are a high achiever who has 110 things on her/his to-do list today, this post may not be for you.  If you want to be a high achiever but get overwhelmed at times, this might be more suited to you. I was talking to a new friend, Justin, the other day through emails about how we can get over indulgent in work and actually be less effective.  That conversation made me think up a challenge post to my readers:  I want to tell you to focus on only three things today. You decide what they should be.  You’ll be tempted to focus on more, but limit yourself.

As a teacher, I tend to get bogged down in all the demands from the district and parents.  Sometimes, it can sap my energies.  The professional solution is to focus my energies with an almost tunnel vision on no more than 3 things.  I can still do other things, but my success for the day will be determined on whether I got those three things accomplished.  For example, tomorrow my 3 are: 1) Multiple meaning words, 2) Finalize my parent conferences calendar, and 3) Teach the final 2 math concepts we’ll be testing next week.  There are many other things I could/should be worried about, but these three are the most important.  I will name the day a success when these three things are done.

It is the regular attention to goals that makes me feel like a great teacher.  I wasn’t born great and I do not remain great just because of what I have done.  My puritan upbringing cringes at calling myself “great,” but I am simply referring to the data that says: I set goals and achieve them.  To me, for any occupation or endeavor in life, that is success.

Ideas for Better Teaching 2011-2012

This is my 13th year teaching public school. Like most things that matter it has taken time to achieve what feels like some level of mastery. This past year I found it helpful to keep a small section of my whiteboard for writing down ideas and solutions.This is important because many times I forget about “light bulb” solutions that take things like a trip to Staples or laminating to make happen. Here are some teaching strategies and tools I plan to use in the 2011-2012 school year.

  • Teach higher volume in answering voice – Teaches all and reduces class boredom.
  • Fruit: Our school gives each class a basket of fruit every day that is provided by a private grant. My rule: must eat all 10 minutes prior to recess or no recess.
  • Random Non Volunteer Cards. Begin use on day 1. #’s work better than name cards.
  • #’s on desk a priority that requires maintenance make a dedicated spot where you can maintain the numbers when kids pick them off etc. Make replacing damage they do an easy task I am prepared for.
  • Plastic “glass” overlay for desk to show observation papers etc. Helps with focus and anxiety over the unknown.
  • Homework is Focus Reading Comp etc. packets. Also Scott Foresman Math. CFU first thing in am with questions. They must be ready to answer my question of “why.”
  • Have a central location to file report cards etc. Organization takes effort but saves mental and physical energy in the long haul.
  • Desks rows and “away” areas for troubled students. Protect the rest.
  • Pick days to stay after school and do copies. This will avoid traffic jams there and hence discouragement. Take the let downs away before they happen.

These are just a few things I plan to implement to make my year better. Have you taken the time to reflect upon your year last year? What worked and what didn’t?

The Words of a Teacher Matter Much

Once in a while, times arise in my lessons where I am tempted to say something potentially negative toward another person. As I pay attention to these times, I become better at turning them into positive messages.

phone2We as teachers should recognize that our words matter. It can be difficult to rein in every thought in the teaching day but we should make an effort to. Words we speak can shape realities in our students and even help define their self-esteem be it high or low. The worst part about reckless words is that we often can never gauge what they do to our students. When I hear that something positive I said HELPED a former student, I feel energized to continue being the best teacher I can be. On the other hand, when I get the occasional complaint, discover my words were misunderstood and it hurt someone’s feelings, I am often devastated. It can sap my motivation to be the cheerleader of kids I know I should be. Yes that’s right, a teacher should be a cheerleader with her/his words.

Pick a random way to share positive words. I am a big fan of using playing cards to pick random non-volunteers. I also use them to share what I call “positives” with my kids throughout the day. This in turn becomes a modeling exercise and they see how they can share positives with me and with each other. I even wrote a “Morning Positive Song” on my guitar and we sing it almost every day when we start this intermittent activity throughout the day. It sets the tone. A positive can be as simple as “I like your shoes.” After someone gets a positive, I always ask them: “How did that make you feel.” This shows the class that even the simplest of words can produce good feelings that we all crave.

Think before you speak. This may go without saying but I think we all can use a reminder. Once in a while, times arise in my lessons where I am tempted to say something potentially negative toward another person. As I pay attention to these times, I become better at turning them into positive messages. Example: I was coaching pairs through reading back and forth to each other and the kids did not understand the word karma. I knew that one child’s parents were Buddhists and I was tempted to make them the example. I caught myself due to the potential embarrassment there and made another analogy more suited to a universal positive. As teachers, we really really really need to think before we speak. This is true even in the face of a culture that thinks negatives and put-downs are ok and the norm.

To close, make a note to yourself tomorrow to try thinking more about what you say. I think your will find your day much more satisfying and chances are your kids will get a lot more out of what you have to say. Thank you for reading my post. I hope you will take the time to comment. What do you think of the power of words in the teaching profession?