What to Focus on After the CST

Even if it’s only 30 days or so, It can be helpful and inspiring to teach subjects outside the daily grind of what we think of as CST preparation. Teach them to sing American History songs for example.

3IsAfter the CST in most districts there are still around 30 days or so of instruction. When so much of the emphasis is on test prep and standards based instruction, then comes the question to ALL teachers after the standards test: “What now.” There are many things to teach once the CST is over for the year. Regular, district curriculum is still required and of course a balance of these things is in order throughout the year. Having said that, as academic instruction continues it can be a good idea to something like a field trip to the public library. This is a great way to get the kids a tour of “academia.” While most searching these days is done on the internet, the library remains an incredible resource the kids should know about. There are so many other things you can teach and do with your class after the CST.

Teaching kids music has a proven effect of increased academic performance. Get some Disney music or other choir based music and teach them to sing. You don’t have to be great at it yourself. Some of the old songs like “Davey Crockett” or “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” have historical content that you can teach across the curriculum with history. If you have access to musical instruments, take some time to expose them to those. Art or course has value. One type I like to explore with my kids each year is “rip art.” The kids come up with truly talented work when we try it. As you work more art, music, sports, etc. (stuff outside of Language arts and Math) I think you will find ways to embed the academic standards into these areas. Life included academics but that is not all there is to life. Teach them about jobs and nutrition, all the while bringing in what you have taught them in the content standards. The Sky’s the limit. I think it’s a great idea to continue imparting eclectic knowledge after the standards test. It can even be helpful and inspiring to try subjects outside the daily grind of what we think of as CST preparation. In time, I hope teachers will be encouraged to teach and be tested more on topics outside of standardized testing. Now for your input: What do you teach after the test?

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!)

Problem of the Day as Routine

teaching kidsI was so glad to hear that Common Core had less standards that the 1997 set in California. When you look at the pages of standards you have to teach in a year, it can produce anxiety. A reasonable response to that anxiety can be to schedule too much each day. It’s been said it’s better to aim at something and miss than to aim at nothing and hit your target. A problem of the day for math and language arts can seem miniscule but if done every day, you can get a lot done over a year. 185 standards covered in both ELA and math, that sounds good to me! I can feel anxiety lifting as I type it. If you go through them as a class, you have a different approach that isn’t possible all day long. Plus, the mind likes routines and chunks of information. All these things are the pros of doing a problem of the day. Continue reading “Problem of the Day as Routine”

Proximity and Presentation in Lesson Plans

We talk about the methods of great teaching and we talk about our objectives. One thing we don’t talk about enough is the physical proximity and presentation of our lessons.

Teaching can never be described as a simple endeavor. Planning lessons is a challenge that will always stupefy the greatest teaching minds. That doesn’t mean we give up though! Humility is a necessary ingredient in the dynamite teacher. If we ever reach a mental place where we feel we “have it wired” I think we will never reach our potential as educators. Through difficulty and yes, failure, we become great. Anyone who tells you failure isn’t a requisite for teaching greatness is not a great teacher in my opinion.

We talk about the methods of great teaching and we talk about our objectives. One thing we don’t talk about enough is the proximity and presentation of our lessons. Take this idea for example: say you have delivered guided practice to your class on a math topic for nearly 2 hours and you still do not see 80% accuracy in the kids. You might be tempted to blame them or even still yourself for not getting the lesson out in an effective manner. Quick, simple question:

“Where do you stand?”

Could it be possible the kids couldn’t see your numbers as you wrote them on the board? Could it be possible your glorious “steps” you created and taught were hidden from the students because the screen turns snow-blind at a given angle? Perhaps you should take the time to test and measure the proximity and presentation of your lesson before you begin. No time teaching kids is ever wasted.  However, you can make the most of your time by deciding the answers to some of these questions before, during, and after your lessons:

  • Can every seat see me and the content I am presenting? You might go to every seat with your content on the overhead to test this. Or, you might ask a colleague to pop in and test your visibility
  • Where do you stand? You should know the blind spots you create with your body and/or writing hand.
  • Is the overhead or document camera a better tool than standing at the board for the content you are delivering?
  • Are your visuals big enough for the back to see.

After you have addressed question like these, you are more likely to produce a dynamite lesson.  But don’t stop there. If you find yourself puzzled as to why kids aren’t getting it, you don’t have to wear yourself out asking questions like background checks for employment. Simply use proximity and presentation as a way to troubleshoot and pinpoint issues holding your teaching back. The reason you aren’t reaching all your kids may very well lay in the question: “Where do you stand?”

My One Minute Mystery and Teaching Genre

Most kids learn by seeing and they seem to be crying out “show me” when it comes to the abstract concepts. Today I wrote a quick mystery for my kids.

phone2Teaching elementary students the writing and reading genres can be a real challenge especially when the genre is abstract like “mysteries.” It’s difficult to explain exactly what a mystery is and a good, short example of one can help immeasurably. Most kids learn by seeing and they seem to be crying out “show me” when it comes to the abstract concepts. Today I wrote a quick mystery for my kids. about writing on the bathroom wall. It was by no means intriguing or excellent. The students banded together to figure it out and in the end they reasoned it was a student to blame.

I then showed them the “twist” that it was really a bad substitute teacher who was the culprit. We had a lot of fun playing with the story. I asked tons of questions and in the end they knew what a mystery was. This genre is a California standard. You might see what you can come up with as a 1 minute mystery. Remember that kids of this generation see things on tv more than they read so a visual type of story you can tell them will be worth a lot more than a lecture.

Create Specialized Focused Expectations

tumblr_ngffqvCqX71tpmr3io1_1280Teachers are valuable for their critical thinking skills. Just giving a teacher the materials and saying “Go teach!” is not enough. The professional can synthesize the common core standards and create focused expectations the students can meet. Only a teacher has his “ear to the ground” and truly knows how the kids learn. Teachers are the best to decide what the lessons should consist of. Getting there to set those expectations requires teaching, assessment, and analysis of the assessment. When all that is done, we can create focused expectations based on our professional assessment. Politicians can’t create focused expectations because they aren’t with the students every day. Parents can do it but it won’t reflect what the majority need as well as what the developmental learners do. Administrators can’t do it because they are caught up day to day in the social and physical aspects of running the school. This leaves us with teachers, the best ones to create expectations and measure progress toward goals. Continue reading “Create Specialized Focused Expectations”

Classroom Expectations – Take Your Time, do it Right

Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations. What they don’t all agree on is how to do it.

Classroom management and expectations are a teacher’s best friend or worst enemy. 

It depends on how well a teacher conveys them to the kids. Research I’ve read shows that the beginning of the year is the best time to declare your classroom rules and expectations.  If you fail to get the point across at that time, you have exponentially less control in the classroom until year’s end. You might say it is the most crucial learning objective you’ll have.  Most teachers I talk to agree the beginning of the year is the time to establish authority, rules, and expectations.  What they don’t all agree on however is how to do it

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I knew one teacher who believed in passing out a handout with the rules and not going over them.  I knew another who would would take the entire first week of the school year modeling, explaining, and getting the kids to act out every scenario imaginable.  He actually used puppets and the kids would “ad-lib” scenarios with him such as: “Hey, imagine the puppet is a kid outside and he says: ‘Your momma is ugly.'” The kids would horse around and make the puppets fight.  Then, that teacher would take the teaching opportunity to talk about how silly it is to fight over words. What he’s really doing is setting the stage for child discipline. I feel the second teacher had a much better approach. Believe it or not, puppets are excellent classroom management tools.

I don’t focus solely on behavior management the whole first week, but I use most of it to set the curriculum aside and teach rules and expectations.  I had kids the first week holding up crossed fingers and I had no idea why.  I found out their teacher last year used that as a signal to go to the restroom.  This is an example of why teachers should take time establishing new “grooves” of activity in the classroom.  There is something called the “affective filter” that hinders kids from feeling comfortable learning and taking risks in the classroom.  When the rules are unclear, an anxiety permeates the room.  This anxiety can keep kids from learning to their potential and cause all sorts of mayhem.

I don’t recommend an entire week of nothing but rules and expectations but I think at least half a week with time for followup is a must. You can look into the classroom management books on this one.

Last week I noticed on Thursday that my kids were still not quite sure how I check for understanding.  My method is different from many teachers as you may know if you’ve read my pieces on that.  To summarize it, I say the question, wait, and then call on a random non-volunteer.  This breaks with the traditional method of checking for understanding by forward questioning. I decided I would review and practice it until the kids were “awake” and answering when their number was called.  They eventually did get it and we are ready to start the year strong. When things like this work, I share them here as teacher tips.

Have you thought about your style of class management? Is there a way you could convey it more clearly at the beginning of the year?

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”

5 Better Ways To Discipline Than Removing Recess

When a child misbehaves in your classroom, is your first response to have him lose recess time? In 2006 a study found that 81.4 percent of schools allowed this as a punishment. Yet in a time when kids are suffering from greater attention problems and poor social skills (not to mention problems with childhood obesity on the rise), taking away recess and the chance to run around simply is not the right option.

Put the Child to Work

Sometimes kids act out because they have pent-up energy or are bored with the classroom instruction. Cutting recess makes these problems worse. So, instead of cutting out the part of the day they really need, give the children a job to do as a disciplinary action.

This can be something simple, like taking a document to the office, or something a bit more involved, like vacuuming the carpet or cleaning the board. Try to find a time, outside of that vital recess period, that the child can perform the job.

Reward Positive Behavior

Sometimes rewarding positive behavior is just as effective as punishing negative behavior. When students see their classmates earning a coveted reward, they will work harder to earn it as well.

Consider a system where your students can earn a sticker on a chart for each day without behavior issues. When they achieve a set number of stickers, they receive a reward. Rewards can be simple things, like:

  • Using the teacher’s desk for the day
  • Switching desks with a friend
  • Picking their favorite weekly job
  • Free time on the computer
  • Lunch with the teacher
  • Choosing a toy from a reward bin

You can create a list that is specific to your classroom and your students. The key is to be consistent in helping children attain a prize, and the positive rewards will help curtail negative behavior.

Involve the Parents

Sometimes, even in spite of your positive reinforcement techniques, you need to impose a negative consequence when children misbehave. For those instances, consider a timeout from a coveted activity that is not recess, like music class or free reading time at the end of the day. The timeout should be short, but long enough to get the child’s attention.

Then, if the behavior does not improve, it’s time to bring in the parents. In many instances, parental involvement is more effective than taking away recess time. A simple note home can bring much better results than days of missed recesses. Having a child who was caught using foul language repeat those words to his mom over the phone may do more good than hours of social isolation. Continue reading “5 Better Ways To Discipline Than Removing Recess”