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”

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”

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”

Look at it Differently

When you face an UN-solveable riddle as a teacher, you might find a solution if you step back and look at it differently. Currently, I am dealing with a small yet tedious situation with a bookshelf. I moved it and now I don’t think its location is optimal for my students. I moved it where it is now to assist me in my lesson planning but in doing so through “tunnel vision” I failed to see how it would block a large area where I could present student work. I went over the placement again and again in my mind coming up empty on a win/win idea. Sometime today, I will sit down and sketch an aerial view of my classroom, in hopes of finding a better placement. Of course, i have left out the part about how heavy and obtrusive it is. I believe it can be used in an optimal way to serve both the teacher and students. As of yet though, I haven’t a clue how.

Making a schematic of the room is a way to look at the conundrum differently. I have used this approach to many teaching issues with positive results. This approach could mean many things: videoing yourself teaching, asking a colleagues perspective, a Principal. My drawing I will make at my kitchen table is a change of perspective. It is a way of viewing a problem “from a distance.” Sometimes looking at your situation differently is the secret to a dynamite lesson plan.

The Written Behavior Log – A Win/Win/Win

Keeping a written record of things students do is powerful when dealing with parents, the Principal, and when seeking to improve the school’s behavioral programs. It carries more weight than your simple “recollection” of events.

20120817-141710.jpgProbably the best student behavior related advice I ever got as a new teacher was to “Write things down.” Keeping a written record of things students do is powerful when dealing with parents, the Principal, and when seeking to improve the school’s behavioral programs. It carries more weight than your simple “recollection” of events. If Johnny misbehaves, the parent and administration wants to know exactly how and when he did so. This can be a fancy three ring binder you create or just a lined sheet of paper on a clipboard. The only essential is that it must be written in regularly. It’s so important, I say it should be part of any sound classroom management.

3Is2Win 1: The parent. We live and teach in a time where the teacher/parent relationship is constantly being redefined. For one student, you are the “guide,” the “mentor.” This is of course the ideal situation we hope for with all our students. Unfortunately, there are other parents who can be hostile toward teachers. They can complain to no end and even enter the classroom sometimes to share their discontent about their child. These are the ones we must give our full attention. They may have a real concern but in other cases, they may just want someone to hear their complaints. In either case, you need to be a listener #1. Imagine if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you want to be heard? What if your child was being bullied? On the other hand, what if your child were accused of bullying? I have seen upset parents calm down quite quickly simply because I didn’t react or reply, I only listened and gave active listening feedback. If something has happened with their child on the offending end, you will have a much better case if you have a written behavior log. You can examine your well reasoned points if you are lucky. Without a behavior log of the events their child was involved in, you don’t have a leg to stand on and they may try to assault your character, saying you have no proof or you make things up. Let me not here that the goal of a teacher should always be so find a positive solution with parents. We, in a real sense, work for them. We do not, however, have to be at the mercy of ones who seek to disparage us because we are allegedly disorganized or without proof.

With_SupesWin #2: Your Boss. The Principal will greatly appreciate your log as well. I think they have one of the hardest jobs in education. They field complaints all day as well as attempt to foster an ideal learning environment. When they get a phone call about a child in your class, you can get out your log and show your observations. Without the log, it is your word against the parent and that put the Principal in a very precarious situation. We all want the needs of the child to be met. The Behavior log can help us to that end, even if it documents what the child has done wrong. We can look at positive solutions. If you simply try to recall what has happened in class, you run the risk of being the problem! That’s right, a Principal may choose to see you as the problem even when the child has done wrong. The solution? Write it down as it happens. This can also be a great tool to pull out during a time of teacher evaluation.

IMG_0045Win #3: The School. The best reason to have a behavior log is to help constant improvement of the school’s behavior plan. You can bring that information to a school site council meeting (or other meeting) and make informed statements about what behavior problems are occurring. If multiple teachers see trends, it can be possible to brainstorm solutions. You can show statistics at parents meetings as well as any meetings that concern student behavior and safety. This benefits the school and the child as well as the family. Most schools in the 21st century recognize the value of those three entities.

To close, I encourage you to keep a behavior log in your classroom. It will foster your professionalism with parents and administration as well as benefit the school. Sounds like a win/win/win right?

Please leave a comment! This is a blog that thrives on other peoples’ opinions. Thank you in advance for commenting.

Three Tools You Can Use to Make Effective Lessons

The skill of writing lesson plans is crucial to running an effective classroom. This is common knowledge I am sure most will agree. The question for the effective teacher then becomes:

What teaching tools are out there to use to make effective lesson plans?

In this post I give you three tools, though there are many others, to do make effective lesson plans.

The first tool is a standard, or objective. Here in my state of California, we have made great inroads toward success by using the state standards framework. The Common Core will be here soon and that is also a great way to map out lessons. The objectives for each grade level have been articulated on aour academic standards website and teachers are free to access them. They are also responsible to teach from them and show results at the end of the school year. Every state and district give guidelines, that are usually online, to teaching everything in your year. Continue reading “Three Tools You Can Use to Make Effective Lessons”