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.

Common Core Testing Next Week – All Aboard, Ready or Not

all-aboard-common-core2Well, it feels as if we are finally “here” at my small school up here in the high desert. Common Core is at our door and other states are reporting rocky starts. I have tested the format via Smarter Balanced testing samples. I have tried to translate the standards I have used since 1997 into comprehensible Common Core language. I have been to the trainings and hope to go to more. I still feel a bit incomplete, a bit in the dark as to how my students can master this test. A letter went out from the district office about how this test will not be scored in a traditional way. Instead, the scores will be used only to analyze the test and tweak as necessary to meet the goals of the Department of Education. It feels as if all the rules have been thrown out and new ones enacted in only one short year. I have trepidation about Common Core but no fear. I welcome this change. It gives the kids a broader plane to visualize problems and solutions. I have called it a national word problem. I like that visual of a child working through a scenario in words rather than a rote ABCD fill-in answer.

Some grade levels at my school will begin the testing (on computers) next week. Mine starts at the beginning of May. This is an exciting time of change and evolution in our field. We will do better if we do away with sarcasm and criticism, which I have heard and read a lot of. It is okay to question and even challenge things from time to time. I have not held back my belief that this test is too hard too quickly in the transition from the old standards test style. But progress waits for no man. I am told this will be a flat year with no scores being published. Next year will be a “baseline” year with scores being publish and the third year from now will be an API AYP generating year where schools will go back to being “graded” in the press and the public by the State adopted standards test. Fasten your seat belts and be ready for anything. Embrace the change, progress awaits.

My Comments on a So-Called “Teacher Bill of Rights”

On Facebook this evening, I found this “teacher’s bill of rights.” This comment may sound rude but I hate blue-sky, irrational posts like this that complain on behalf of us teachers in the trenches. I would like this if it were meant as humor but I think they are being serious.
1891061_10152303771788708_1428955988_nI don’t need them to plead my case as a teacher. Here are my corresponding comments: #1 Is subjective. #2 Is subjective #3 Copy paper, pencils, and soap are provided (though I could use more pencils than 30 a month) #4 My school has fairly advanced technology #5 ok #6 Ridiculous. Highly subjective statement and completely impossible to grant to any teacher.#7 WTH are they talking about here? Colleagues evaluating us? Hopefully not some I know #8) Ha. Go into the business world. Teaching will always be a medium paid job, which is not bad. There is more security in teaching than most jobs of the same pay. #9) A dream, but a good one. #10) We get this already.

I agree with the direction of these rights but the way they aim to get there is bordering on absurd. “Think Big” they say out there in the world. I say, be the change you want to see. Little by little, you’ll affect big changes.

The Benefits of Becoming an Owner-Operator

While not everyone may have what it takes to become their own boss, creative, resourceful, and persistent individuals can make a comfortable living becoming an owner-operator of their own company. If you are considering going into business for yourself, here are four advantages of being your own boss in the trucking industry.

Flexible Hours

 One of the biggest appeals of working for yourself is the ability to set your own hours. With that said, if you work inconsistently and fail to commit to meet deadlines and appointments, your business could fall flat. Be realistic about your schedule and don’t give yourself too many sick days or vacation time. Truckers have different schedules than most other workers, so you’ll need to evaluate your own needs.

Greater Control

 As your own boss, you’ll have the freedom to implement your own decisions that determine the future success of your company. As an employee, you can only exercise control within the parameters of your title. As an owner-operator, you decide what jobs you take.

Doing What You Love

 Becoming an owner-operator permits you to turn your passion into a livelihood. You’ll also enjoy a greater sense of satisfaction operating your own business. If you consistently work well and meet your client’s expectations, the sky is your only limit.

Developing Positive Habits

 When you’re relying only on yourself to run an entire company and make the shots, you’ll quickly develop a strong work ethic as every problem or success falls on your shoulders alone. Folks who run their own business develop positive characteristics including frugality, punctuality, loyalty, specialized skills, and resilience.

Side-Yard Superhero (Book Review)

A memoir and anecdotal collection of teachable moments I am sure Rick has used to captivate students in his classroom for decades.

The tagline to this book’s title is “Life Lessons from an Unlikely Teacher.” It is a book by Rick D. Niece, known as a teacher, administrator, University president, and now author. The book is published by Five Star Publications. It is a memoir and anecdotal collection of teachable moments I am sure Rick has used to captivate students in his classroom for decades. He notes in the beginning that life stories may change when put into print and they can even become more true over time than they were when once lived in adolescent or other aged eyes. For that reason, he doesn’t label it non-fiction but the book is clearly a collection of autobiographical events.

The book starts with the backdrop of Rick’s paper route. Many of us can recall collecting along paper routes and the life wisdom we draw now from those innocent times. He visits a quadriplegic named Bernie and much of the wisdom shared in the book comes from him. Rick tries to share how important his times with Bernie were and still are. He gets his point across through richly descriptive prose of a small town and all its treasures. This is Americana through the eyes and pen of an educator. As most Americana novels do, he paints word pictures that bring us back to our youth and young adulthood. He intersperses some of his poetry as well that carries the same reverie of youth passed and wisdom gained. These are universal stories about the human condition.

I really enjoyed Rick’s slice of Americana and I agree we can gain wisdom from the most humble of places. Across our great nation there are many Bernie’s quietly offering just that sort of wisdom. Perhaps this sort of insight is what led Rick up the ladder of academia to become a principal and the president of a college. If you are looking for an inspiring and nostalgic read with humor and stories to use in your teaching or other job, buy Side-Yard Superhero. I think you will agree that anyone seeking to have an impact in this world would benefit by reading these stories.

The Band Plays On (Book Review)

The Band Plays On is filled with important ideas from reading Robert Frost poetry to playing in a band. I know as a teacher I need inspiration sometimes and this book supplies a truck-load.

I recently read The Band Plays On, (Going Home for a Music Man’s Encore) and found it inspiring and motivational. The author is Rick D. Niece, Ph.D and the book is published by Five Star Publications Inc. It is the second book in a series about Niece’s hometown. I have also reviewed Niece’s first book, Side-Yard Superhero here on my blog. This second installment, The Band Plays On, is filled with powerful memories from reading Robert Frost poetry to playing in the school band. Since I am always happy to recall such things, it was a first-class journey for me. I felt honored to be on it. The framework of the book is a tribute to his music-teaching father and that aspect is quite touching. I read many inspiring vignettes that made me want to continue teaching with gusto. Since I teach in the day and teach guitar after school, I am sometimes spent. It can get hard to see the larger vision. Rick Niece, Ph.D is a writer of Americana and teaching and his work helped center me while reading. His books also remind me of what’s important in just plain being human.

GOOD NEWS TO SHARE! In preparation for this review, I had the distinct pleasure of corresponding with the author himself. I did a QnA with him which I’ve pasted below. He provided some great insight to my questions and I thank him for the time he took to do so:

Damien Riley: Hello Dr. Niece, since I am a blogger, I truly appreciate the term you use in your book “automythography.” I think most bloggers struggle with the line between history and fiction. Your term is helpful to me in understanding what I do. How does this genre free you up to expand on your own perceptions and/or limit you to what really occurred?

Rick Niece: I thought that I created the term “automythography,” but then found out it has been around, primarily used in art and dance, since the 1980s. However, I have defined it for literature. An automythography is a work of non-fiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember and how we think we remember it. It is an iridescent memory based upon the author’s truth and personal narrative.

Most of the autobiographies and memoirs I have read are presented as factual and accurate. I do not doubt their veracity, but I am leery when the author quotes dialogue and describes specific scenes from decades past. I do that as well, but with the caveat that they are how I remember what was said or is being described. Time alters our memories. My favorite part of the term automythography is the “myth,” but not in the sense of something being made up. Myths are also stories that are true and repeated from one generation to the next. Each telling and retelling is slightly different—and that is no doubt the case for me and my stories—but the tellings are based upon true and real incidents. The stories are not made up.

Finally, in my definition for automythography I use the word “iridescent.” I like that word and what it connotes. Soap bubbles are iridescent. As they float away from us, they change shapes and colors. But they are the same soap bubbles. That is true for memories as well. Over the years, as our memories float away from us, they change shapes and colors. But they are the same memories—they are our automythographies.

Damien Riley: My 3 kids attend a school where I teach 4th grade and guitar after school. My kids seem to enjoy having dad at school with them but I imagine they might prefer anonymity. Were there ever times you felt you couldn’t measure up?

Rick Niece: Oh my goodness, yes, there were times when I felt it was difficult to “measure up” on a variety of levels. In Side-Yard Superhero, Book 1 in my series, Fanfare for a Hometown, I describe how I was repeatedly warned not to embarrass my father in front of the superintendent and the other teachers. Although I thought I was a “typical” kid, it was difficult to remain typical when my father was the school’s only music teacher and the superintendent lived across the street from me and my family. There was no anonymity for me, and as a consequence, I was a relatively good kid and student.

My father was one of those teachers students could go to with their problems, big and small. He always had time for students before school, after school, and at home. Because of that, I sometimes felt that I had to wait in line. That is not a complaint, but simply my fact of life. I admired my father even more because of the respect students had for him and that he had for them. I was proud that my parents were a second set of parents for many students.

My father was an exceptional teacher, and because he was so good at what he did and how he did it, I was hesitant to go into education myself. In fact, I did not seek acceptance into Ohio State University’s education program until the end of my sophomore year. I was afraid that, as a teacher, it would be difficult for me to emerge from the long shadow of my father and his success.

Through it all, I felt special and was proud to be in the school where my father taught. I am certain that your children feel that same sense of pride—and pressure—with you being a teacher in the school they attend. In time, we all adjust.

Damien Riley: Do you think it is possible for children today to enjoy the same sort of upbringing as you? Why or why not?

Rick Niece: I hope that children growing up today enjoy the same type of upbringing I did. I do not want to sound too optimistic naively when I say that I think they are experiencing the same joys today that I did decades ago.

However, I also have to be realistic. When I was a boy, four environments provided a positive influence on children: home, school, church, and community. My fear is that far too many youngsters may actually experience none of those today. How sad is that?

Damien Riley: Whom do you think will most enjoy The Band Plays On? What makes it so appealing?

Rick Niece: I think the same readers who enjoyed Side-Yard Superhero will also like The Band Plays On. The writing is vivid and flows easily, and the characters are endearing, interesting, and quite unique. Within the humor and the life lessons, there is also a sad, poignant reality that comes through because of the deaths of close friends.

The books are universally appealing, I believe, because readers like a story with descriptive writing, strong narrative, and appealing characters. I think that readers also enjoy stepping back in time to an age they either lived themselves or wish they had experienced.

The Band Plays On, however, will definitely be enjoyed by anyone who has been a member of a marching band or who has played a musical instrument. We have a shared camaraderie that comes through loud and clear—and in tune—throughout the book.

My (Damien Riley) final word: Again, I thank Rick for his insightful and empathetic words. Educators and musical educators will be first in line to enjoy this masterpiece but all who enjoy great narrative Americana will be moved as well. I want to thank Rick for answering my questions for this review. I’m a bigger fan of his than ever. As of time of posting, I have been informed of something that makes this book yet even more cool please check it out below

Long term Dr. Rick Niece is supporting music education by donating $1 of every book copy of The Band Plays On sold to an organization called Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which donates new and refurbished instruments to school music programs lacking the resources to purchase them. It was inspired by the acclaimed motion picture Mr. Holland’s Opus (the story of the profound effect a dedicated music teacher had on generations of students).

Via this direct link you can read more about and/or purchase The Band Plays on.

A Teacher Should Strive to be Great Just as any Butcher, Baker, or Candlestick Maker

When the Secretary of Education, Jack O’Connell, visited our school, I was asked to do an EDI lesson. This is me teaching “cause and effect” with the board members, Sec. O’Connell, and other honored guests.

There is much being said about this article where a Judge in California has deemed teacher tenure “unconstitutional.” A few people have been kind enough to ask me what I think. I thought I’d blog my response to all that here rather than in a confining comment box on social media. Here is the news article I am responding to if you haven’t read it. Below is my reaction to the article:

Teacher tenure has been a popular issue in the media for about ten years. Unfortunately, most the people writing, talking, and making movies about it are jumping to conclusions and setting up a straw man fallacy. Like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger did, I believe in unions. In the 1950’s that may have pigeon-holed me as a communist. When I think of unions I think of the part of the constitution that reads basically this: “Each individual in endowed with … inalienable rights … the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I have seen teacher’s unions help people keep those rights. If we are to destroy unions, we destroy something good for humanity.

Please know that I feel, to become and stay a teacher, you must have a deep care for the development of young people. Those young people, namely students, should be the reason you teach. Because the profession has a “human” product and not a monetary one, I think there should be a way to get rid of bad teachers who under-perform consistently and don’t care about the human side. The first 2 years a teacher is evaluated and observed 3 times a year. After that, every other year once a year. If the teacher gets a substandard evaluation, they are re-evaluated the following year. In addition, a tenured teacher is not immune from discipline, at least not in the schools I have worked at.

I feel a teacher should strive to be great just as any butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. Next year will be my 16th year in teaching and I have never viewed tenure as a “protection” for me to under-perform. I am always working hard to be the best teacher I can be for my students. Sure, there are under-performing teachers out there but there are also under-performing butchers, bakers and … well you get it. How we weed them out of teaching is a very good question.

Anyway, non-union people may disagree but that’s what I think. I think we should make working with kids a more attractive profession so there is more competition. Then, the best will be hired. As a teacher I don’t feel as if my profession is as respected as it once was in society. Some stuff I read these days, mostly from conservatives, is downright hateful and ignorant about teaching. Sometimes I think the confusion about what teachers do leads to hateful monolgues that wrongly vilify unions. Who knows what the future of teaching will hold. I know one thing for sure, society will always need teachers in one way or another with or without tenure. Don’t believe the hype, believe in our need for great teachers.

On Teaching Without Paper, or Less Anyway

copierUsing effective teaching methods often requires all your wit and candor every day. When the copy machine takes more than you have, it kind of wrecks you. Since I started teaching in 1997, I have had a love/hate relationship with copiers and printers. It can be so cool when you have a crisp, stapled presentation ready for 30 kids stacked flush on your desk ready to deliver. It’s even better when the print actually enhances the learning transaction and the standard is internalized as a result.

More often than that though paper is a hassle.

Eight times out of ten when I get my stuff to the copy room, there is a jammed sign on it. Other times it is out of paper in which case I have to use my valuable prep time getting cut on the box and opening reams to load in the machine. Even more frustrating are the times when there is a line of 3 or more of my colleagues all holding their holy grails of lessons in their arms waiting impatiently for the one in front to gather her/his business out of the way. Let me assure you, youll wish you were in hell if YOU are the one who jams the machine with those lines watching over your shoulder. I know there is a longing out there among teachers for more paperless teaching materials.

I’ve often avoided the copier issues by printing the stuff at my computer. We have Brother laser printers and they often work well. It’s never mattered how many trees I massacred as long as the ink was dark and flowed freely, which up to now it always has.

Alas, printers like people, get old I’m afraid. They need routine operations and recently, two in needed to be taken to a nearby cliff (if we had one in the desert) and put out of their misery. I’m speaking of one-half printing. Sound familiar? Lines streaking? Drum light flashing Morse code?

At one point a couple years back, I had all these wonderful road-blocks to getting my lessons taught. You know what I decided? I decided instead of cursing the printing darkness, to light a candle. I declared power over paper.

It would no longer control me! Time for green school ideas.

I set down a what-if scenario for every paper event I can fathom. I decided that the wool had been pulled over my eyes long enough . . . paper and teaching . . . I saw clearly for the first time: I JUST DON’T NEED IT! I am going to learn how to save paper and still be a highly effective teacher. A teaching career can exist with less paper. I believe in that.

Van Gogh said art is done within limitation, not without. I indeed have to get creative at times in order to keep my one-day-at-a-time commitment. My students already have a mother lode of printed material in their texts and their consumable books. I see no reason why I can’t continue this until I retire. My mission is to find alternatives to paper.