Believe in Students

This is just a brief reminder of what I’ve been relearning lately: to believe in students.

When kids tell whoppers, it doesn’t hurt to believe them.

Let me explain: since beginning my new assignment teaching Read180 to pullout rotations, I’ve been challenged with learning 70+ new names in grades 3, 4, 5 and 6 and the student personalities that go along with them. As they’ve come through my classroom, many have given me stories I don’t necessarily believe. Rather than challenge what they say, I’ve chosen to take them at face value and it seems to be making the whole class trust me more than ever in my career.

I seem to gain trust by believing a “whopper” like “My mom knows the President” than by taking valuable time asking more questions. This may seem obvious but I know that by erring on the side of believing in them, it sends a message that I am open and accepting rather than critical and exclusive. I’ve even noticed later that some kids with the biggest stories come back and clarify later, which gives me an opportunity once again to show they will not be rejected but embraced for sharing no matter what they choose to say. This is something I chose to write about today as an observation I have made recently in the classroom. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Feel free to leave a comment.

In the Mean Time, Just Teach Kids

tony-lays-it-all-out-on-the-chalkboardI loved the Nike slogan in the 80’s “Just Do it.” This is something we as teachers in negotiations need to remember. If you read too much of the news around education, it will leave you feeling left out to dry. For some reason the climate in political circle is bad toward teachers. It’s not warranted however. We in education have seen so much good happening in our classrooms, schools, districts, and regions. We know teachers are continuing to pass on knowledge and students are receiving it. There is an issue of economics that has center stage. The conservatives for the most part want higher test scores and they want the ability to produce them without traditionally credentialed teachers. They open chart schools, of which some are very good I must say, that employ low paid teachers that are not unionized. I assume they still must be credentialed but if they can save money I am sure they will find a way around that. We studied hard to get two degrees in college and we long to show our ability in the classroom. We work hard to see measurable growth in our students. Unfortunately, this is not being seen by some voices in our culture.  Continue reading “In the Mean Time, Just Teach Kids”

A Flight Simulator, a Briar Patch to get our Kids Ready

brerrabit3The fear and reverence of Common Core is all around. It permeates education. Kids who are gifted and self-starters will likely welcome the opportunity to answer high level thinking questions on a computer screen. They also will not mind the copying, pasting, bulleting, and other technical aspects of the tests. But for the rest, it’s going to come as a shock. Some kids will just give up and type nonsense into the answer boxes. Others will flutter the screens as they learn to select text and not much more. What can we do for these students? I have a suggestion.

Just like flight students work in a simulator to decrease the affect of flying, so we should put kids in a simulated session of the Common Core test. For us here in California it is called the “Smarter Balanced” or SBAC Practice Test. It’s totally free and akin to the released questions the cde used to offer on their site. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s too bad there is no way to download it in case they ever upgrade or otherwise choose to take it down. I still have all my material the cde put out for the “1997 standards,” or so they are now called. It comes in handy sometimes. But this is more valuable than any of that. It gives the child a chance to click around within the framework and interface of the common core test that will shine before all students’ faces in April/May. If you don’t use this, make sure your test prep includes something like the interface they will be in. Remember Brer Rabbit when he got caught? He cried and cried for them not to throw him into a briar patch. When he escaped, he yelled “I was born in a briar patch!” laughing his way out of sight. We need to get our kids exposed to the common core test. Of course, daily instruction in the standards is the most crucial thing but after that, we need a flight simulator, a briar patch to get our kids ready for success.

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”

Common Core – The National Word Problem

1619_131794753693811_1561166653_nIn most math programs in California, you have two types of assessment of the standards: a multiple choice format and an open-ended word problem. Most teachers are too busy to grade a lot of written answers for math so the multiple choice assessment has been the mainstay for teachers. In Language Arts, the same has been true. Why assign 2-3 long written answer assignments when you can just feed multiple choice tests through a scanner and have data immediately … in colored charts. After some more exposure to Common Core, I have come to see it metaphorically as the long written response. It will be harder to grade but the states have stepped up and hired graders to do it. As a parent, I think this is great. It is preparing my kids for the real world. As a teacher, I recognize that the days of the bubble sheet are all but gone.

We can use bubble sheets to build the skill necessary but synthesis of those skills is a year-long revisiting. Practicing connecting standards and identifying them as such will be our challenge. I could almost always show growth when the assessment piece was standards based and each question like a sample of the standard. I actually loved teaching that way. I used EDI to cover every standard and item by item I could see what was strong ad what needed revisiting. Common Core takes that way of teaching about 3 steps beyond. My that I mean, what was “1D” is now “4D” testing. It is no longer multiple choice. We are catapulted into a “national word problem” if you will. I predict national scores will drop the first year. The second year they will rise a little as teachers and students get used to Common Core. The third year, I think we will see growth in the classrooms where teachers are willing to take up the challenge of casting away multiple choice and embracing testing that is more akin to word problems. But what about the kids that don’t do well with word problems? As Bruce says in the photo in this post, “People outside of that structure get lost.” Will we reach more kids or less with word problems? Time will tell.

A Neighboring Teacher’s Noisy Class

This post was published first on Damien at the Speed of Life.

It doesn’t happen that often and in fact hasn’t happened in a long time but as a teacher, I cringe when I hear another teacher lose control of their class. I’ve been in this line of work since 1997 so I completely understand the frustration children can cause when they are breaking the rules on purpose. Especially, of course, when they “won’t shut up.” However, when I hear a teacher yelling, not just raising her/his voice, it makes me cringe. A part of me even feels the urge to step in and assist them with their probably unruly class. I never do though. Each classroom is the sole responsibility of its teacher and stepping in is, to me, a bit of a sacrilege. I’ve had many cringe-worthy moments on the job throughout my career. It is indeed hard to see a fellow professional do something regretful. The following example happened to me when I taught down South years ago.

One year I was occasional exposed to another class where the teacher literally had no control. When we were in a certain room on occasion the kids would bang against the wall we shared. It took everything in me to not go over there. A couple times it was unavoidable. I remember once going in there and seeing kids standing on desks. I asked the teacher to speak with her/his class because the noise level was affecting my class. I actually couldn’t blame my kids for laughing the sounds were so outrageous. You can’t help but cringe when you see another teacher who has lost control of her/his classroom. The worst part of that particular moment was after I spoke to the teacher, he/she said they were sorry could “I” speak to them. Wow, a cry for help and I only a second year teacher at the time. Then one of the kids looked at me and said “Cand ‘YOU’ be our teacher?” That was harsh. I made sure to talk to the teacher later offering my support. It was definitely a cringe-worthy moment but I learned a lot. To this day, I only step in for the most serious of reasons.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Cringe-Worthy.”

pingback test

So You’re #Teaching #AVID Are You Gellin’ ?

Me at Laguna Beach Daring to Gel
I just got back from a training on AVID. If you work with kids from a low socioeconomic strata, you either have or will have heard of it. AVID focuses on college readiness and habits. It boasts of graduating a number of seniors to colleges every year. For that reason, AVID is good in my opinion.

Where AVID falls into suspicion with me is when it starts putting extra expectations on kids who are already struggling academically.

As teachers, we should pay attention to this so our kids dont get overwhelmed. This requires ALL our sensitivity, wit, and candor. One way to be true to that and sensitive to the way AVID is presented is to pay attention to our own level of stress as well as our students. How can we be sensitive to the needs of others, nsmely our students, until we are in touch with and fortifying our own?

Its important to practice stress relieving activities if you have medical issues. For example, if you have TMJ you are grinding your teeth too much. If you have high blood pressure you need to get yourself to a doctor and get it down. What good is a “type A” personality teacher to any child if she/he has a stroke.

I have grown to love the idea of relaxation as a teacher as well as to despise with a passion the type A trainers like the ones I had at AVID and that school districts seem to praise the most.

The question is not how many things you can train a child to do but rather are the ghings you train a chold to do relevant to a tranquil, happy, real life?

I’m asking YOU teachers out there, are you taking time for you? Perhaps you have lost track of how you once did it. You are not a year round contracted employee. You work about 185 days a year. That leaves a lot if time to relax and “gel.”

As you take time to relax, you become stronger for your students and thereby stronger for your boss, bosses, State, and the tax paying families that are all expecting things from you, like AVID.

You’ll do way more with any program if your physical body feels good. So you dare to be a psycho type A, big deal. I dare you to gel Ms/Mrs/Mr Teacher.

Tradition vs. Tech as a Teacher

Below is an excerpt from a longer article I published on another blog. I think this concept is highly valuable to teachers.

It does a teacher no good to hang on to methods that are decades old when they don’t produce value. Some examples might be cursive or silent reading time. These have proven of little value in many people’s minds. Today’s teacher needs to use tech to teach explicitly and directly. As an innovative and creative teacher, I must prepare my students for the jobs and create data toward value. It’s not an easy job, but I know I will continue to be successful. I am willing to consider the data and ALL tools be they tech or tradition. The extent to which they add value toward my goals is the extent to which I use them.

via Tradition, Tech, Data and Value at Work.

Kids Getting to You?

When it comes to teaching, there are a couple disparate popular opinions. Some say teachers have it easy “playing with kids all day.” The other one holds that teachers have it worse than most jobs in that kids drive them crazy all day. Where do you fall along the spectrum? We should in fact be thankful to work with the citizens of tomorrow. That basis along is enough to inspire respect, in my opinion. At the same time, many teachers suffer ailments as a result of their job. The kids truly are “getting to” many out there in the occupation. I think every teacher I know gets frustrated and at the end of their rope sometimes. Here’s a few simple things you can do when the kids are getting to you:

  • breathe. I have found that many times when I am getting frustrated I am taking shallow breaths. Oxygen feeds the blood and the blood feeds the brain so make sure you are taking fairly deep breaths in between teaching.
  • imagine them as grownups. I don’t mean to expect more from them than what kids can do. I simply mean to gain empathy for them when you imagine what they’ll be when they grow up. This can also help motivate you knowing you are entrusted with such a calling.
  • find the humor. Let them be kids, and laugh at the things they do. Laughter is the best medicine sometimes.

Of course there are many other ways to “check your head.” Remember to be aware of when the kids are getting to you. Whether it is the quality of life you have at home or the doctor’s measures, you need to pay attention to the signs. In order to best serve the kids, you must make sure that you are happy and healthy first. The students will thank you for making the effort to be a “whole” teacher.