Don’t know what to do with all that time in the summer? P.L.A.N.

P.L.A.N – Prioritize; Lessons; Anticipate; Narrow

Before you begin planning, spend some time prioritizing the things that need the most attention. For me, it was the standards. This past year my district was beginning the process of converting our standards to scales in order to help teachers and students see where they were in the progression from below proficiency to proficiency to above proficiency. As teachers, we were to analyze the standard and decide what declarative (need to know) and procedural (skill) information was needed to move students. This was difficult during the year, we were only able to get a few completed before school was out. downloadMy goal was to work on them during the summer. For me, it is easier to focus and really dig in if there is not much else going on, so summer it is!!

 

During the year, I keep a lesson notebook. If a lesson goes really well, I make a note and ask myself if there is anything to make it even better. Likewise, if a lesson flops, I make a note. I try to figure out why it was a flop, there could be a number of reasons; preparedness of me or students; student interest; interruptions; behavior. Whatever the reason, I brainstorm ways to remedy the problem. Sometimes it may be that I just need to scrap that lesson and come up with another way to teach the skill.

Unless you’re new to teaching or new to a school you have an idea of all the events of the year and a roadmap of where you’re going. To anticipate, highlight certain activities on your yearly calendar like report cards, holidays and testing. Use the curriculum to determine where students should end up at certain points of the year and then ultimately at the end of the year and then work backward for an overall picture. imagesPlan out each unit and quarter then decide how to get students there. Use your lesson notebook to add time to skills that require more practice or teaching time. 

Another thing to anticipate is getting new students and losing students. Getting new students might throw you for a loop if you’re not expecting it and sometimes they can just show up at your door with an administrator. Have at your fingertips a packet with getting to know you questions or reading/writing and math activities for them to start with. This gives them a few minutes to acclimate to you and the class while having something to focus on. This will also give you a few minutes to finish the lesson or get students working so that you can then spend some time with the new student.

In my years in administration, I’ve learned that teachers are lesson hoarders and being a teacher, I’m in that category too! If I find a lesson that I really like or enjoy, I’ll keep using it year after year, admittedly even if it doesn’t quite fit the skill anymore, I’ll keep it in the rotation. messydeskI have to narrow my lessons each summer and purge the ones that just don’t fit anymore. Sometimes I get rid of them completely; other times I’ll rework them to include technology or cooperative learning. Be open to creating new lessons that include things that students are interested in. Do some research and find out what the big thing is for the age level you teach and try to incorporate it into a new lesson. For example, you could incorporate a ‘texting’ feature into a lesson on finding the main idea. Even though there won’t be any actual texting, the idea of a lesson looking and sounding like texting might be fun or interesting for students.

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Let’s Do Lunch

Many schools have duty-free lunch for teachers, i.e. the teacher has a break while lunchroom monitors supervise the students.eater It’s a wonderful benefit that provides a much-needed respite.  Even though it might seem like a minor thing, kicking off a new school year with a few simple strategies can make duty-free lunch a “win-win” for you and the monitors that serve you. 

Students have a tendency to act differently when the teacher is not around.  To counteract that, you’ll need to create an expectation for your kids to do the right thing all the time. How do you set that tone?

  • Training appropriate behavior requires consistency and vigilance. Consider having lunch with your students in the cafeteria the first week of school. You’ll gain an opportunity to reinforce good manners, address outbursts and conflict, and encourage healthy eating habits.    
  • Do a surprise “pop in” and make yourself visible a few times in the first month or so. This will sit in the back of their minds, and serve as a subtle, lasting cue to behave.
  • I also like to invite them to have lunch with me in the classroom on occasion. By taking the time to do this you are showing them that you are interested in their lives.  When students sense that you truly care, they want to please you and behave correctly.

Germ-Free Bathroom Pass

Here’s a quick suggestion to make bathroom nametagvisits a little more sanitary.  Create clip-on bathroom passes for your students: one labeled for BOYS and another for GIRLS. You can use a name tag like you might have at a meeting or conference.  The benefit is that once it’s clipped on, their hands are free to do their business and wash up without touching the pass. Have hand sanitizer within easy reach of where you store the bathroom pass, as an extra measure to help kill pesky germs. 

Get on the “Write” Track

The writer Donald Miller offers an interesting thought about journaling: “He captures memories because if he forgets them, it’s as though they didn’t happen.”  

Numerous analysts celebrate the power of journal keeping, and its importance is especially critical for young learners.  I believe everyone can benefit from developing a practice of looking inward, recording actions and feelings, and observing their world with a critical eye.  So how do you take journal writing from an assignment to an opportunity?  How do you make it something that kids will look forward to continuing long beyond their time in your class?  Variety and consistency are two important things to incorporate as you move into this with your kids.Train-clip-art-free-free-clipart-images

For some students, the act of writing will be a foreign concept, and providing prompts and assignments can be helpful.  Your journaling assignment could take the form of a daily diary or creative writing.  (See examples below.)  Your students’ journals could be a series of responses to journal prompts, i.e. questions or considerations that ask the student to evaluate their mood, set or reflect on goals or objectives, or wrestle with life challenges and common situations that they might face.

The key is to just get started and encourage, encourage, encourage.  Here is a process you might consider:

  1. Begin the journal process by having students observe you modeling it; writing in a journal either on your ELMO, Smartboard or overhead projector.
  2. Brainstorm a list of topics that you might write about and list them in the front of your journal. Then each day for a week, share examples of how to write about a few of the topics. Go back and edit or revise something you’ve written; add to the topic list based on something you did the previous evening.
  3. After a week or so, have them begin their own topic list and journal writing.
  4. As they progress, conference with them about what they’ve written.  Use the time to nurture their early attempts to craft a story or communicate their ideas.  I would suggest that you avoid “grading” the writing itself.  You can track participation and even make the journal assignment mandatory, but the value of journaling comes more from the act of transferring thoughts into words than from the mechanics of writing.  Accuracy, sentence structure, and clarity aren’t as important as learning to process ideas and take thoughts captive in written form.  When a child begins to make progress in turning a phrase or communicating more clearly, celebrate their accomplishments, and challenge them to go to the next level.
  5. Have them refine their list of journal topics as their interests or experiences change. As the year goes by, model for them how to bounce ideas off each other and collaborate. 
  6. At the end of the year, have the students look back at their early work, and compare the ways they have matured or changed during the course of the school year.

If you choose to prompt your students to try their hand at different forms of writing other than a diary, here are some possible ideas:

  1. Poetry
  2. Photo captions
  3. Thank you notes
  4. Letters
  5. Lists
  6. Short stories
  7. News reports
  8. Biographies of friends or family members
  9. Interviews
  10. Instructions or How-To’s (recipes, playing a game, craft projects, etc.)

The Most Important Times of the Day

With all the pressures of teaching, every minute is precious. But there are two times of the day when you can purposefully set the tone for learning: the first 10 minutes — un-wrap — and the last 10 minutes — wrap-up.

In the first 10 minutes, students need to know that you’re glad they are at school and happy to see them. Stand at the door 10-minute-clock-300x300and welcome them to class; make small talk with them; ask about the previous afternoon — inquire about a game they played in or what they did. Have an activity on the board or on their desks for them to plunge into; you need to create a sense of purpose to begin the day.  This could be an academic activity that encourages them to interact. Whether you do this or not, students will find ways to talk and socialize.  If you give them constructive opportunities to do so during un-wrap, it’s easier to engage them academically when necessary.  (Note:  I wouldn’t do this the first week of school. The first week or two should be completely orchestrated by you.) The morning arrival time needs to be structured, and it’s best to have a writing/drawing prompt or interest survey waiting for them.

We all like to prepare for the day ahead, and students are no different. Giving your students an agenda during un-wrap can help prevent the nagging questions they’re prone to raise throughout the day.  (What special do we have today; what’s for lunch; what are we doing in math?)

The last 10 minutes of the day are equally important.  Begin the wrap-up by recapping the day:  highlight what happened and emphasize key accomplishments. You should model this recap for them early in the year, but eventually turn it over to them. Give them an opportunity to identify what was fun or what they learned.  Encourage them to verbalize something that was difficult.

Other topics for wrap-up include a preview of tomorrow’s activities, which gives them something to anticipate. (Keep it positive.)  Provide a topic or question they can ask at home to keep parents involved.

You should not only talk about the academic side of things but social topics too. Students are very aware of what goes on in the class socially, e.g. who’s friends with whom, who got in trouble, who was mean to them, etc.  By talking about these things before students leave, you can put it in context, and prevent a simmering pot from turning into an explosion at home.  Often a child will suppress their feelings about a conflict or incident at school until a parent or sibling prompts them at home.  The sudden attention can result in an emotional (and often inaccurate) memory of events from the day.  Using wrap-up time to diffuse these emotions can head off angry phone calls from parents.

This reflection time is an important skill for students to learn so they can evaluate their day on their own and learn analytical and self-assessment methods.  It also provides insight to you about the efficacy of your  lessons; something you thought went well may not have had the same impact on students. Early in the year, wrap-up time can give you a chance to remind students of any materials they’ll need for homework or tomorrow’s assignments.  As time goes by, they will be doing this themselves; it will become a habit. They’ll learn to check everything before they leave and you won’t get the email or phone call saying Suzy left her book at school and couldn’t do her homework.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Classroom management takes up a significant part of most teachers’ day. To me there is a significant difference between classroom management and behavior management. Behavior management is when you are responding to, encouraging and correcting the student’s response to classroom rules and not being a distraction to themselves or others.

Classroom management are the things that contribute to the smooth operation of the learning environment.  (Though they are related — how you manage the classroom often affects student behavior.)  Classroom management can include aspects of the lesson you’ve prepared, procedures for material distribution, leaving and entering the classroom, expectations for behavior both inside and outside of the room.21833569

Just as each student in your class is different, so are teachers.  A teacher who has young learners for the entire day has a different set of demands than one in upper grades who may “share” the child with other teachers over the course of the day. Each teacher’s rules, attitude, demeanor and approach will vary.  As a result, you need to be very explicit in what you expect from your students, and set your own procedures that work best for you and your students.  If you aren’t proactive in mastering classroom management, the class will manage you!

Taking time to devise simple routines can pay big dividends.  Talk specifically with students about tasks that they will do every day.  Set clear and consistent expectations for the following:

  • What to do at the beginning of class
  • How you handle passing out papers
  • Turning in assignments
  • Lining up
  • Leaving class for the restroom
  • Transitioning from task to task
  • Packing up at the end of class
  • What to do if an assignment is completed early

Non-instructional time can open the door for misbehavior; setting expectations at the start of the year can eliminate unwanted behavior later on.

Try to think of all the activities that constitute a typical day.  Write down what you would expect for each to go smoothly and efficiently, and list everything you’d like the students to know and what their role should be. Arrange the room to accommodate this plan. 

Here’s the most important part:  on the first day of school announce that you will be explaining the procedures for the class.  (If you call them rules there will be at least one kid whose mind will instantly start plotting ways to break them!)  Start by discussing what a procedure is — using examples like video games, sports or playing an instrument.  (In video games, you have to learn how to use the controller, create your character, and have enough memory on the card to store your progress.)  Equate these rote activities with positive outcomes, explain the procedure in detail, and then practice. Keep practicing until they get it right. Give lots of verbal praise for successes, and instruct with specifics when things go south. 

On the second day of school, practice the procedures again; let’s see who can remember them.  Then practice!  For the first week or two of school, practicing procedures is one of the most important things you can do.  Once the procedures are habitual, learning can follow.  Sure, you are giving up some instruction time, but the investment will pay off in spades.  As winter break approaches and other teachers are having to ‘remind’ students how to behave, your class will be sailing through their objectives.  You will gain back that “lost” instruction time as the year progresses.

You may have to practice once or twice again after winter break, but having solid procedures in place will alleviate stress.  An added benefit will be on the day you have a substitute, your class will run smoothly because your students are in the habit of following the procedures.

Let’s Talk About “Fair Versus Equal”

As a classroom teacher you will eventually have to address the issue of fair versus equal.  Children are masters at pointing out when they think things aren’t fair.  When one child gets a reward for a certain behavior, or another gets extra time to complete an assignment, your students are likely to protest with the refrain “That’s not fair.”  Helping them understand the difference can be the centerpiece of a great discussion and ongoing lesson about fairness and equality.

It’s important to have a discussion early in the year about what is fair and what is equal. Present scenarios and role play the difference, and allow students to come to their own conclusions. In time, they will carry these ideals into other areas of school — in the cafeteria, in games, on the playground, and in their friendships.

Start with a definition. Ask students what they think it means for something to be fair. Write down their answers and thoughts on chart paper. On another piece of paper write down their thoughts of what it means for things to be equal. Come to a consensus that “being fair means that everyone gets what they need” and being equal means that “everyone gets exactly the same thing.”

Discuss times when things being equal is beneficial, e.g. equal rights, equal pay, equal opportunity. (This can be a theme for topics/units.) Then discuss what it means to be fair, explaining that every person is different and has different needs. Students will relate to the following example.  “You have a sibling three years younger than you. Your parents declare that you both should go to bed at 7:30, so that it’s equal.  A fair scenario is a bedtime based on the age and maturity of the sibling.  The younger child goes to bed at 7:30, while you go to bed at 8:30.  That’s fair but not equal.”

If you had a “show and tell” day at school, it would be important that every child get a chance to present.  That would be equality in action.  You wouldn’t want some of the kids to get their moment in the spotlight, while others were denied the opportunity.

But if you had a behavior system where the reward was a pizza party for all the kids who abided by the rules, allowing every child to get pizza — even those that misbehaved — wouldn’t be fair.

Here’s a practical demonstration you can use with your students:  Outline the rules of a game or relay race where the winning team gets a prize (a trophy, a crown or a treat.)  You build up the kids’ competitive fire, rally them to give their all and try with all their might to win.  Keep building the stakes up and up, until the end of the contest.  When you’ve finally declared a winner, let the air out of the room by giving all the students (even those  on the losing team) the prize.  Students will quickly understand that being “equal” isn’t the same as being “fair.”

These principles are most applicable when managing behavior in the class. Yes, it will take more time at the beginning of the year but learning the difference can pay off in the long run.

Living in a learning environment

Teachers must live in a learning environment to create a learning environment for their students. As a teacher, you can never stop learning; the rules of the game are constantly changing. Students, information, technology, family structures, the way we communicate,  and the way we measure success are all in flux.

Even if your curriculum does not change from year to year; your students will, and you must too.

  • You need to be able to adapt the strategies you use for each unique group of learners and their needs. Evaluate your teaching methods; find time to reflect on recently taught lessons and review their effectiveness. Grade yourself, not just your students.
  • Technology is always changing. To be able to equip Owl sitting on books.students to learn from and with technology, you must be proficient in your knowledge and usage of the latest in technical gear, software, and web & multimedia standards.  Having an appreciation for social media and your students’ favorite games and apps is important too.
  • Family dynamics change and you must be sensitive when children face challenges at home.  Marital strife, a new baby, job changes, new living arrangements, and illness will impact each child uniquely. Blended families and divorce can also present an intense juggling act for the teacher.  Working to appropriately include both parents of a split family takes effort and sensitivity.
  • Paper and pencil assessments have their place in the classroom, but it’s more vital to teach students to be problem solvers and critical thinkers.  A child that can regurgitate facts will ace a trivia quiz, but they will struggle to apply that data to the real world. Promoting inquiry and project-based assessments better prepares students for the long term.
  • Pick the brains of your grade-level colleagues on how they are approaching similar material.  Work together to adapt lessons and improve on each other’s work.  Ask a teacher, friend or trusted parent to give feedback on your teaching materials, unit ideas, and methodology.
  • Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.  Video tape yourself presenting lessons so you (or a third party) can critique it later.  In this age of iPads and smartphones it’s easy to do; there’s no excuse for not seeing yourself in action.  Ask the students themselves for feedback — you can create a simple survey using emoticons (smiley face, bored face, frowny face) about your delivery or the content of your instruction. Or simply ask open-ended questions, encouraging the kids to point out things that might have been confusing or times when you lost their interest.  Most children will be brutally honest when asked, which is what you want.

In every school there is a wealth of information. Learn from each other and find ways to improve and hone your teaching skills.

Here are a few sites to help get the learning juices flowing:

http://edtechreview.in/news/1037-7-tricks-to-improve-your-teaching-skills

http://www.teach-nology.com/tutorials/teaching/teachingskills.html

http://www.educationalleadership-digital.com/educationalleadership/201306/?pm=2&u1=friend&pg=41#pg41

 

Playgrounds of Knowledge

When kids are asked to choose their favorite time of the school day, the majority say recess.  (A few might say lunch.) This comes from the fact that on the playground, students are totally engaged. They are physically, mentally and socially engaged; their imaginations are firing, their bodies are active, and they are connecting with a circle of friends and competitors of their own choosing.

If we as teachers could bring that enthusiasm and excitement into the classroom, we could transform the learning process and impact students exponentially.  Our goal should be to turn our classrooms into playgrounds of knowledge!

Such a transformation will require innovative thinking and ongoing commitment.  The methods will vary by grade level and curriculum, but here are a few brainstorms to jumpstart your creativity:

Think about how a playground is organized:  equipment is provided for structured individual fun (swings, slides, tunnels, monkeybars); seesaws and merry-go-rounds offer activity for a pair or small group; competitive game areas are typically available (e.g., foursquare, hopskotch, basketball, etc.), and where there’s room, there’s usually some wide open spaces for unstructured activities or large group play. 20216673

Your classroom could be arranged with similar intent.  Just like the playground offers individual, pair, small group, and large group opportunities, the classroom should too. Consider these needs when designing lessons and assessments too.  Give students opportunity to choose their own mode of learning (activity) and a customized output (assessment).  If you only offer one way of interacting with a topic or lesson, it’s unlikely that every child will engage.  Presenting information with creativity & variety from multiple vantage points is the key to reaching the largest number of students.

Play to the variety of learning styles that are represented in your class.  Challenge them to collaborate in unfamiliar or inventive ways.  Consciously put children together who are wired differently, have divergent interests, or come from different backgrounds.   Encouraging children to bring their individuality to group challenges can inspire them to grow in amazing ways.

 

Example:  You’re presenting a math lesson on perimeter using manipulatives.  At the start of class, place the manipulatives in bins around the room.  Encourage children to pick a random bin and begin exploring.  Each manipulative station could be themed (a sports arena, a space station, a pet store, a Lego lab, or art “studio.”) Kids will gravitate toward the ones that interest them, and they’ll select their own method (individual, pairs, or groups) based on natural preferences. (Watch them closely, you can learn a lot about a student’s personality and learning style in this way.)  A bit later, give them a specific task, but let them choose their own response to the task initially.  As the session progresses, you can begin to “stir the pot” and move kids out of their comfort zone to work in new areas or split up the cliques to challenge kids into new relationships.  Introducing a competition or game element could be a way to engage in the content with practicality and fun.  Divide the class into two teams, possibly having them line up or arrange themselves into specified areas of the room that you’ve taped off or pre-arranged.  Students pass a ruler from teammate to teammate, keeping track of the dimensions.  The first team to calculate the perimeter is the winner.

You could also connect the content to other disciplines (a perimeter can be a border, as a geographical, history, or social studies topic.)

The end result of this approach is that children find meaning in the subject matter, and have a higher level of ownership in the content.  They will stay physically & mentally engaged longer, and tap into dormant areas of their brains.  With time and some luck, one day your kids might say learning is their favorite thing about school.  (A few will still say lunch.)

Teacher, teacher…!

“Teacher, teacher…!” When you step into the classroom at the start of a school year, you become known as teacher (in rare cases you may be called mom or dad.)  No matter who is requesting your attention you’ll begin answering to almost anything. You’ll have 20 to 30 little humans in your room to love, nurture, inspire and teach. 13340484_sRecognizing and appreciating the differences in your students is the first step in caring for them. Students need to know that you care about every aspect of who they are before they can trust you to lead them academically.  Just showing up and being called a “teacher” can be easy. Being an effective teacher is difficult; it takes work. And the work is ongoing, with continuous pressures from parents, administrators, and governmental mandates.  The daunting nature of these challenges can be a big energy zapper, shaking the confidence of even the most prepared and committed teachers.  I have spent nearly 30 years in early childhood education, and I’ve noticed that the teachers who succeed are ones who constantly gather ideas, collaborate with others, evaluate their approach, and ask a lot of questions.  It is my hope that the Teacher Teacher Blog can serve as a source for your continued development and quest to be an effective teacher.  Please feel free to comment on the blog posts and reach out to me with questions, suggestions, or ideas.  Thanks for following! — Shelia