Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Great Story of High School Sportsmanship

As November begins, so do the Dark Days of Doldrums in many schools around the nation. Days are shorter. Winter is coming. It’s several weeks until break, and May seems like a lifetime away.

But here in the Midwest, we like to think of ourselves as a tough lot. We’ll get through it… we always do… Even so, its always nice to hear encouraging stories to remind us to pull ourselves up and keep fighting the good fight, teaching kids how to do the right thing whenever the situation calls for it.

So, for those of you who need a little pick-me-up to renew your optimism in the work we do to help students, I hope you’ll enjoy this article as much as I did this morning. It’s a great reminder that there’s more to school than books and computers and homework and tests. In my book, these guys should get an “A” in The Test of Life. 

Well done, Gentlemen. Well done.

Teen Rowers give up medal dreams to help capsized foes, by Cameron Smith on the Yahoo! Prep Rally blog.

Episcopal Academy rowers James Konopka and Nick Mead

Image from

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Teacher Survival Kit at Discovery Education

imageHere’s a link to some great resources to help new teachers adjust to life in a new District. Plus, it’s all FREE!

The site is divided into four major parts:

  • Survival Tool Kit – some basics for everyone
  • Technology 101 – tips for using tech tools in your classroom
  • Homeroom HQ – tips for classroom management, parent communication, etc.
  • It’s Elementary – not just for teachers of the little ones, this part has simple tips to help you get started in your classroom, as well as a reminders of often-forgotten things, like student learning styles, dealing with food allergies, handling bullies, and interacting with parents.

Visit New Teacher Survival Central at Discovery Education

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Successful Teaching: 10 Tips for Confronting Difficult Parents

This is a great post from the Successful Teaching blog, though I might change the term “confronting” to “working with” or something a little less… well… confrontational.

Regardless, you’ll find good advice as you prepare for Parent Teacher Conferences here.

The author’s suggestions about focusing on sharing objective information with the parent is vital. Remembering that you are the Professional, they are the Parent, and that you’re both here to help the child be successful, will help both find a compromise that benefits this child. If helping kids is not the focus of the conference, you-the-Professional should redirect the conversation toward working together to find solutions.

Read their list first.  Here are some suggestions that could be added to the list:

  • Accentuate the Positive: A positive, welcoming phone call home early in the year or term can win you lots of points later during the time you spend with the child in your classroom. Parents often complain that they never hear from teachers until after a small problem has become big enough for a conference.
  • Back It Up With Facts: Save work samples that exhibit your concerns and celebrations, and use these to help the parent understand what you are seeing in the classroom. If these are observational items, start making tally marks on a seating chart, calendar, etc., to show frequency of behaviors that concern you. 
  • Make Sandwiches: No, not literally. “Sandwich” your concerns between positive comments during the meeting. Asking for help from parents and finding out what works well at home will help make a great cooperative sandwich. For example,
    • I’ve noticed that Johnny loves to read a lot. I notice that he will be reading a book or a magazine when I’m teaching the class, and I’m concerned that he may not be paying attention to the lesson. I’ve marked this on my calendar and it seems to happen at least 3-4 times a week. It’s great that he loves reading so much!  <there’s your sandwich, supported with objective data… now follow it up with things from the blog post, like…> I want to help Johnny find a way to enjoy his reading habits at more appropriate times, and I’d really like to build on the foundation that you and his other teachers have built. What kinds of things work to redirect Johnny’s attention at home? 

Successful Teaching: 10 Tips for Confronting Difficult Parents

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Procedures & Routines

At our last meeting we had some technical difficulties and were unable to view the entire video from Dr. Harry K. Wong, entitled "Procedures and Routines." We did have a great discussion about classroom management, however.

One of Dr. Wong's ideas is that teachers should manage a classroom by teaching and rehearsing procedures & routines.  Doing so, he says, makes the idea of "discipline" almost unnecessary. Teach the expectation, rehearse it, help kids understand very clearly what it should look like, sound like, and so on. Once taught, we treat it like any other skill: if it is not demonstrated appropriately, we stop and reteach as needed. No yelling, no red-faced gnashing-of-teeth, etc., over student behavior. If the behaviors & expectations are not learned appropriately after these attempts, the student(-s) need more help than we classroom teachers are able to give them, so they must be removed from the educational environment for more one-on-one reteaching by the administrator, etc. However, we must make sure we have taught the expected behavior clearly and rehearsed it with appropriate frequency before that.

During our discussion, I mentioned that any classroom's discipline plan or set of procedures MUST include three things: Expectations, Consequences, and Rewards. These are my personal opinions and are based on 13 years of K-12 classroom experiences and things I've read and stolen along the way.

Tips for Expectations
  • Three to five Expectations. Period. They won't remember a list any longer than 5. Give them a list and you're setting both kids and yourself up for failure and a really rough year together.
  • Post Expectations in the front of the classroom, in very large print on a colorful poster that kids will want to look at and read.
  • Word Expectations in positive language (Avoid starting with "No.." and "Don't...") describing what you expect students to do or what students can do in the classroom.
  • Use Action Verbs, so kids can more easily visualize what they should Do.
  • Teach the Expectations at the beginning of the year/term. Discuss them with the students. Talk with kids about what the Expectations are and what the Expectations are not (examples & non-examples). This will save you time and headaches in the long run.
  • Make a two-column or T-Chart: Have kids come up with what the expectation "Looks Like..." and "Sounds Like..." and tell them that is what you'll be looking for and listening for during class.
  • When kids "step out of line," treat it as an unlearned skill that needs to be retaught. Avoid singling out a kid in front of peers - that could backfire on you. You as the classroom teacher should always stay in control of the situation and be very clear with students about your expectations and how kids should respond to questioning. Instead of asking "What are you doing/thinking?" ask, "What's the expectation?", "Are you following it?", and "What should you do next?", etc.
  • Team or Grade-level Expectations are extremely powerful. School-wide Expectations even more so.  However, make sure they don't work at cross-purposes or contradict one another.
  • Steal ideas from experienced teachers. Ask your principal what works and is acceptable, and what doesn't or isn't.
Tips for Consequences
  • Keep Consequences simple and progressive. For example, first infraction = warning, second = 10 minute detention, third = 20 minute detention, fourth = ejection.
    • 3-4 levels is a nice balance between reactionary and overly-tolerant. (Depending on your students age and abilities)
    • Remember: the more steps you have, the longer the misbehaving student remains in the class.
    • Build in an escape clause - something like "extreme disruptions = immediate ejection," etc.
  • Post Consequences in the front of the classroom, in very large print on a colorful poster that kids will want to look at and read. Put it right next to the Expectations poster mentioned above.
  • Be consistent and follow the plan.
  • EVERYONE GETS A CLEAN SLATE EACH TIME THEY WALK THROUGH YOUR DOOR. Kids screw up - once we accept  that we can move on. We're adults and we're professionals. We don't hold grudges. We model what we expect from our kids.
  • Team or Grade-level Consequences are extremely powerful. School-wide Consequences even more so.  However, make sure they don't work at cross-purposes or contradict one another.
  • Notes on Detentions:
    • Especially for the younger teachers: Being alone in a classroom with a student can pose certain risks. If you must be in a classroom in a 1-on-1 situation with a student, if possible do so near the entrance to the classroom with the door open an in full view of anyone who might walk by. 
    • If you assign the detention, the detention should be carried out with you. Otherwise, the detention is meaningless as a tool to reinforce your expectations.
    • Detentions should be meaningful and should be thought of as an opportunity to reteach the expectations that were not learned and resulted in the detention in the first place. During detention, talk with the student about the expectation and how their choices did not meet the expectation. Discuss what specific behaviors the student can and should exhibit in the future.
    • Copying sentences, writing essays about behavior, etc., are meaningless busy work. You'll just throw them away, and the kids will forget about them as soon as they walk out the door. What' they'll remember is that you made them do something distasteful, unpleasant and unnecessary. They'll resent it and they'll resent you, too.
    • Give kids at least 24 hours to serve the detention if after school so they can arrange a ride.
      • Duration of detention = time you must serve, too. Be reasonable.
      • Who says kids can't serve detention before school the next morning?
      • Kids HATE missing lunch. YOU MUST MAKE SURE A KID HAS A CHANCE TO EAT LUNCH, but they hate missing the opportunity to sit in a less-structured environment and talk with their peers.
      • Same goes for Recess at the earlier grade levels.
  • Steal ideas from experienced teachers. Ask your principal what works and is acceptable, and what doesn't or isn't.

Tips for Rewards/Incentives
  • Post Rewards or Incentives in the front of the classroom, in very large print on a colorful poster that kids will want to look at and read. Put it right next to the Expectations and Consequences posters mentioned above.
  • Think of both short-term and long-term Rewards/Incentives for kids to work toward.
  • Make Rewards/Incentives achievable for each and every student in your classroom.
  • Ask students what they want to work for, and work their ideas into the plan. Ownership means a lot.
  • Rewards don't have to cost a lot of money. Maybe kids want an extra recess or free-reading time. Let them listen to a classroom radio during seat-work - They choose the station but you choose the volume, etc. Food doesn't have to be the reward, but popcorn parties with a video can be pulled off for a couple bucks... literally:
    • Many video stores will rent videos to teachers for classroom activities for free or for a very small fee. Some may let you keep the video for as long as you want. Make sure it is age-appropriate, though!
    • You can get a huge bag of already-popped popcorn from concessions suppliers for a very small amount of money. You might have to pick it up the night before or the morning of the Reward/Incentive to make sure it's fresh, but that's a lot easier than using a microwave or hot-air-popper. They will often throw in individual paper sacks for you, too. Ask if they make deliveries; you might be able to sweet-talk them into dropping it off for you on their next run!
  • Steal ideas from experienced teachers. Ask your principal what works and is acceptable, and what doesn't or isn't.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Welcome Back!

For those of you visiting this blog for the first time, WELCOME!

This space is used for Galesburg CUSD #205 and KWSED teachers who are new to their respective assignments. This is an area where we can:
  • Celebrate your accomplishments in the art and science of educating our children,
  • Share suggestions, advice and concerns, (remember: this is a public forum!)
  • Catch up on events from recent meetings of the New Teacher Learning Team
New Teacher Learning Team
Our first meeting of this year was held Wednesday, August 31. This was the end of a hot day, and the A/C in the meeting room seemed to be appreciated by all. We were joined by Diane VanHootegem, Director for Human Services, and Joel Estes, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction. A few concerns were expressed and addressed:
  • National Common Core State Standards: Don't feel bad if you're freaking-out - this can freak-out even the most experienced teachers! NCCSS will become "the law of the land" in 2014-15, regardless of whether teachers are ready for it or not. Galesburg is probably ahead of most Districts as far as raising awareness of this change and helping teachers get prepared for it. However, there will still be growing pains among both new and experienced teachers alike. The professional development activities that District #205 has planned over the next few months and years are designed to help ease this transition as much as possible.
  • Mentoring Plan: We have a State-approved Mentoring Plan on file with the Illinois State Board of Education. Participating in this plan is (1) a contractual requirement during your first two years of employment, and (2) the quickest way for new teachers to earn their Standard Certificate. Here's how to participate:
    • Meetings: Meet with your Mentor regularly (guideline: around 35 hours during your first year, around 15 hours during your second year - most of you will log more hours than this, though - and that's okay!),
    • Observations: Your Mentor should observe you in your classroom duties to help you improve on whatever areas you (or your principal) think would be best to help kids. There should be specific Planning and Reflecting Conferences held before and after each Observation, respectively.
    • Logs: Note the date, duration, and topic(-s) discussed at each meeting with your Mentor. You can also use this as a diary or journal to reflect on your activities and growth as a professional educator if you wish, but the brass-tacks of logging the meetings is required to show your participation in the Mentoring Plan.
      • Also record the dates & durations of the Observations by your Mentor!
    • See Other Teachers In Action: You also have the opportunity to observe other District teachers during a class period up to once each semester.
    • New Teacher Learning Team: While these meetings are an optional part of the Mentoring Plan, those who participate report that it is very valuable to their first year or two in the District. We will reimburse you for your time in these meetings (at regular committee stipend rate in December and in May), but the value in sharing and learning during these meetings is immeasurable! 
  • Know Your Students: We also discussed some ways to creatively deal with student behaviors - or lack thereof - during the hot days of August (and September... and sometimes October... etc...). The conversations sort of revolved around the importance of getting to know your students and considering all the other factors that might be at work that have very little to do with your work with curriculum and instruction - but are vitally important to the kids and their success. Building appropriate student/teacher relationships, taking into account the myriad personal issues kids bring with them every day, and working together to help everyone adapt to "the way school is done" is just as important as doing the job itself. That's true in school as well as life!
After this discussion we watched the first video in Dr. Harry Wong's series, entitled "The Effective Educator." We will discuss this and many other things at our next meeting, September 14 @ GHS. Hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ch. 6 – Focus on Quality, Not Quantity

Robin Jackson starts this chapter by reminiscing about her experiences with homework, then reviews some of the basic Master Teacher principles stated previously.  She then states the principle for this chapter:
“Master teachers… spend more time designing quality assignments and assessments than they do creating volumes of work for their students and themselves. Master teachers know that it isn’t the amount of work that is important; it’s the quality of the work that matters.” (p. 156)
As much as kids lament the amount of work we educators give them, they often don’t realize that we end up with that amount multiplied by the 25-30 kids we have in each classroom.  The problem for both beginning and veteran teachers is: Often we forget this mathematical horror, too!  More work doesn’t necessarily mean that kids will understand a concept more deeply or develop mastery of a skill.  Often times it ends up being more work to keep kids busy. Kids pick up on this, too, the author says, which likely explains why they don’t complete or turn in homework.  To a student, it’s just not meaningful enough to care about.
The author points out some important things to keep in mind as we design quality, meaningful activities to help our students achieve mastery:
1.       FIRST, determine what students absolutely need to know and how well they need to know it.  (Remember how we unpacked the standards so we would “Know Where Your Students Are Going” back in Chapter 2?)
2.       THEN, decide what learning activities will help students master the objectives.
3.       NEXT, provide multiple opportunities & methods to develop and deepen students’ knowledge, understanding, and use of the skills they learn through delivery of curriculum & instruction.  In other words: DIFFERENTIATE.
4.       ALWAYS use homework wisely.  The author tells us of her experiences in a high school English classroom: “The less homework I assigned, the more likely my students were to complete it because they understood that the assignment was not just busy work.” She goes on the state, “Just make sure that the homework you do assign directly connects with the learning goal and that you make this connection explicit.  If you cannot connect homework to your learning goals, then you should not assign it.” (p. 185)
5.       REMEMBER it’s not about coverage, it’s about mastery.  Have supports ready to implement when 1-2 kids don’t meet the objective or expectation.  If a majority of your class can’t meet, re-evaluate your methods and re-teach for mastery.
6.       Backfill or Build bridges as needed when you find students are missing essential knowledge/skills.
Teach the Need-To-Knows versus Nice-To-Knows
Determine How Well Students Need to Know the Need-to-Knows
Once you have unpacked the standards, it becomes easier to determine what the Need-To-Knows are. You can also look at state-mandated tests, or here in Illinois we can use the Assessment Frameworks.  You should also become familiar with the standards for success/mastery at the previous and at the next grade levels, and determine what kids will need to know and be able to do to get from “Point A” to “Point B.”  These Need-To-Knows then become the foundation for everything you do in class.  According to one author discussed by Jackson, teachers should “spend between 70-75 percent of their time helping students master essential content, 20 percent of their time introducing and extending students’ knowledge of essential content, and only 5-10 percent of their time helping students maintain their understanding of a few key nice-to-knows.” (p. 166)
Distributed Practice
The concept of Distributed Practice is simple: Divide learning experiences into smaller “chunks” and teach, learn, and assess skills one step at a time.  Of course, students will need to perform longer tasks for the summative assessment, but it is more valuable to both student and teacher to assess student understanding of each step necessary for mastery one-at-a-time in order to check for disconnects or gaps during the learning process.  Success on the summative assessment will then be more likely assured.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chapter 5: Use Effective Feedback

The author begins with a good reminder for us all: “Grades” and “Learning” are not synonyms. Grades give teachers a way of quantifying what they communicate to parents, how they make placement or promotion decisions, and when to provide incentive or remediation.  To summarize how I interpret Jackson’s into: 
Effective feedback should inform students (and parents) about how to do better.  It should tell students where they are in relation to the achievement of the objective/standard/expectation, and exactly what they need to do in order to get there. (Remember Chapter 3: Expect To Get Your Students There?)  “You are at Point A. you need to get to Point B. How are we going to get you from here to there?”  You’re not evaluating, you’re defining (or helping kids define):
Situation à Target à Path
Obviously, there are numerous ways to gather evidence and opportunities for feedback.  We call them by many names: assignments, homework, in-class activities, quizzes, tests, performance assessments, projects, reports, and on and on. 
The first trick is to change it up frequently.  Remember: Start Where Your Students Are (Chapter 1) and Support Your Students (Chapter 4).  Develop relationships with your kids so you know each of them as a learner.  Neither you nor they will know what the next teacher down the road is going to throw at them, so help them become more successful at a broad range of assessment types.
Next, and this is my viewpoint, find a balance in the frequency at which you offer assessments & feedback.  Kids want to be validated every day, and sometimes every minute of every day, but that’s not always practical for the teacher.  Develop ways to offer verbal feedback, through questioning techniques, conferencing, etc.  Instead of a big test at the end of a unit, could you administer shorter quizzes more frequently?  (Remember from Chapter 4 – don’t wait until kids fail to assess learning, give feedback, and apply supports.) Try using rubrics with clear “kid-friendly” descriptors that can help speed up the process for you.
Help kids collect and analyze their own data.  Psychologists call this “metacognition,” and there are few activities that work one’s “Big Brain” harder or more effectively than this.  Develop the expectation that kids keep track of their own progress, and build in opportunities to help them do so.  Help kids develop “learning portfolios” that contain good work as well as work that shows areas where they can make progress.  Clearly relate these activities to a student’s “grade” and progress toward meeting standards/expectations.  Help kids understand how & why they might fail, too, before the failure occurs.  Consider opportunities to retake tests or resubmit assignments, too.

Chapter 4: Support Your Students

Jackson begins Chapter 4 explaining “The Curse of Knowledge”: Once we learn or know something, it is difficult to understand what it is like to NOT know it.  Teachers tend to think, “Since I learned/understood it this way, you students will be able to learn/understand it this same way, too.”  Therefore, teachers tend to teach the way they were taught, forgetting that kids in their classrooms might learn differently.  Confusion ensues, followed by frustration, student failures, and an overall meltdown of “the way things ought to be.”
They way to fix this, Jackson says, is thinking proactively.  Waiting until kids fail and then figuring out how to remediate is the sign of a passive disregard for student differences.  The old adage, “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” rings true. 
Instead, remediation plans – let’s call them “interventions” – should be an integral part of the lesson planning process.  As teachers plan lesson activities, ask yourselves:
·         What concepts often cause kids to become confused, frustrated, etc.? 
·         What mistakes are common along this Road to Understanding I’ve so carefully mapped out?
Then, once those trouble-spots are identified, ask yourselves:
·         When kids do get confused or make mistakes, what can I help them do differently that will get them back on-track?  
·         What supports, tips & tricks, etc., can I teach them to help them get over smaller rough spots?
·         What other ways to approach this skill/topic might help kids who are having a REALLY tough time?
The following elements make up an effective intervention system, according to the author:
1.       An intervention plan is developed before students begin to fail. It is posted on a Web site, sent home in a flyer early in the year, discussed in class before the lesson/unit begins, etc.
2.       An objective, measurable “red flag” mechanism activates the intervention plan.  For example:
a.        Student scores less than 76% = Red Flag
b.       Student does not turn in (n) assignments during a term = Red Flag
c.        Student “does not meet” a standard or expectation = Red Flag, etc.
3.       A concrete procedure exists and kicks in automatically once the red flag is raised.
a.        Think “IF – THEN” statements
b.       Here is where you’d customize interventions for individual learners
c.        Interventions ARE NOT busy work or punishments.  EVER!
4.       Students share accountability with the teacher for making the plan work.
a.        Interventions ARE NOT VOLUNTARY for students or teachers
b.       Don’t wait for kids to ask for help.  Make sure kids know exactly what to do when the plan is triggered
So, we must anticipate and pinpoint confusion, and develop a plan to help kids before anyone realizes that the kids need help.  In the process, we make sure kids (and their parents) are aware of these steps & procedures, and that everyone understands that this is a normal & acceptable part of learning and growing.  As kids show progress, we gradually remove the supports (“crutches,” “training wheels,” whatever you want to call them) as kids experience increased success.  For those who don’t need the supports, provide appropriate challenges so they don’t become complacent – develop enrichment plans just like you’ve developed intervention plans along the way.

Chapter 5: Use Effective Feedback

Some questions to consider:
  1. Why is effective feedback one of the most powerful ways to improve student achievement?
  2. What is the difference between a learning-oriented student and a performance-oriented student?
  3. What are two examples of "red flags" for your class and what strategies can you use to get students quickly back on track?

Ch. 4: Support Your Students

Questions to consider:
  • In what way do we plan for students to fail and how can we plan for their success instead?
  • Why is getting the right answer sometimes not an indication of a student's understanding?
  • What is your current process for supporting struggling students and how do you need to adjust it to be more proactive?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ch. 3: Expect to Get Your Students There

When I first started writing this post, I had typed the chapter name as “Expect Your Students to Get There.” I didn’t think this was such a big deal as I began to review the text, but then I realized something was very different:

  • “Expect Your Students to Get There” focuses all the responsibility on the kids.
  • “Expect to Get Your Students There” focuses on what teachers can do to help kids achieve.

Looking at it another way, the first idea puts the pressure on the kids alone. If they don’t get it, it’s “their fault.” Frankly, anyone who believes this shouldn’t be in education in the first place. And, to be quite honest, there may be times in a teacher’s career when one might drop to such a low level of professionalism. Teaching is stressful, and sometimes it’s easier to blame the kids for their scores instead of asking ourselves, “What could I do differently?”

Our society used to accept this. Used to be, if a kid couldn’t make it in a regular classroom environment, they might have taken a vocational track instead. That’s what they do in various European and Asian countries, isn’t it? Perhaps they were referred for special education services. Maybe they just dropped out and went to night school at the local community college to get their GED or what-not. Not such a bad fate. It used to be easy to get a minimum wage job and work your way up through the corporate ladder. Pull yourself up by those proverbial boot straps and make something of yourself. Our parents did it. Why can’t these kids do it too?

That dog won’t hunt today. If you’re still teaching with this mind-set, nostalgia has blinded you from reality. No longer is it acceptable to just sit back and let kids fail. Period.

Kids come to our classrooms with a myriad of background experiences and a wide range of learning styles. If you go into teaching each year thinking that every kid will jump through your hoop the exact same way – the way you tell them to – and that it’s their fault if they can’t figure out how to get that done, then what kind of relationship are you going to develop with that kid? If the child thinks that they cannot do it, many times they simply won’t try. They won’t turn in homework. They won’t come to school. They may get oppositional. They’ll fail and they don’t care, because maybe next year they’ll get a different teacher. Or they will simply drop out when they get old enough.

However, if you adhere to the expectation of the chapter’s title as written, you’re sharing the responsibility with the kids. You are expecting to work with them, as members of the same team, to help each other achieve the same goals. Kids know that you’re going to help and support them even if they struggle to meet those expectations. You’re the coach and they’re the players on your team, all working together toward common goals, and they want to be there. They want to be a part of this thing called school.

Now, let’s clarify for a moment:

  • Is anyone telling you that high standards are wrong, or that we should lower our standards for some kids but not others? NO.
  • Is anyone saying that the entire responsibility for student achievement lies with the teacher only? NO.
  • Is anyone telling you to don your rose-colored glasses, grab your pompoms and turn your class into a love-in? NO.

The point here is to take a realistic view of students and their ability to achieve realistic standards & expectations: You can’t control what every child in your classroom does or does not choose to do. You can only control how you choose to respond to what happens around you at any given moment. Professional life or personal life, the concept is the same. We are responsible for the choices we make as we respond to those around us. No one makes us do anything, and likewise, we cannot make our students achieve. Our job as professionals is to foster in each student the desire to achieve, through the way we choose to interact with them.

As the author of this book states, we have to start where our students are; we must set reasonable expectations for their progress while they’re in our classroom, within the larger view of the whole curriculum; and that WE will use our knowledge, skills, and professional abilities to help them get there.

It’s not about, to use the author’s term, making “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” (p. 83). It’s about taking a realistic view of the situation. It’s about controlling what you can control. It’s about being a professional. It’s about doing what’s best for each and every kid you work with.

So, how do we do this?

Well, this is a team effort, right? You’re the coach, students are the players, right? How would a coach approach this problem? How would that relate to a classroom?

A coach would:

A teacher would:

Learn everything possible about the game as a whole.

Be highly-qualified to teach, and seek professional development to improve the craft.

Study the challenging team’s players in order to gain as much knowledge as possible about the opposition.

Become experts in local curriculum expectations, state standards, and assessment measures.

Get to know each player and what their individual skills were, assigning them to the positions on the team that were the best fit to their demonstrated skills.

Develop relationships with kids to learn each student’s entering knowledge/skills, developing appropriate classroom interventions as needed to support each child’s needs.

Teach each player additional skills needed to excel at their assigned position.

Differentiate instruction to provide each child with opportunities to demonstrate individual learning success and uncover needs for future lessons.

Teach routines (“plays”) to the players to help them adapt to different situations on the playing field.

Teach each student how to learn and be successful in the classroom environment.

Teach different plays to different groups of players based on their individual skills and functions on the field.

Group students when appropriate to provide appropriate challenges and instructional interventions while still contributing to the class as a whole.

Rely on the help of assistant coaches as needed. (They can’t do it all!)

Seek assistance from other teachers, principals, parents, and community members for help when the going gets tough. (We can’t do it all!)

Practice, practice, and practice those plays every day in the time allowed before the game, always focusing on how each play will eventually lead to the team’s common goal of achieving success.

Practice, practice, and practice needed skills every day, always focusing on how each lesson will help students learn the knowledge and skills needed to be successful, be it in school or in life.

After a game, they look for ways to improve their performance so they can be even more successful during the next game. Teachers examine past assessment results to identify ways to improve performance, and they teach kids how to self-examine their knowledge & skills and seek ways to improve, too.  (Metacognition)

But when it comes down to it – Game Day, if you will – the coach stays on the sidelines while the players go out of the field and make it happen.  The coach is always there, offering guidance & direction as appropriate, but the players will perform as they are taught. 

Remember the old adage: it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.  As teachers or coaches, we develop appropriate supportive relationships with kids. We tailor our approach to teaching knowledge & skills to the individual needs of each child. We teach kids the importance of how little things contribute to overall success every day, every play.  We instill in them the desire and the confidence to do their best.  We offer them all the support we can as they demonstrate those skills. 

Win or lose, the kids perform as coached, and they come back for more, looking for ways they can improve the next time around.

And that is the part that makes a good coach proud.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Know Where Your Students Are Going

Okay, so we know to start by understanding the standards, breaking them down into achievable learning targets that are worded in kid-friendly language (“I CAN” statements), and posting them in the room so that all can see. 

Unpacking Standards

The author discusses “unpacking” the standards and objectives.  Think of the standards as a final destination, and decide what steps (skills, knowledge, etc.) are necessary to get each kid from where they are now – Point A, if you will – to where they need to be – Point B – which is achievement or mastery of the standard.

Ms. Jackson identifies 2 types of goals: Content and Process.

  • Content: What students need to know and understand
  • Process: The skills students need to use or demonstrate

Content and process goals often overlap or are embedded in one another.  For example, in order to write a paragraph students must know how what elements (topic sentence, supporting details, conclusion, connections, etc.) are involved in creating an effective paragraph.

Teachers can tell the difference between content & process goals by looking at the verb in the goal statement.  If the verb is something like “know,” “tell,” or “understand,” it’s likely a content goal.  If the verb implies action, like “create,”  “write,” “analyze,” “compare,” etc., you’re probably reading a process goal.  It’s not always easy to tell the difference, but it’s important to think about what you’re asking kids to do in the classroom and how those activities lead kids toward mastery of the standards.  Here’s why:

  1. Analyzing your goals helps you figure out what’s really important to student learning.  It might be fun for kids to create paper dolls in class, but is it an effective way to help kids analyze cultural differences (for example)?
  2. Examining process vs. content goals is a great way to open the door to differentiated instruction.  If it’s a content goal, think about different ways kids can use to gather and master that content.  If it’s a process goal, think about the different ways kids can demonstrate those skills.  make a list, and give kids a degree of choice in how they show their mastery of content and skills.  That little bit of flexibility on your part can create a whole lot of ownership for kids, making them more likely to get deeply involved in your lesson.
  3. Once again, this process of identifying the types of learning goals you use in your classroom helps you figure out what smaller steps students will have to take in order to master each learning target.  To build off the example above, writing a paragraph is a big deal to a 2nd- or 3rd-grader.  Breaking it down into its elements and helping kids learn how to put them together is much more achievable.

Making Learning Goals Concrete

So we’ve discussed how to figure out what kids need to know and be able to do.  How will we know when they know it?  How will we know that they can perform the skill with mastery?  We do so by making those goals as clear and concrete as possible.

Start by thinking about what kids will be doing in class.  Where can you assess content knowledge?  Where can you assess skills or processes?  It doesn’t have to be at the end of class, with a homework assignment, or through a test at the end of a unit.  The knowledge or process should dictate the assessment.  Never give an assessment just because you need to put points in your grade book! 

The author suggests we avoid vague statements in objectives or learning targets.  Get rid of the wiggle-room!  Use specific criteria and descriptions in your targets.  Tell the kids exactly what they need to know and be able to do.  Instead of “Students will measure a number of different objects,” have kids “determine the volume of three-dimensional objects by calculating linear measurements and measuring liquid displacement.”  This way, kids will know exactly what skills they need to use to demonstrate mastery.  Plus, you know exactly what to teach them, too!

Set Goals in Terms of Minimum Performance

Don’t let this section fool you!  Learning targets should be rigorous and challenging for the kids in your classes.  They should be achievable as well, though.  The author takes great pains to point this out, and I would like to reinforce that here, too.

Meeting or achieving the standard is the minimum acceptable level of performance, the author says.  Moving beyond the standard, once again, allows an open door for differentiation.  They author’s simplistic example, a jumping over a string, describes a standard.  The way a child jumps over that string is how the challenge occurs.  For some, stepping over the string is challenge enough.  For kids who have no problems with that, some may jump and turn 180 degrees in midair to show appropriate mastery for their skill level.  Or, the author says, raise the string higher off the floor and try it again. 

Keep in mind that this is an author’s example.  There are vast numbers of ways this might be applied to your classroom experience.  The point seems to be, everyone should be expected to achieve the standard.  We differentiate in the way they show mastery, and the degree to which they master, each standard.

Designing Appropriate Assessments

OK, so, back to the question: How will we know that they know it?

First we develop criteria and decide on degrees of mastery.  What is the assessment task?  What elements – knowledge and process elements – make up the assessment task?  Will you ask kids to create something new or retell information?  Will kids perform a task with guidance or without assistance?

This discussion takes be back to rubrics.  Not checklists of quantifiable information that we can circle on a page.  A real rubric.  A matrix with descriptive statements in every box.  See Rubistar and other online rubric generators for examples.

Match Activities to Learning Goals

And now, back to the paper dolls mentioned above.  Some call it the “Crayola Curriculum.” The activities that are fun for kids to do, but may or may not demonstrate the knowledge and skills that you’re teaching in the classroom.  The author encourages readers to remember that the standards and objectives should always be the primary driving force behind every classroom activity.  If you look at an activity and cannot describe the target or standard addressed in one sentence, re-evaluate the activity.  Is it the best activity you can develop to help students understand a concept or practice a skill?  Could something be done differently?

Communicate Goals Effectively

Once you’ve done all this “behind-the-scenes” work, how do you communicate the goals to kids?  Kids may know WHAT you’re teaching, but are your students aware of the WHY behind your teaching?  And what about their parents?

The author suggests that the learning targets be discussed in kid language.  If you’re not good at kid-speak, stop and ask them to explain what they’re learning and why in their own words.  You’ll catch on.

Posting learning targets on the board is a nice start.  So is printing it on the worksheets or assignments.  Doing both is better.  When a student enters your room, the environment is all about learning, and kids will know exactly what is expected of them because it is reinforced wherever they look.

Help kids make the connections between their learning and their lives.  If you can’t do it, how will the kids do it?

Email or send a letter home to parents explaining the learning goals in advance of beginning a new chapter.  Want to post a web site?  I can help you with that.  However, this is passive – it relies on the parents’ abilities and willingness to access the site.  Pushing something out to them is more effective.

Get kids involved with their learning by designing ways to chart their progress toward mastery of objectives.  Use pre- and post-assessments, use assessments as formative tools to help kids grow.  make learning personal for kids to help them develop ownership in their achievement.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ch. 2–Know Where Your Students Are Going

Some questions to guide your reading:

  1. What is the difference between a content goal and a process goal? Why is it important to know the difference?
  2. What are three ways to make your learning goals more concrete and why is doing so important?
  3. How can you communicate your learning goals more effectively?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chapter 1: Classroom Currencies

j0435253Okay, Chapter 1, here goes…

There’s a lot of emphasis these days on “data-based decision making” and “data-informed instruction.” The process of collecting and sorting through data IS valuable, simply as one facet of getting to know your kids and to make sure you can locate relevant baseline data for students. Using data is a jumping-off point. It should not be thought of as a substitute for building positive and educationally-appropriate relationships with students.

This chapter discusses the “classroom economy,” by discussing what “currencies” kids bring to the classroom environment and how they choose to “spend” them. A classroom currency can be thought of as a student’s resources. (Some may like to call them a student’s resiliencies.) The author defines them as, “any behavior that students use to acquire the knowledge and skills important to your grade level or subject area.” (p. 31) She also states that these resources & behaviors are, “actively negotiated and traded in every classroom interaction.” (p. 31)

So how do kids acquire the currencies that are needed for success in the classroom? Simple: We give it to them. We teach them what our classroom expectations are, we show them what they need to do to be successful, we reinforce positive and accepted/expected behaviors (see – gaining classroom currencies is like getting a paycheck), and we stop and reteach when the expectations are not met. Through building relationships with kids, you discover what currencies they have or need to build. (You can’t find that stuff on a spreadsheet!)

Here’s an interesting point: Sometimes kids choose not to “spend” their classroom currencies. When we were kids, we viewed doing homework like adults view taxes – it is an expected and non-negotiable expenditure of currency. Kids today, especially older students in high school and middle school, view homework more like a trip to the store – they’re not buying it. Some may chose not to spend their classroom currencies on doing homework or participating in class activities because those things hold no perceived value to the student(s).

So, how do you create the perception of value to the student? Well, how do stores and businesses do it? They may have focus groups examine a product and gather feedback on how to improve its marketability. Through advertising, they explain the benefits of the product to the consumer. Some develop rewards programs to encourage consumers and build a strong customer base. They constantly improve and update products to keep buyers coming back for more.

What does that mean for the classroom? Build relationships with kids to find out what they want and what they need. Explain how important the activity is to kids. Show them how the activity relates to the real world. Develop classroom incentive plans, and consider individual incentive plans for the more reluctant students. Don’t settle into the rut of complacency – constantly look for ways to make so-so lessons better and ways to make good lessons great. Most importantly, ask yourself if the activity is relevant to kids’ personal experiences – past, present, and future – and make sure you develop assignments that have meaning to kids for more than just a grade in a classroom. Make them want to spend their classroom currencies on the activities you lay before them.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Alternatives To Collective Punishment | Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day...

image Let’s face it.  We’ve all done it.  We know it’s wrong and useless, but we do it anyway.

Collective punishment – punishing a group for the actions of on individual – is a topic with which we all struggle occasionally. It rarely produces the effect we want – ceasing of the behavior in question or the “confession of the culprit,” etc.

What collective punishment often does is reduce the mutual respect we have developed with those students who are innocent (or at least not guilty in that particular instance) of the behavior.  Sure it’s helpful in the short-term to blow off some steam, but does it really help?

No, not according to this post by Larry Ferlazzo.  However, there are different ways to handle the situation, which are also detailed in Larry’s article.

I must say that I’ve had similar results with similar methods.  As a 12-year veteran of middle school, the tried and true ignore-the-negative-behavior-while-reinforcing-the-positive-behavior often worked wonders. I’ve also used Larry’s approach of quietly discussing or privately conferencing with students – with good results.  And, there have been times when I’ve made a blanket announcement about respecting one’s self and one’s classmates to help stave off future occurrences, which has also worked well.

Here’s a situational tactic I’ve used in the past after a substitute or guest teacher has been covering my class.  When beginning the class, I would ask the group, “Here is the note that the substitute teacher left for me.  I haven’t read it yet because I want to hear your side of the story first.  For today’s bell-ringer activity, please write down what YOU think the substitute’s note says, and what you plan to do next time to help the sub.”

First of all, these things are all lies, of course.  I have indeed read the sub’s notes and I know exactly which kids the sub has fingered as the trouble-makers, but the kids don’t need to know that.  Subs work hard, but often they don’t know the kids like I do, and sometimes they don’t know what I do or do not allow in my classroom. That’s not the sub’s fault, and it’s often hard for the kids to understand & adapt to the sub’s expectations.  Writing about how kids perceived the classroom activities will either confirm the sub’s notes or, more often than not, shed more light on what was occurring in the classroom environment when the behavior-in-question occurred.  Then I can conference with the “perpetrators” about their behavior and dole out consequences or praises as needed.  And, since they’ve already written about how they might behave differently next time, when I conference with kids they have either already thought things through or they’ve sealed their fate by trying to hide things even further, and we now have deeper, more important issues to deal with than who farted or who threw the paperwad.

Would Larry’s method work in your classroom?  Maybe.  Maybe not. Would my method work every time? Maybe. Maybe not.  But maybe teachers will read about these ideas and add whatever is relevant to their individual classroom toolkits and avoid needless group punishments in the future.

Cross-posted at the Technology & Learning in District #205 blog, Feb. 1, 2011.
Alternatives To Collective Punishment | Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


At our first meeting, we'll take the Mastery Assessment that starts on Page 8.  It is a self-scored "pre-test" of sorts to help you identify where you might be on the road to becoming a "Master Teacher."  You can keep the results to yourself, or you can share the results with the Team - it's entirely up to you.
As you begin to read the Intro, think about any of the following questions.  Don't worry - there are no right or wrong answers.  Feel free to blog about them by typing out your thoughts by clicking the Comments link below, as the mood strikes you.
  • What do you believe is a "master teacher?" How do teachers become master teachers?

  • Which of the seven principles resonates with you most? Why?