Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cooperative Learning Resources

First of all, let me just start by defining one often-overlooked point regarding Cooperative Learning:

  • Group Work = pushing a few kids together and assigning a task to be completed together, assuming that kids already know how to work together.
  • Cooperative Learning = teaching students to perform specific functions/roles within a carefully-selected assemblage of students whose collective mission is to complete an instructional activity, learning important social skills at the same time.

There is very little research that supports the validity of using “group work” (as defined above) in a classroom. Mountains of research supports cooperative learning. You’ll find much of it – along with ideas for implementing true cooperative learning in your daily activities – in this excellent post by Larry Ferlazzo: The Best Sites for Cooperative Learning Ideas.

Cross-posted from

Friday, September 28, 2012

Homework Incentives

As always, we started this afternoon's meeting with Peer-To-Peer Problem-Solving. Tonight we discussed answers to a great question from a middle school teacher:

How do you get kids to turn in their homework?

We discussed several ideas that might help, at many grade levels:
* Popcorn parties are a quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive way to encourage kids to turn in homework. If kids turn in all their homework during a given time period, you break out the popcorn at the end of the time. Instruction doesn't have to stop during the party - kids can eat popcorn while they're working on the assignment, reading the assigned passage, etc.
* Stickers: Kids LOVE stickers! Our group shared that kids from pre-school through high school will do just about anything for stickers from their teacher. When I was teaching middle school, kids would peel stickers off of their recorded homework assignments after they were handed back and stick them onto their book covers like fighter pilots chalking up kills. Stamps work, too, as do handwritten words of encouragement from their teacher.
*Free Time! Every moment of a kid's school day is structured and controlled - at least from the kid's point-of-view, anyway. So, why not offer the incentive of having some less-structured time to talk about... whatever it is that kids talk about?
*Movies - Is there an curriculum-relevant and age-appropriate video clip that would support your instruction? In a perfect world, kids would watch intently and gather knowledge, thanking us teachers for enriching their minds. Okay, now back to reality - Maybe kids can earn a movie-day once a month or once a quarter, etc.? It would be great if the movie was relevant to your curriculum, but you know what they say about beggars and choosers...

Larry Ferlazzo has written a number of posts and even a book about student motivation - and how teachers can promote self-motivation in their students. I would highly encourage new teachers follow Larry Ferlazzo's blog for lots of tips and resources as you develop your career.

Do you have an idea to share about incentives? Feel free to add it by submitting a comment at the bottom of this post!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Resources for New Teachers

Getting back into the swing of posting resources and meeting discussions for our District's New Teacher Learning Team. Sorry for the delay. Hope you find these resources helpful!

Discovery Channel's New Teacher Survival Central
Includes a "Survival Toolkit" containing links to lots of good advice & resources, a "Tech 101" portal to help you learn how to use popular gadgets in instruction, a "Homeroom Headquarters" section for help with parent communication & classroom management, and a section called "It's Elementary" that covers lots of basic everyday questions that teachers of all grade levels might have.

Scholastic Teacher's New Teacher Survival Guide
This site contains too many resources to list! Explore this site to find quick resources to support almost any grade level, subject area, or teacher's experience or comfort level. Check back often for updates, too!

The Best Advice for New Teachers, from Larry Ferlazzo
Larry Ferlazzo is a California ESL teacher, author, columnist, and blogger-extraordinaire. Among his many talents is curating a warehouse of educational resources & knowledge for teachers of all grade levels and subjects, often organized into several series of "The Best..." lists of links. This post describes and links to sources providing advice and assistance to new teachers. Definitely not to be missed!

Twenty Tidbits for New Teachers 
Just what it says, this article from Edutopia blogger Lisa Michelle Dabbs enumerates several techie-things that new teachers might consider as they begin their professional careers.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

So You've Had a Bad Day...

Great meeting last night! I was very impressed with the turnout! Thanks much to the many teachers who participated in our meeting!
In addition to covering most of the material from the previous post, we always start off with some peer-to-peer problem solving. We had a great question to start our discussion:

How do you deal with a really bad day in the classroom?

Suggestions included:
  • Take a breath: Whether we like it or not, no matter how well-planned and exquisitely-organized your classroom environment may be, it is still a human system that is subject to random weirdness. Stomach flu causes projectile vomiting, and when one kid pukes others will, too. Noses bleed for no reason whatsoever. Custodians will mow grass outside your window when you’re teaching the toughest group to keep on-task. When it happens, stop what you’re doing, put your hand on your midsection, breathe in deeply, hold it for a 5-count, and let it out. Remember: Kids Happen. You CAN deal with it.
  • Do the SECOND thing you think of: When you’re stressed your brain goes into its fight-or-flight response mode. The first thing you think of will likely be something that protects yourself (emotionally or physically) or makes you feel better in the immediate short-term. However, that may not always be the best thing for kids. Try to control your emotional response, and instead try to respond after thinking rationally about the situation. Quick, immediate decisions are warranted, of course, when kids are in danger or when you need to regain control of the classroom environment (don’t worry, this happens even to the most experienced teachers). But usually the best response is the thoughtful one.
  • Remember that YOU have a choice: Just like we teach our kids, you also have a choice in how you respond to any given situation. Students do not control activities in your classroom nor how you respond to them. When (not if, but WHEN) they try, it is perfectly appropriate to stop the content part of your lesson and re-teach the classroom expectations. This shows that you are in control of yourself and what happens in that classroom. It also shows that you will not allow learning to be side-tracked by the behavior, and you will not allow others to be, either. Then explain students’ choices to them: They can choose to follow the expectations and contribute positively to the learning environment, or they can continue the previous behaviors and be removed from the learning environment. If students still choose to add to the bad day, then it is time to take that long, lonely walk to The Office. But what happens within that classroom should be largely controlled by the learning experiences you choose and by the routines and high expectations that you create.
  • Take time for yourself: From time to time you may need to leave the papers ungraded for one night and kick back with some friends, go out on the town, watch an old movie at home by yourself, or whatever else you choose to do to decompress. There’s a lot to be said for the phrase, “Take care of the caretaker.” If you’re constantly feeling stressed-out, others can probably pick up on it, too, including your students and co-workers. Part of being professional is being self-aware and knowing when to take care of yourself.
  • Engage with kids: Yes, ‘kids happen,’ but kids also happen to be pretty cool sometimes, too. I taught 7th graders for many years, and I can’t recall how many times I came into my classroom from lunch duty at then end of my rope, looked into the eyes of thirty 12-year-olds who hadn’t done a single thing to put me in that bad mood, and thought to myself: “It’s not their fault I’m stressed out. Why should they have to ‘suffer my wrath’? What does that teach them? Nothing.” After a while I learned that if I told kids I was having a bad day and asked them for their help in getting over it, they could be pretty darned understanding. Kids like to play. They like to create things. they like to “do stuff.” If I planned for opportunities that would allow them to be creative – even if it was something as simple as coloring a map for a few minutes while I got a grip on things – or participate in a group or cooperative learning activity, their energies were focused on having fun instead of contributing to what I perceived as a bad day. That usually made the bad day easier to deal with. If I participated in those activities right alongside them, the bad day almost immediately disappeared.
…And yes, I’m proud to say that I’m 43 years old and I still find it soothing to color maps with crayons and do puzzles on the floor… it’s just a lot harder to sit criss-cross-applesauce these days…

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Does This Mean To Me?

Next Meeting: Wednesday, February 1, 2012; 3:45 pm; Board Room
Here’s the presentation I’ll be using…
I’ll remember the time sheets and have snacks ready. Hope you can join us!

Thursday, January 26, 2012


We started our January 18 meeting with a few questions and answers about Certification changes and the Reduction In Force ("RIF") process. Matt assured the group that RIFing is generally not anything to worry about as long as (1) District funding from the State of Illinois remains solid, (2) student numbers in your grade level remain the same, and (3) teacher performance and certification is up to par with your teaching assignment.  In other words, keep working to help your kids learn and grow, be open to improving your practice according to your principal's suggestions, and keep your certificate up-to-date, and the rest will sort itself out. Control what you can control, which is YOU, and try not to worry about the rest.

Matt demonstrated how to use the Educator Certification System (ECS) on the Illinois State Board of Education Web Site to record professional development. We also briefly discussed the process of moving from an Initial Certificate to a Standard Certificate.  Contact Matt if you ever have any questions about this.

Books were distributed at our first meeting. Matt took the group on a quick tour of the book, using the presentation embedded below.

At our next meeting we will look at the 4 Domains in a little more detail and examine the levels of performance.

Monday, January 9, 2012

2012 Book Club Begins!

Welcome Back! Our Spring New Teacher Learning Team meetings will be in Book Club format. This year’s book selection is:

Image from

Early indications point to this work as the possible foundation for the State of Illinois’ new teacher evaluation process, which is still under development.  Regardless of whether or not the new system will end up looking like Danielson’s Framework, this book is sure to help you develop the skill of self-reflection and build confidence in your classroom practice, and may help dispel the dread that many associate with the evaluation process in general. 

Books are offered free-of-charge to any first- or second-year teacher (in District #205 or KWSED) who can attend one or more of our meetings. The focus is on discussing the principles and helping you reflect on & improve your classroom instruction & professional practices. While all are encouraged to participate, you are of course welcome to simply drop by and just listen to the discussion, too! As always, time will also be set aside for peer-to-peer problem-solving (and a little venting, as well).

Meetings will be held every-other Wednesday, from 3:45-4:45 pm, at the following times & locations:

Jan 18 – GHS Library: Distribute books & Overview of the text

Feb 01 – Board Room: Discuss Assumptions & 4 Domains (pgs. 1-42)

Feb 15 – Board Room: Discuss Domains 1 & 2 (pgs. 43-76)

Feb 29 – Board Room: Discuss Domains 3 & 4 (pgs. 77-108)

Mar 21 – GHS Library: Discuss Specialists, Using the Framework, & Appendices (selections from pgs. 109-end as appropriate)

Apr 11 – Board Room: Discuss Applications of templates, rubrics, etc., throughout the text

Apr 25 – GHS Library (Make-Up Date)

May 09 – Board Room or other location: Celebrations!