Friday, November 16, 2012

Did anyone use a different method?

It is said that everyone is an expert on public education because "everyone  has experienced at least 12 years of it", and so "we all know what classrooms and teaching should look like"!  You might be surprised to see the new ways in which teachers are being prepared.  If we want to improve learning and critical thinking in students, one of the first challenges is to get young teachers to look beyond "teaching as they were taught".  It is my role, as a field supervisor,  to visit young teachers in their classrooms and to provide the support and ideas needed to  help them deal with challenges in their teaching, and to grow into confident teachers.  In this week's blog I want to share with you some of the advice that I give to my teachers...

All images this week are photos of classroom items observed in East Bay high school or middle school classrooms

Student mural
1. Your students are not 32 identical empty vessels to be filled with knowledge; you have 32 different individuals with different life experiences, past learning, and ranges of abilities, 32 individuals each with his or her own misconceptions, and 32 individuals each with his or her own questions and life conflicts that they bring with them to your class.  The name for this kind of teaching philosophy is ‘constructivism’.

Classroom motivation poster
2.  Taking time to develop a complete lesson plan makes everything go more smoothly. A good lesson plan promotes real learning for all the kids. . The majority of class management issues can be controlled with a careful plan, and an effective lesson means that the kids are working harder than you as the lesson unfolds. Writing a good lesson plan begins with careful observation of your students and evaluating student abilities and needs.  It's true what they say about idle hands ( and minds ) -Avoid student ‘free-time’ like the plague...

Exit Slip: a summary question at the end of class to measure student understanding
3. Take risks... you will expand your teaching repertoire only when you attempt a variety of methods. Celebrate your successes and use the disasters as ‘learning experiences’. When you do your best to attempt something new and it is less than you hoped for – don’t ‘beat yourself up’. The most important filter to use when planning and evaluating your teaching is to ask “did this activity promote real concept learning for my students?” ... anything less is a waste of time.

During the period students will engage in a variety of activities - each with an appropriate speech level
4.  An effective lesson plan makes concepts relevant to the lives of students.  Many teen-age kids do not relate well to large amounts of purely theoretical factual knowledge... If you choose examples that are part of their daily life – every time they encounter the phenomenon they will remember and apply what they have learned.  Develop the skill of projecting into the mind of a student and ask “What would this experience feel like for me as a student”?

Classroom motivation poster from inner city school
5.  Recognize that students have different learning needs and that not all students will end up with the same level of mastery (even thought that is what we strive for).  A central question as you plan is “Given the time you have, how can you maximize the learning for all kids?”  What will students take with them as a result of being in your class today?

Motivation poster - classroom

6.  Given your limited time,  time spent planning effective learning activities will result in more real learning than concentrating on grading. Grade the important items (as time permits)  and then use the graded papers in further learning activities.  The important thing is for students to spend time with returned graded papers.  As you go over corrected papers with the class, assist students to learn from their errors and to write down things that they were missing or need to correct.  To make the homework a valuable resource, design future activities that require students to use returned papers and notes.

Unit List of key vocabulary ( to be updated into student notebooks) 

7.  Variety is good.  There are times when having the attention of the entire class is the most effective way to present an idea– there are other times that groups of 4 provide a learning environment better than one teacher – quick pair sharing of ideas can be a effective way to involve everyone.  Quick in class reflective writing (5-8 min.) is a great way to encourage each person to think through ideas and relationships.

Student Assignment: Make a poster to demonstrate how color addition is different from color subtraction

8.  After years of school one skill that many students have perfected in “tuning out the teacher”.  When giving instructions post a PowerPoint slide (or white board)  stating the activity instructions (and leave it projected), call on students to read item numbers as others follows along, Call on kids to tell in their own words what they will be doing.  Many students do not learn well from verbal explanations alone.

Hallway poster in a middle school

9.  Make note-taking of new information important.  An explanation without follow-through is “water off a ducks back”.  Students won’t retain the explanation even until the end of the period.  Don’t take valuable class time for discussions or answering questions unless students have time and a method for  writing down and processing ideas presented.  Give directions and time to record key ideas in student notebooks.  Suggested Link:

Posted plans for the day:  Daily learning objective, Agenda of activities, New vocabulary, Homework
10.  Never ever speak over talking students. A student talking during instruction means that at least two students are not engaged in hearing you.  Like a red flag, if you are interrupted, or if kids are slow to come to attention, stop and regain focus.  There is only one person to ‘train’ – and that is yourself to respond consistently.  There are many class focusing mechanisms – and its good to plan your responses in advance so that they become automatic.
Classroom poster - middle school

11.  When asking questions to the class - never assume that because one student can answer that everyone “got it” – use other means of evaluating understanding that get a response from everyone.  Constantly seek to engage all students, Pair shares, Team of 4 activates, Quick writes, frequent 5 question Quizzes, Exit slips, Homework ... all of these involve a response from all the kids.

Assignment ( Physics class) 'Design a device that will convert started potential energy into kinetic energy!' Each student developed his or her own design!

12.  Teaching students how to learn complex tasks is a skill in itself.  Its possible to have 'sort of learned' the parts of a process and have difficulty putting the answer all together.  Providing structured help in learning processes is called scaffolding - once the student develops understanding, then the scaffold can slowly be removed. Example: Asking a series of leading questions starting with what the students can do and leading to the final solution requires the student to recall and organize step by step. (Socratic Questioning
Wall Poster 

13. You get a random group of 32 new kids each year - take the time to develop a consistent positive classroom culture.  My rule is to be 'firm but friendly' with students.  Post the class rules and remind the kids with consistent reinforcement.  A chronically disruptive student is a 'spark-plug' able to incite others.  It can be helpful to identify what intrinsic reward system is driving this kid and find a way to use that to channel his or her energy into more constructive ways.  No student should be permitted to damage the learning environment of the entire class. if you need help ask for it!

14.  Keep growing as a teacher – save your lesson plans but NEVER repeat a lesson plan next year exactly as you did it this year – Learn from your mistakes and strive to improve.  Avoid ’crystallization’ of your teaching style, materials, or methods at all costs.   Keeping open and trying new things is the the most critical step in keeping your teaching fresh and living. Schedule time for yourself - a rested, happy teacher is a more effective teacher.

Last  4 minutes of class:
Students must answer and turn in the exit slip questions  - based on the concept  learning of the day.

Dont miss links of the week:

Education Link of the week:  (my favorite!):

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