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To Guarantee a Successful Year-Start at the End! August 18, 2017 07:17

It’s a new school year and an opportunity for students to get a fresh start. Now is the time to decide what they want to accomplish this year. 

The best way to have a good year is to start at the end. This may sound odd, but I am a firm believer in creating a clear picture of what one wants to accomplish and the specific reasons as to why. 

I ask students to write what they would like to see on their report cards at the end of the semester. Some of the comments might be, “Susan was an active participant in the class,” or “Jane never gave up and when things got hard, she eagerly asked for support.” I focus on the behaviors they might exhibit rather than on grades.

If students initially focus on the grade, I ask them to define the behaviors or actions to demonstrate in order to achieve the desired grade. It is helpful to coach students with some of the following statements:

To get an “A” I will need to:

  1. Listen intently in class.
  2. Pay attention to what the teacher writes on the board.
  3. Remember to ask for material I miss when I am ill or out of class.
  4. Preview chapters and form questions about what I think I will learn.
  5. Read the questions first on all assignments before reading the material and before the concept is being taught. This will allow me to focus better on the things I need to learn.
  6. Read written work aloud several times to both proofread and check that it makes sense.
  7. Ask for clarification to be sure I understand the teacher’s instructions. 
  8. Make note cards to use for studying and review material regularly.
  9. Ask questions when I am unsure of what the teacher is explaining.
  10. Pay attention to homework assignments when I enter the classroom, so I know what I am expected to complete after school. Plan to get started during recess, if I have a lot to do after school. 
  11. Pre-read homework assignments to see what I do not know and ask questions before I leave class. 
  12. Do nightly homework and turn on time.
  13. Check over graded work and find out why I missed problems.
  14. Have someone quiz me before tests, so I am sure I understand the material.
  15. Use only positive comments when thinking or speaking about my abilities.
  16. When I do not do as well as I expect, I immediately make an appointment with the teacher to ask for strategies to improve. 
  17. Write reasons I made mistakes on my corrected work.
  18. Review all tests for information to check to see if there were possibly errors in correction and to find out what I didn’t know.
  19. {Made a separate item.} When studying for a semester or year exam, I will make sure to determine the correct answers and make note cards for review.
  20. Use the teacher’s office hours to discuss my progress.
  21. Keep a running record of my grades so I know where I stand at all times. 

I ask students to visualize themselves opening their report card at the end of the semester and reading all the wonderful comments and seeing the desired grades. I want them to tap into the wonderful feeling they get when they achieve what they have planned. Tapping into that feeling is a crucial step towards insuring they stay on task. 

Then they are to type up a copy of their goals to review each morning when they are brushing their teeth. It can be posted on the bathroom mirror as a constant reminder of the things they need to do daily to achieve their goals. 

All students can benefit from using the list provided above, however, high school and college students often have to take classes they don’t want to take to meet a school requirement. There has to be a reward in it for them in order to create the desire to make it through the class. I ask them to list three reasons they are taking the class and three ways it benefits them.

Examples:

I am taking counseling in order to get a clearer picture of what I want to do for a career. Then I will know what classes to take, and understand the way I learn, and school will be easier for me.

I am taking photography to learn new skills because I love taking pictures. It will give me personal satisfaction, and I can learn about career options related to photography. 

I am taking anthropology because I need to improve my grade, and taking it again give me a better chance of getting into a four-year college.

It will also allow me to try out my new study strategies, because I think they will help to improve my grade.

With an image of the end of the semester clearly in their minds, students will find it much easier to achieve their goals. 


What I've Learned From My Students June 14, 2017 06:59

Two things I have learned: I can't read minds! I am not a magician.

I am entering my 23rd year of teaching third grade. In my 45 year in this profession, I think I have enjoyed what I have learned from my students more than anything. I think the one most important thing I've learned from them and an Ah Ha I would want new teachers to know about is I can't read their minds. 

When I finally realized that I could not predict what my students would glean from my words of wisdom, I became a more effective teacher. It was when I stopped teaching concepts and started answering their questions that real engagement occurred. Yes, the good old Socratic method of teaching. It is by far the most effective way of engaging students I have found to date.

Students today are more self-centered than in the past. The influence of technology has changed the way they think. They want immediate gratification and have little patient for long drawn out instruction. I can't model their games, so I just have to cut to the chase. I begin by sharing with them the following words, "I don't know what you don't know. I want to know what you don't know, because I don't want to teach you what you know already because that would not be interesting. I tried taking mind reading classes and have been hugely unsuccessful. So, since I don't know what you don't know by looking at you, how am I going to know?" Of course, it takes them a few minutes to process what I have said, so I often repeat it. It gets a chuckle and then one student raises his/her hand and answers, "If we tell you?" Then that follows with how can you tell me what you don't know? The obvious answer is by asking questions. 

Why does this method engage so beautifully? Think about our engagement when we ask someone a question. We want to hear the answer. 

The one challenge with this method was getting students to recognize the value of listening to their classmates questions. So, I ask them, "Whose question is more important than your own? It is your classmates. They are going to ask something that you didn't even think of asking and alert you to something you didn't realize you needed to ask. When others ask questions, think to yourself, 'Can I answer that?'" 

I love this method of instruction. It puts the students in the driver's seat and allows for natural differentiation of instruction. I have been teaching the curriculum for 22 years and I always get questions I have never heard before. It really takes the boredom out of teaching for me. 


Even the Worst Teachers Can Offer Valuable Lessons May 16, 2017 21:02

This sounds wrong. How can a terrible teacher be the best teacher for a child? 

As my children traveled the educational highway, they hit many potholes along the way. Some of these obstacles were the teachers they encountered. I was like any parent and wanted great teachers for my children. They lucked out most years with teachers who loved what they did, but there were a few teachers who clearly had chosen teaching for the summers off. 

Like any mama bear, I wanted to protect my children from teachers who treated students poorly. Since my policy was never to go to battle for my childrenI did what a friend said she would do I armed them for battle by teaching them how to diffuse and process comments that were less than supportive.  What I discovered along the path was poor teachers would offer me opportunities to teach my children how to talk to and deal with people who didn't appear to care about them nor their education. I now realize these teachers were offering my children opportunities to learn life skills that would take them far in their secondary education and beyond. The skills they learned by interacting with difficult people has served them well in their careers. 

As a student educational coach, I have come across students who have also formed negative self-images because of an unkind comment from a teacher. 

One middle school girl came to me for tutoring in math. As a tutor, I don't do the instruction. I coach children how to ask questions of their teachers which helps the teacher become more effective. It also empowers students to get what they need from their instructors. This method ultimately ends the need for tutoring. 

As I worked with this twelve year old (let's call her Svenia), I discovered her questions indicated how bright she was. I asked her, "When did you decide you weren't smart in math?"

This question sparked a memory that brought tears to her eyes. She shared that the question caused her to see a green eyed monster and heard her say, "You are so smart in everything else, how can you be so dumb in math?" 

After much questioning, we were able to determine that it was possible for the teacher to have said that she found it funny that math was so hard for Svenia. This middle schooler had added her own interpretation of this comment because she found math to be her only challenging subject in school. She didn't realize that although math was not her strongest subject, it didn't mean she was dumb. She spent years suffering with this idea, which translated into her giving up any time there was a challenge. 

At the time, her mother just got mad and blamed the teacher for not understanding her daughter. This teacher had offered Svenia a great opportunity had her mother capitalized upon it. 

When Svenia first complained that she felt stupid in math, her mother could have asked a few questions: Why do you feel that way? Did something happen to make you feel that way? 

Svenia needed reassurance that a struggle did not indicate she was dumb. She never learned that a struggle means one needs to ask some questions and persevere

When I shared this story with another mother, she said, "Well, there are some teachers who judge children and don't like it when they ask questions. And when they do, they get criticized for it and are told they aren't smart enough."

My daughters had a few of those types of teachers. They discovered two of them in middle school and a few in high school and a lot of them in college.

The first experience my daughter had was in middle school math. She worked very hard to do well in math. She found her questions resulted in getting one-to-one instruction from previous teachers.

In seventh grade she came across one of 'those' teachers who didn't seem to like children. He had formerly been a high school math teacher. He didn't have time to deal with questions in the short time he had the students. However, my daughter knew the power of asking questions, because they had been so powerful in the past. She was a little frustrated because this teacher had made students feel stupid when they asked questions. Because she didn't know how to deal with this type of teacher, we role played how she could ask for support. We practiced scenarios she might encounter, until she felt comfortable asking him for support. She asked for a conference with him during lunch. He surprising agreed to it, but he stipulated she would need to make it fast. 

My daughter shared the following with him"I know it can be frustrating answering questions when you have so much to teach. I am not sure why I don't know this one step, but I really want to do well in this class, and I'm afraid if I don't understand this formula, I'll get lost with new lessons. Could you show me where I went wrong with this problem?" She showed him her attempt to out work the problem. He looked at it and said, "I'm so glad you made an appointment. It is hard to deal with questions in class." He proceeded to show her where she had gone wrong, and then he spent the entire lunch helping her clear up her thinking.  

From that point on, he would stop by her desk and ask her to show him her work to be sure she was doing it right. 

My own daughters' experiences with poor teachers have been wonderful opportunities to teach something that was not on the curriculum: How to deal with mean people who don't always have common sense (seem to lack compassion???).  

What I have learned over the years, is that when students have teachers who respond in rude and/or negative ways, it creates opportunities to learn a great deal beyond the curriculum: 

How to survive in less than desirable conditions.

How to recover from snide comments, rise above them, and still communicate in ways to get their needs met.

How to diffuse an angry person. 

How to persevere.

If I had stepped in, my daughters would never have learned how to diffuse the difficult people they have since had to work with in their professional lives. One daughter is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and is very comfortable respectfully questioning doctors about the protocols they may have prescribed for their patients, when she feels it's in the best interest of those patients. Quite simply, those early potholes were truly teachable moments for the realities of life. 

For this reason, I am grateful to those 'less than wonderful teachers' who taught my children that there is much more to education than academics. 


Nuts and Bolts Not Included March 18, 2017 09:36

Very few people read directions carefully which can be very time consuming. I am no exception. Students rarely read directions to their homework and projects 'as if' they are going to tackle their assignments right away. So, it stands to reason they experience challenges once they get home.

I encourage them to read the directions so they can ask clarifying quesitons. Many of students read the directions like I did when I went to the store to purchase a "Do-It-Yourself" bookcase. I looked at the directions on the box and determined I could do it. I purchased the bookcase and proceeded home. The trip took a half an hour, but once home and changed, I took out the toolbox I inherited from my father's. Remembering all his instructions about construction, I felt confident to do the job. 

I laid out the pieces on the floor and opened the directions. The first direction said, "Attach piece "A" to piece "B" with a quarter inch bolt."

I looked inside the box and didn't find any nuts and bolts. I thought they might have been taped to one of the pieces, but alas, they were not. 

So I read the directions more carefully. The last thing on the directions was, "Nuts and Bolts NOT Included."

Imagine my frustration. I had to get dressed, get back in the car, go to the store, and find the right sized nuts and bolts. An hour and a half later, I was able to start the construction. 

I tell this story to the students to emphasize the need to read their directions carefully, or they will waste time like I did.

Their homework will take 1/3 the time if they ask about it before they leave the class. Half the work is done when they examine it carefully enough to ask questions. The act of asking actually improves memory, which will make the assignment easier to complete. 

 

 


Stories From the Classroom-Stopping Blurters March 17, 2017 06:44

My students have taught me more than I think I have taught them.

I had tried several different strategies in my bag of tricks to get students to be respectful of one another and wait their turn to share ideas. Most of them worked for a short time, but would not have a lasting affect on the repeat blurters.

Last week, I finally found a strategy (by accident) that has had the longest lasting affect than any others I have tried in the past. 

A student was sharing her idea during a classroom discussion. She could barely get her idea out before ir stimulated several other comments. The expression on her face told me she was very frustrated, so I asked her, "Sweetie, how did it feel when you were trying to share your idea and your classmates started talking over you?"

Her response opened up further conversation. "I felt like no one wanted to hear what I had to said."

I asked the class if they had ever had others talk over them or cut them off. Every student in the class had friends or parents cut them off while sharing ideas. So, I asked the class, "How did it feel when you had something really important to share and the person you were talking to wouldn't let you finish?" 

The following were their responses:  

"I felt like I didn't exist."  

"I felt like the other person didn't care what I had to say."

"I felt like I wasn't important."

"I felt frustrated when I was trying to share my ideas."

"I felt like they didn't think what I had to say was important."

"I felt like my idea were wrong and their's were right, and they wouldn't even give me a chance to tell them what I was thinking. It was like they didn't care about my idea and only cared about being right."

I was amazed at how well these 8 and 9 year olds could articulate their feelings.                                                                                       
I followed up with another questions, "Do you think the people that cut you off do it to make you feel this way?" "Why?"                         
The students realized that those who consistently cut others off didn't realize how it made the others feel when they were interrupting them.                                                                                     
I had no idea how powerful this dialogue was going to be. From that point on, we have had five class discussions and a group assignment. In each case, the students have been great listeners who allow their classmates to complete their thoughts before sharing their own ideas.      
                                                                       
Yesterday, the students worked in groups of three and were asked to construct a paragraph in response to a social studies question.      
The paragraphs were great and definitely the result of a collaborative effort. The best part of all wasn't the amazing paragraphs they constructed, it was the comments afterwards.
"I felt like they were open to my ideas."
"I got to share my idea and my friends helped me see why I wasn't correct."                                                                                               
Every child felt heard. I'm holidng my fingers crossed that this will continue. I'll keep you updated.                                                                                               
It only took forty-four years to find this strategy. 
It is June and I can say that the children have not forgotten the discussion we had in October. There are still a few who get very excited and forget, but on the whole this has definitely been one of those strategies I will write in my journal as a must do next year. 

Secrets Students Should Know #7 March 12, 2017 10:27

Secret #7: Secret Makes Mistakes, Too!

Because teachers make mistakes in grading or when writing on the board, it is important for students to keep a watchful eye and be respectful when they catch an error.

Instead of shouting, "You left out a 't'," it would be more productive to ask for clarification about how the word is spelled. For example, one could ask, "I might be wrong, but I think the word has a "t" in it." 

The mistakes on tests are more important for students than getting 95%. They tell the student what they didn't know. It is very important that they get used to reviewing their corrected papers to find out what they missed. 

If a mistake is detected, telling the teacher they made a mistake is not an effective form of communication. Instead, state, "I think I got number five right because......(state the proof). Can you tell me why I got it wrong?" 

This approach will demonstrate students' thinking about the question and aides the teacher in offering more effective instruction. 

Teachers often write questions with one answer in mind, and they don't realize the other possibilities until students bring them to their attention. If students support their answers with facts and reasons, they will demonstrate their true understanding and gain favor in the teachers' eyes.

Through their questions, students can alert teachers to a question that needs rewording. 

Students can also improve their grade in three ways by advocating for themselves:

1. They may be correct and an error was made in grading which will raise their score.

2. Grading is subjective. Therefore, if a student is wavering between a B+ and an A-, the teacher will feel comfortable giving the A- if the student has been a respectful self-advocate.

3. Asking about errors on tests helps students think about the questions and improves memory for later recall.