Saturday, November 3, 2012

Temporary Leave of Absense

Hello to all of you who read this blog. I'm taking a temporary leave of absence. I won't be submitting any new posts until November 26th. The reason why I'm taking this leave of absence is because I've taken my 4th attempt at what is called a TPA. TPA stands for Teacher Performance Assessment. As someone studying to become a multiple subject teacher (elementary), you must complete four of them and you must achieve a score of 3 or higher on each one. The highest possible score one can achieve is a 4. I received a 2 on my fourth attempt. My next attempt is my last.

What sucks about the protocol for the TPAs is that they cannot give you any specific feedback. In other words, if you did something wrong in your TPA, they cannot tell you what exactly you did wrong. But, if you don't know what you did wrong, then how can you improve? I propose that if you do improve, it will be by accident. That's a pretty haphazard way to learn as opposed to getting guidance from a professional.

So, I'm pooling my resources. From now until November 26th, I'm pooling all of my resources. I need to pass this thing. If I don't pass this last TPA this time, I get kicked out of my credentialing program. That means I have to spend another year or two in addition to the 2.5 years I've already spent trying to get my credential. So, if you're wondering why I haven't been posting. That's why.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Student Disagreements in Sports

I was watching five or six boys play this outdoor sport called army ball. Their game had paused because they had disagreement on the rules of the game. Before I get into that disagreement, I need to describe a bit on how the game is played.

Army ball is very similar to baseball but you use a dodgeball for the ball and one of your arms for the bat. But, there could be more than just two teams. You could have three or four teams with two players each, three teams of three players each, or four teams of three players each and so on. Bottom line, however many teams you have, they'll each have the same number of players. Only one team will go up to bat. The other teams will be either on base or in the outfield. In terms of getting the batting team out, they can either be struck out, out by catching the ball, or tagged. However, you could also play it where there are no strike outs. That is where the disagreement originated from in the game that I was observing.

So, a student was at bat. He kept complaining about how the ball was being thrown too low or too fast. After a few pitches, a student playing as the umpire says that he's out. He threw a tantrum because he was under the assumption that there were no strike outs. A couple other students were under the same impression, but then five other students said that there were strike outs. Because of that argument, the entire game was halted. What could have prevented this argument.

This argument could have been prevented from the very beginning if they had all just agreed from the start that there would or would not be strike outs. Can't decide whether to have strike outs or not? Time to be democratic. Take a vote. If more students vote for strike outs, then there will be strike outs. If more students vote against strike outs, there will not be strike outs. Students don't like that majority rule went against their favor? Ok. Then, they simply need to play another game. And, back to the game they go.

This is the bottom line. To minimize conflicts between students in sports or games, the rules must be both clearly stated and understood. If they are either not clearly stated or not understood, then students will have disagreements. Why? Because there will be one student who will assume that the rules are X and the other will assume that they are not X (i.e. strike outs or no strike outs). And, people who make different assumptions will act differently.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Teaching Unfamiliar Words

Today, we read a story called "The Bicycle Man." The author, Allen Say had dedicated this book to a 1st grade teacher of his, Marita Sensei. We talked about how Marita gave her students words of encouragement during sports and played outdoor games with them. So, Marita may have influenced Allen in terms of morale support and teaching him new outdoor games.

After we read the story, I gave the class opportunities to share their own brief stories with the rest of the class. I asked students to first talk with a neighboring student for a couple minutes by mentioning important people in their lives that had influenced them. Unfortunately, when I had asked them, a lot of my 4th graders didn't know what "influence" meant. That was a shortcoming on my side. Then, I let them write a list in one minute about who those people were.

Afterward, I reminded everyone that a person who has influenced them would be anyone who they want to be like or who has changed how they think. After I said that, three quarters of the class' hands went up. For every student, I would ask, "Who influenced you? How did they influence you?" And, I would keep asking them questions until I had a specific story from them. Then, I would respond back just by verifying what they said. "Oh ok, so your dad influenced you by writing really neat when he was in 4th grade, so you want to write really neat like him." I did that with three quarters of my students between 5 and 10 minutes.

After I went through all of their stories, they had tons of examples to go off of. So, they had a much better idea of what "influence" meant than when I had first introduced the word.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Answering Less Questions

I'm not quite credentialed to teach and I haven't had my own classroom to manage. But, this is my speculation at what almost every teacher values. Every school day is limited in duration and a lot of lesson objectives must be covered. For those reasons, I think something that every teacher values is time. Even as a student teacher, I value completing all of my objectives within the time that I have available. I will offer just one way to appeal to that value although there are probably many others.

In many lessons, a teacher has an activity which students will engage with on their own or in partners. In either case, you want them both to be clear on what they're supposed to do and to remember that procedure. The bottom line though is that students forget. What is a student going to do if they forget? They're going to raise their hand or walk up to you to ask. That distracts you. That stops you from helping other students who are actually engaging with the lesson or it distracts you from prepping for other lessons and activities that you will implement later on in the day.

I'm giving you this suggestion because I have seen several teachers take this idea for granted. If your students are able to read, write your directions in a step by step format on the whiteboard. Why? Because if your directions as written on the whiteboard are clear for them, then when they raise their hand asking for instructions, all you need to do is point to the whiteboard. It takes time to write up the instructions, but writing up those instructions is like time insurance. If you have just two kids asking for directions, that would probably be enough to warrant writing directions on the whiteboard for students.

Here is an extremely simply example. Last week, my 4th graders were doing a state assessment. There were two black empty paper trays at the front of the classroom and sitting on a wooden ledge directly under the whiteboard. Directly above one paper tray, on the whiteboard, I wrote "Answer Sheet" and drew an arrow pointing to one black tray. Then, above the other black tray, I wrote "Booklet" and drew an arrow pointing to the other black tray. Most students knew what to do without even asking me. When I saw any students who looked the slightest bit confused or who raised their hand to ask me where their answer sheet and booklet goes, I just pointed to the writing on the whiteboard above both of the trays and those students' general reaction was "Oh ok."

Save yourself some time. Get less students to ask you about the directions. Write them up on the whiteboard.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Students Doing Their Fair Share

In the after school program that I'm a teacher in, I've been thinking of ways to get students to clean up the auditorium before we head back down to the lower yard. Just to give a little context, from students in grade 3 through 5 go to the auditorium and upper yard from 2 or 3 to 430. Then, everyone heads back down to the portable in the lower yard. It is there that students wait to be picked up by their parents if they haven't already been picked up in the auditorium or upper yard.

At first, the floor and tables in the auditorium would be littered with trash. So, my response was "No one is leaving until all of this trash is picked up!" The great thing is that students would eventually volunteer to pick up all of the trash. However, the problem with that is that often, the same students would volunteer to pick up trash. That means that like 5 to 6 students help clean up the auditorium while 115 others kick back. That's simply unfair. So, today, I had another idea to remedy that inequity.

In kindergarten, students get various jobs everyday. I'm not convinced that that should necessarily stop at kindergarten or 1st grade. In my current situation, I think it would still be a worthwhile idea to implement. However, everyday, instead of picking someone as line leader as is what occurs in kindergarten, different students would be picked everyday to help clean tables, floors, or pick up trash. What is the justification? Well, every student makes a mess in the auditorium. Thus, every student must put in effort to clean the auditorium. Now, I'm not making it optional. Now, everyone will get a chance to clean the auditorium. That seems like a more equitable solution than my first attempt.

Assigning jobs are not just for personal responsibility. They are also for the sake of contributing a fair share to the work. That is, they are also to make sure that there is not one person who is doing too much of the work.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Angry VS Calm Teacher

How do you want to earn your respect as a teacher? An angry teacher will strike fear in the hearts of their students. A calm teacher will ideally just be an unshakable individual regardless of how you interact with them. I need to give you a little more detail.

This angry teacher isn't merely angry, but this teacher also expresses their views through sarcasm and openly questions the intelligence of their students. Think in the long term. This angry teacher consistently expresses their level of disapproval, their sarcasm, and questions the intelligence of their students. This angry teacher doesn't necessarily commit to these same acts with the same student all the time, but there is definitely at least one student who suffers this wrath. This teacher's students go home everyday remembering their teacher's behavior because it is exhibited everyday. Worse, there are often students who will overemphasize the representation of this angry teacher's behavior. But, the parents don't necessarily know this and just take their child's word for it. Fast forward to parent teacher conferences. Will the parents of these students be more or less inclined to take the advice of this teacher? I propose that they will be less inclined.

Now, take the calm teacher. Whenever a child forgets to bring homework, talks in class, doesn't have the necessary supplies out, this teacher says nothing about intelligence, does not necessarily express disapproval, but just says, such and such expectations were not met. During recess, you will need to complete your homework, practice not talking to a neighbor, having your supplies out and so on. Worst case scenario, this child tells her mother or father that she lost recess time. The parents can ask why and it will be because a student wasn't meeting a class expectation. That child lacks the ammo to make some wild story about their teacher's character.

The bottom line that I'm trying to lead you to is that an angry teacher will more readily get themselves in trouble with parents than a calm teacher will. When your options are to have the parents support or oppose you, don't make it hard on yourself. You have no reason to and so no one has an excuse to be the angry teacher. You'll make life easier for yourself as the calm teacher. Don't give parents a reason to complain to you to the principal.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Problems with Praising Scores

Some teachers have a practice of making a big deal out of making it known which students got high scores on assessments or assignments that they had done. They might pass out the assignment and say "So-and-so got a perfect score" or "So-and-so got a 9 out of 10." The great thing about that is that the students who you praise feed off of that recognition. It boosts their spirits.

However, what about those students who are not praised due to the score that they had gotten? Necessarily, if you only recognize the students who do well, then you will not recognize the students who do not perform at the ability that you define as well. In which case, you would be willingly not recognizing their effort. What kind of message does that convey? It conveys the message: "My work is not good enough to be recognized." As such, that kind of lack of recognition in light of those students who are given recognition basically serves as a put down.

So, what do you do then? It seems undeniable that you need to be equitable in how you distribute your recognition. So, it sounds like your recognition must be all or nothing. Either you recognize everyone's efforts regardless of their score or you recognize no one's efforts. If you recognize no one's effort, then everyone will feel undervalued. So, it seems then that somehow, you must recognize everyone's efforts. How do you do that?

I can't give you a specific method per se, but you must be able to recognize when anyone does good. That's how you make a person feel valued or like they are accomplishing something. One way in which students serve students are as gauges of their own success. I say that because that's how I felt when I was working on my undergrad. I fought hard for the approval of my Graduate Student Instructors. Whatever positive approval I got from them made me feel like I was progressing. I think it's the same way for students and teachers in elementary school. Whatever positive feedback can be given will be motivating to them. But, simply neglecting a students efforts because they didn't do well will make them feel undervalued. Hence, that will demotivate them.