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.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Quick Full Class Assessment

So, I was teaching a lesson on interjections (e.g. Hey!) and exclamatory sentences. We had confirmed that they knew the difference between an interjection and an exclamatory sentence. Basically, I pointed to an interjection that I wrote on the whiteboard. Then, I simply said, "Raise your hand if you think this (interjection) is a complete sentence. (I check to see how many students raised their hand) Ok. Put your hands down. How many of you think this (exclamatory sentence) is a complete sentence?"

So, when I asked how many of them thought an interjection was a complete sentence, no one raised their hand, but when I asked how many of them thought that the exclamatory sentence that I pointed to was an exclamatory sentence, everyone rose their hand. Doing that is so much easier and faster than having everyone take out a sheet of paper, writing the specific interjections or exclamatory sentences down and writing this interjection is not a complete sentence or this exclamatory sentence is a complete sentence. All you need to do is count the number of hands that go up. That's a quick way to determine who does or doesn't understand a concept.

Keep in mind that its basically like giving students multiple choices and just having them choose one. It doesn't require any explanation on their part. This is a possible flaw. That is a flaw whenever an answer can be elaborated upon, but is reduced to a yes or no answer. But, it's my understanding that giving multiple choices and having students pick one is the only way in which all students can be assessed via a mere show of hands. Raising hands doesn't give an explanation.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Saving Pencils and Erasers

My current mentor, Ms. Massey, a 4th grade teacher has been having difficulty with preserving her supply of all of her pencils and erasers. She bought 20 pencils and 20 erasers for the class. She left them each in their own separate buckets. Within a few weeks, they all just disappeared. Reasonably, she's discouraged from buying 20 more pencils and erasers because she doesn't want the same thing to happen to her.

This is what we do at Adventure Time (i.e. the before/after-school program) at Chabot Elementary for pencils and erasers. The rule is that if a student wants to borrow a pencil, they need to leave us their shoe. We just leave their shoe in a bucket. The shoe serves as the collateral. They can have their shoe back once they return the pencil or eraser.

If you want to use that idea, you just want to make sure that everyone wears socks to school and they stay in one spot while using their pencil. If for whatever reason, they need to walk around, then they shouldn't have any reason to have a pencil. In which case, you can take your pencil back and give them back their shoe.

Even the kindergartners never forget to come back to get their shoe. It's kind of hard to forget when every step you take makes half your body sink a little deeper for every other step. That and they'll obviously feel the difference on the surface of their feet.

Let's say that you don't want to say leave a shoe and borrow a pencil. Ok. That's up to you, but in that case, come up with some different idea for a collateral. The idea is that you want to come up with something that every student values that they won't want to leave the room without. If you can come up with that, then that can be your collateral. A shoe is one example of that. Either way, I wish you the best in preserving your pencil and eraser supply. Ours collection is actually building up.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tracking Attention During Reading

I learned an interesting reading trick from my current mentor, Ms. Massey. When I read, I tend to focus on the how and the why. I attribute that to me being philosophical in how I think. Philosophy was my major and I still continue to think and ask questions in a philosophical way. But, how and why questions within a school text often require self-reflection. On the other hand, what questions can often be answered by looking straight in the text.

This is what Ms. Massey will do. She will be reading a paragraph aloud. Right before she reaches the last word, she will ask them to basically fill in the blank. So, for example, "The Chumash Indians used washed up planks to make.... what did the Chumash Indians use washed up planks to make?" She will either call on a student who had raised their hand or she will just call on a student.

In the case that she calls on a student who raises their hand, she will only be able to determine who was paying attention (on the assumption that the student who had raised their hand knows the answer to the question she had asked... In which case, that would show that that student wasn't paying attention to the reading). In the case that she just calls on a student at random, if that student answers correctly, it seems likely that that student has been following along in the reading. We're assuming that the student is getting the answer straight from the text and the answer is difficult enough that he or she cannot just guess. If that student doesn't answer correctly, then it seems likely that that student was not following along while the teacher was reading. It's possible that the student was following on in the reading but was just confused with how to answer. But, when all they need to do is fill in the blank, there doesn't seem to be much room for confusion as far as providing an answer is concerned.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Quick Attendance During Field Trips

In a recent post, I talked about how an easy way to track students' novels is to assign each student with a number and have each student use a novel which is labeled with the same number. Turns out that assigning each student with a number is also helpful for taking attendance during a field trip.

We took a field trip to the Oakland Museum. It was for a Native American exhibit since that's what the 4th graders had finished studying in Social Studies.

Ms. Massey has 39 students of 4th graders split into two separate classes and all of those students were going to the field trip. Before we headed off to the museum, we took attendance. All 39 students sat in a circle on the ground in Ms. Massey's classroom. Instead of calling them off by their first and last name, for the first class, she just called each students' number and when a particular student's number was called, that student raised their hand. And, the same was done for the second class. The great thing about that is that its a lot quicker to say a students' number than to say someone's first and last name (or even just their first name).

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Limiting Costs from Lost Novels

This year, in Ms. Massey's class, a fourth grade teacher who is my mentor until November, finished reading a novel with her class. They were reading Babe. Every student would have a Babe novel that was assigned to them. Every student has a student number. Every Babe novel has a number. If a student's number is the same as the number on a Babe novel, then that is the Babe novel which is assigned to them. For example, if a student is #20 in the class, then they will use the Babe novel labeled #20.

I need to give you some context on the signficance of labeling each Babe novel with a number. Every night, students were required to read a chapter from Babe. Also, they had to take note on what they read. Sometimes, although not always, there would be a pop quiz on the last chapter that they had read. These are the reasons why every student needed to take their assigned Babe novel home every night.

The problem with any elementary student taking their novel home is that some students will lose their assigned novel. Let's say that a student loses a novel. They don't want the teacher to be mad them, while no one is looking, that student takes another novel. Because the pages were labeled along the edges with a number in permanent marker, it will be obvious if a student possesses a book that doesn't belong to them. In which case, you can more accurately track who has lost a novel. Since you would be able to accurately track who had lost a novel, then you will know who's back to get on to pay for a replacement copy. That's an easy way to limit the cost from lost novels.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

An Informal Lesson in Responsibility & Independence

Currently, I'm student teaching in a 4th grade class. Despite being much older than kindergartners, they still rely quite a bit on grown ups. I sit in the back. Immediately behind me is a few book shelves.

Students were working on a quiz from Babe. Most students had finished responding to the quiz. Usually, when that happens, they can grab a book from the shelves behind me. It's about time for everyone to be finished with the quiz, so Ms. Massey announces that its time for everyone to put their books away.

One of the students walks up to me and just hands me a book. Without thinking, I accept the book and put it away for her. Right after I did that, I started questioning myself. "Why did I accept her book? It's her book. I shouldn't be putting it away for her. Why didn't she put it away? How would an adult behave in her situation? I want to think that most adults would simply put the book back. That's what these students should be doing too."

So, another student comes up to me. He tries to hand me a book to put away for him. This time I deflect that attempt. I told him that he can put it back himself.

It sounds like I'm being a jerk. But, these kids are still young. I don't want to lead them to the assumption that how ever small the work may be, they can ask an adult to complete it for them even though they could very well complete the work themselves. Not only can that be intellectually stunting, but stunting to their sense of independence as well.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Distraction Free Typing

This is my first experience with this kind of device. It's called Alphasmart. Basically, its purpose is to write documents. It comes with a standard keyboard that comes with any laptop or desktop. With the same device is a calculator-like screen that is just above the keyboard. And, that's really all there is to it.

The great thing about this product is that it lacks all of the distractions that come available with any standard desktop or laptop. Students can't go to Facebook, check their email, to gaming sites, watch videos, and etc. All of those distractions have been basically removed from the Alphasmart since all it does it type up documents.

After a document has been typed up on the Alphasmart, the chosen file can be uploaded to a desktop or laptop by connecting a USB cord from the Alphasmart to the target computer. When you press "send" on the chosen file while a blank Microsoft Word document is open, the file typed up on the Alphasmart will immediately and automatically be typed up in the blank MS Word doc. That's great since it will also highlight most or all of each student's spelling mistakes.

An interesting distraction free tool if you want students to type up their work.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Leave the Games for Last

So, I've been tutoring this first grade student. I've been trying to come up with a variety of games for him to play. I've been doing that for two reasons: #1 If he has fun, then he'll want to keep playing the games. And, when he keeps playing the games, he's practicing the phonics patterns that he's supposed to be practicing (e.g. -at in bat or -an in ban). #2 If we play the same game over and over again, he'll get bored of it. That means that he won't want to play the game anymore which further means that he will definitely lose his motivation to practice.

So far so good. I've come up with five different games to play with him and he loves my games. Now, the thing is, each of the games that I've made have benefits to them. Certain games are better for addressing different areas of phonics than other games that I have. For example, one game may focus on a time element, which is good because it speeds him up, but another game might focus on another letter pattern which I need him to learn as well. Also, the dry activities that I have at my disposal are neat, effective, and efficient.

A couple of tutoring sessions ago, I started out with one of my games. It was a new game for him. I'll explain in greater detail in another post but basically, there are two spinners. The result of the spinners is a three letter word. He throws a small paper ball into a cup to get a point. He couldn't get enough of it. He could probably keep playing it for longer than half an hour. That motivation is great, but I wanted to move on to one of the more effective dry activities. Unfortunately for me, once he got a taste of my games, he didn't want to go back to the dry stuff.

Its interesting though. When I start the tutoring session with the dry activities. He's pretty willing. It's only after he has fun playing my phonics games that he doesn't want to go back to the effective and efficient yet dry activities. That's why I say that if a student who you work individually with is motivated to do a dry activity that is effective and efficient, then let him do it. With such a student, never start with the games or else you'll never get to make use of those kinds of dry activities. You could probably generalize this idea for a classroom as well (to the extent that your students in a classroom are motivated to do a dry activity).

Monday, October 1, 2012

Students' Imagination as a Lesson Hook

Last Thursday, I taught a Social Studies lesson. The lesson was on the "First Californians." I didn't just want to do a dry read from the text. What I could've done was simply read paragraphs saying that the First Californians (i.e. Indians), lived 15,000 years ago and the various large and small animals that they hunted. I didn't do that. I tried to frame the beginning of the lesson in a way that requires them to provide their perspective.

This is what I told them do: "Imagine that you were born 15,000 years ago. You live in a really cold climate. It's wintery. There's a lot of snow. It's cold. Also, since its 15,000 years ago, there aren't any stores. Tell me what you would do to get food."

I introduced that scenario before we started reading the book. Actually, I didn't even want to bring out the book. I didn't want them to make a connection between the scenario that I provided them with and the section of the textbook that we would read. Or, at least, I didn't want them to make that connection until after we read a section of the chapter together.

The scenario that I gave my students led to a lot of discussion. They imagined that they would make spears from wood with stones on the end of them, that they would use their spears to get fruit from trees, and make traps for smaller animals like rabbits. Some of what they said was pretty creative. Like, I wouldn't imagine digging out a hole to find a rabbit. And, others were actually related to what we were reading (i.e. putting stone points at the end of spears.)

Requiring them to imagine what they would do given the background of the reading is good for a couple reasons. #1 Given that some of their suggestions relate to what is said in the text, the connections between their own thoughts and the text will be that much more meaningful and #2 It's been my experience that most students just love to use their imagination. I couldn't tell you why, but I just know that I've seen a lot of students who like to come up with ideas. Giving them a situation from reading to think about will give them academic situation in which they could use their imagination.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Time Limiting as a Proficiency Booster

So, I've been tutoring this student from Chabot Elementary. Its been going pretty well. There's one idea that I've found particularly useful. I've been using a phonics wheel. This is how it works. You have two paper plates. Both one paper plate rests on top of the other. The paper plate on top has a two letter ending for a three letter word (e.g. -an, -at) at the very right center of the plate. Also, in the top plate, a rectangular window is cut out just left of the two letter ending. The two paper plates are bound together with a brass fastener thrust through the center of both plates. In the bottom plate, there are letters such that you can turn the bottom plate and whichever letter you turn to will appear in the rectangular window of the top plate.

Now, I could just stop there, but there's one other element that made this phonics tool particularly helpful. I tell my student that the name of this game is called "Me against me." He plays the game once. I will turn the wheel. As I turn the wheel, he will say each word that is formed by the letter that appears in the rectangular window and the two letter ending that is on the top plate. I let him borrow my watch and he times how fast he can say all of the words in the cycle. I showed him how to use the timer on my watch. He gets a kick out of using it. After he plays the game once, he checks his time. Then, we see whether he can beat his own time. He usually beats his own time.

My student wants to get the fastest time possible. What I find interesting is that when I include that time element, he actually performs better than when he has all the time in the world to pronounce a word on a flashcard. Frequently, when I merely give him a flashcard to read, he will guess what the card says based on a previous two letter ending that he had learned (e.g. he will read "fan" as "fat" since he had learned how to pronounce three letter words that have the -at ending just before three letter words with the -an ending). My guess is that he feels that when he's being timed, he can't really spend time thinking about a guess. He just has to say what comes to mind.

Whatever the case may be, its been one of my most effective tools in getting him to learn two letter patterns. Here's a link if you're curious about the phonics wheel.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Students & Microphones

My current mentor, Ms. Massey is one of several teachers who were selected for a pilot program. The pilot program involves Massey using a set of hardware with one of her classes. The hardware set consists of a headset, a transmitter, speaker, and a handheld microphone. The transmitter is to convey a signal to the speaker so that when Massey speaks into the headset, you hear her voice from the speaker. The handheld microphone is for the students.

In my view, this microphone set isn't really for the teacher necessarily. In all the elementary classes that I have sat in, I have never thought, "I can't hear what the teacher is saying. I'm gonna ask the teacher to repeat him/herself." However, those are thoughts that I have at least each lesson with the students. Also, there are definitely instances during lessons when students cannot hear what other students have said. So, the microphone set is really for the students.

The thing with this microphone set is that the volume could be set so high that even if a student whispered into the mic, you would still be able to tell what they had said. Further, the likelihood that other students hear what a speaking student is saying also improves.

The aim of making students more audible to each other and the teacher is not necessarily simply to make them more audible. It's that when they are not audible, time must be taken out of class time to get them to repeat what they had said. If they are heard the first time because they are using a microphone, then they won't need to waste time by repeating themselves.

If you want to be hard on your students, instead of using the microphone, you can just skip inaudible students and move on to the audible students. That isn't something that I would personally do because I think that it would serve as a confidence killer.

Some kids are afraid to talk because they are worried that their ideas will not be approved of (to speak generally). If they are heard and their ideas are respected, then it's my conviction that those instances will build their confidence to speak in class. That's basically what I think a value of having the microphone set in a class is.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Restroom Ordeal

Every Monday through Friday, I am in the auditorium for the afterschool program that I work in. We start the afterschool program by taking roll. That is, we are trying to determine which students are present and which are absent. We have about 120 students to take roll for. That's a lot of students. So, it takes a while to account for everyone. The easiest way to take account for everyone who is either present or absent is for everyone who is present to remain in the room in which roll call is being taken. That's why no one is permitted to go to the restroom while roll call is in progress.

If we did allow anyone to go to the restroom while roll call was in progress, then when a student returned from the restroom, we would need to go back to record them as present (assuming that there name had already been called). That is inefficient and inconvenient because all students are accounted for in alphabetical order.

A couple days ago, this second grader is squirming where he is sitting because he needs to go to the bathroom. He runs over to go to the restroom. I stop him.

Me: Hey. Where are you going?

2nd Grader: I need to go to the restroom really bad.

Me: You can't go during roll call. Sit down.

2nd Grader: But, she said that I could go.

Me: Go back to your seat. Sit down.

So, I talk to one of the afterschool teachers that I work with and she tells me that he appeared like he was going to wet his pants. So, she urged me to let him go. I gave into it. In retrospect, I wish that I had held my ground.

This is what I was thinking in retrospect. Every student has several opportunities to go to the restroom. They have morning recess, afternoon recess, lunch, before roll call, and students are even allowed to go to the restroom during class time. So, in my view, this kid has no excuse to be going to the restroom during roll call. Let's say that this kid wets his pants. So what? We have a spill and he learns that he has to plan when he goes to the restroom. Also, it needs to be clearly explained to him that he cannot go to the restroom whenever he wants because sometimes it is an inconvenience to other people such as those taking roll call.

An argument that one of my coteachers made was that he would be embarrassed if he wet his pants. I have a response to that. Every student will have some day throughout their entire school life from K through 12 when they get embarrassed. So, what are we going to do? Are we going to cater to every single embarrassing moment that any given student has? No we're not. Why? Because its not feasible and it doesn't teach students to deal with their shortcomings, flaws, mistakes, and so on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Advantage of a Class Website

So, my current mentor has mentioned her interest in setting up a classroom website. On it, she would post the assigned homework for the current day. To me, that's a pretty big deal. It's a big deal because I hear so many students in class say that they didn't bring their homework because they didn't know what the homework was.

They could've not written the homework down in their planner while in class, misplaced their planner, not having listened while in class, didn't know someone who knew what the homework was, or even a genuine and serious situation like being sick. A classroom website can serve as a response to all of those excuses. For every one of those situations, there is an easy solution. Look at the website.

As long as your internet is not down or your local library is still open, you would be able to independently figure out what the assigned homework is for the present day. Thus, you could still know what the assigned homework is.

Although I think having a classroom website to list each day's homework is a great idea, I think some students would still try to find ways around it. I think some students would make up excuses like my internet was down, the website wouldn't open, my computer wasn't working, I didn't remember the website address, or even just, I forgot to check. Hopefully, I'm wrong about some kids pumping out excuses like that, but I've already seen too many kids trying to excuse themselves for their mistakes, so I'm still a little pessimistic about this great idea. I would be less pessimistic if I knew of an actual teacher who did this and got good results from it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Descriptive Writing About Monsters

My current mentor brought up an idea to the class a couple of days ago. Her students seemed really into it, so I'll share it with you. Just as a reminder, my current mentor teaches 4th grade. Basically, I think my mentor wanted to form an idea of how her students perform in terms of giving precise descriptions.

First, everyone made their own monster. That is, they used a lined sheet of paper to write a paragraph describing how their monster appears. That took them about 15 minutes to 20 minutes. Then, everyone lined up in alphabetical order. Ms. Massey, my mentor, paired them up. There was one group of three. For every two partners, each partner will read the other's description of their monster. After doing that, they would draw the monster for each others' description. It's important to note that they cannot add any details that are not in the description.

So, what does a student do if they lack certain details? For example, one student was lacking information on shape. Another student was lacking information on color. In both cases, anyone's guess is literally just as valid as another's. For shape, the monster might just be given a human figure. If color is not specified, then you don't need to give it any color. At the same time, it would seem acceptable to give it any color as well.

This activity was great for three reasons: #1 It shows you your students abilities to provide precise details. #2 It shows you your students abilities to interpret details (i.e. through their attempts at their illustrations) and #3 It gets students involved in an activity that almost every (if not, every) student likes; drawing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tutoring Elementary Students

So, a while back, I told you about my strategy for getting some tutoring jobs to make some extra cash. Chabot Elementary, the school that I'm a before and after school teacher has a "broadcast." Basically, that's an online newsletter. Interested individuals submit their ad to Chabot Elementary by email before Wednesday and their ad is included in the following week. The "broadcast" is displayed on the website. Parents view this "broadcast." I haven't looked at it myself, so I'm not quite sure how it is arranged.

In any case, I have good news. Thanks to advertising myself on that broadcast, I have a 1st grade student to tutor. Apparently, he cannot identify words or even break down words into their phonemes. That is, he can, but not independently. I'll be honest. I was a little nervous prior to meeting with this student. So, I did a few things.

The parent of this first grader told me who his teacher was. So, right away, I sought his teacher. I wanted her idea of what exactly his needs are. And, that's how I found out that he was behind on sight words and blending letters to form words.

When I met with him, I did a couple assessments just to personally have an idea of his ability to pronounce lower and uppercase letters as well as to break words into phonemes. It turned out that there were just a few letters that my student got confused on and if I showed him how to break words into phonemes, he could do it, but if I just asked him to do it, he wouldn't know where to begin.

I made some progress with my student. What was most helpful was giving him a formula like 'd' and 'ay' make "day." "What word do 's' and 'ay' make? Try saying it." After I did that, he started saying words on his own. Before, he wasn't blending letters into words on his own, so that was a huge development for me.

The parents were satisfied with my progress. They want me to come back next week on Mondays and Fridays. I'm pretty excited about that. That's $20 per hour for two hours a week. She said she would give me a recommendation if needed, but I agree with her husband that she should wait a little longer before doing anything like that. But, if this tutoring experience continues to go well, then I'll definitely have their word of mouth to rely on.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sparking Student Inquiry via Real Events

So, 9/11 was yesterday. Originally, my current mentor wasn't planning on talking about it, but the principal announced that each teacher would indeed talk about it.

Basically, my current mentor explained how a couple American Airlines planes were hijacked and crashed into the twin towers and the pentagon. She also described how a couple thousand people had died. She said that the attack was done out of a hatred so deep that they were willing to give up their lives to fulfill it. She went further by saying that she doubted that anyone in the classroom had that kind of conviction. After giving her explanation, she handed off control to the kids to ask questions.

The kids asked a lot of questions: "Why did they crash the plane into the World Trade Center?" "Why was the plane on fire?" "Were the terrorists caught?" "Were they trying to get attention?" "Why did they risk their lives to kill so many people?" "Where were they hiding?"

Unfortunately, I didn't record all the questions. But, they asked a lot more. Whenever you get the chance to use a well known event to teach content, use it. These students were way interested in talking about 9/11. Once you have their personal intrigue, then it will be easier for you to steer the content into the lessons that you desire. In this particular case, it just led to a lot of discussion on the students' parts which is still pretty good.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Making Chairs Unstoppably Quiet

This is something really small, but its such a distraction. Its when students scoot towards or away from their desks. On a solid floor, depending on the chair, the screech of a chair sliding on a floor surface can directly compete with a teacher's voice. The bottom line is that the less disruptions you have in class, the better.

For whatever reason, students will move their chairs about. It could be simply because at one time, they were comfortable with their chair's position, but now they're not. It could be because they dropped their pencil behind them, need to go grab a tissue, throw some trash away, etc.

Anyway, here's a solution. Assuming that your chair has four feet, grab four tennis balls. Slash them open. You want to be careful not to slash them too narrowly. If you slash them too narrowly, the feet of the chair may not fit. At the same time, you only want to slash it enough so that the feet will fit in the tennis ball. That is ideal. And, this is what you get:

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Principal's Pedestal of Shame

Last week, I was supervising the upper yard of Chabot Elementary. I was watching three 4th grade girls mind their own business. They were simply conversing with each other. This 3rd or 4th grade boy comes up behind one of them. He's holding a basketball. He's got this devilish smirk on his face. He chucks the basketball at one of the girl's backs. He runs off. I point straight at him and yell for him to come over.

First, I ask him why he threw that basketball at that girl's back. He says, "Because...," and then I cut him off mid sentence. "Actually, you know what? I don't care what your reason is because there is no reason you could give which would justify you throwing a basketball at her back. Go to the lower yard. If you do that again, I'm taking away your ball." Just then, the principal sees me talk to him.

He says, "Mr. Auto. He's in Adventure Time." I reply by telling him that I wasn't talking to that male student about whether he was in Adventure Time or not. I was talking to him because he threw a basketball at a girl's back. So then, I point him out to the girl's back that was hit. After that, the principal snapped. He seemed genuinely pissed about the whole situation. You could hear it in his voice, wide gestures, and hard stares at the boy.

The principal asked for the boy's reason for throwing the basketball. Unlike me though, he actually listened. The boy's reason for throwing the basketball was because his friend had done it to him before. That made him feel justified for throwing the basketball at a girl's back. That upset the principal more. He had a series of responses to that "justification."

"Someone hit you with a basketball and so now that gives you license to break every rule?! You can't think like that! That's stupid! You're not going to get anywhere in life thinking like that! This has gotta stop! You're better than this! We need to talk to your mom."

He basically shamed the student for 5 to 10 minutes. I don't think the principal needed to go that far, but nonetheless, he was pretty effective in putting a guilty look on that student's face.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Eye to Eye Farewell

You might remember that I was missing one of my students, but she turned out to be with her dad because she doesn't go to the after school program on Wednesdays. Well, her teacher uses an extremely simple technique which helps him keep track of where students are or are going.

At the end of every class, he has every one of his kindergartners look him in the eye and then, say "bye." On the surface, it looks like all that's being done is saying good bye, but there's a little more to it than that. You don't want your kindergartners leaving if they don't have a trusted adult to go with. So, if a kindergartner says "bye" to you, you figure that it's because a trusted adult is in proximity. But, if you look at the kindergartner straight in the eyes, you look up, and see no trusted adult, then you know that that kindergartner should not leave.

Also, because you establish the routine that students must look you in the eye before they leave, you're reassuring yourself that your kindergartners aren't just walking off. In that case, you wouldn't know what to think about their whereabouts. Whereas, if they look at you in the eyes while saying good bye and you immediately see a trusted adult within range, you know that each and every individual kindergartner is accounted for. That's the significance of an eye to eye farewell for each and every individual kindergartner.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Introducing Self to Parents

Last week, I was picking up the kindergartners for the after school program. I took attendance. I was missing one of the kindergartners. I looked in the classroom. I didn't see her. The teacher said that she was supposed to be with me. I know that I saw her stand up, so I was expecting her to be in line with the other kindergartners that I had took attendance for. So, I was kind of nervous that she wasn't in line with the rest of them. I took all the kindergartners to the portable.

I was looking around the portable hoping to find her. I didn't see her. I asked a few of the after school teachers whether they saw the student that I was looking for, but the kindergartner that I was looking for was a new student. So, they didn't know who I was talking about.

Finally, I went to the office. I asked the office to page the student over the intercom. So, they do it. I constantly looked outside the office. No sign of that kindergartner. I step outside and I see her walking up the stairs outside to the entrance of the office. She is holding a male adult's hand. Soon after they walk up the stairs, I introduce myself to him and him to me. I figure out that he is this kindergartner's dad.

Apparently, he was waiting right outside the door where I was waiting to take my kindergartners to the after school program. He said that had he known who that I was an after school teacher, then he would've told me that his daughter doesn't go to the after school program on Wednesdays.

So yea, the bottom line for me is that I should introduce myself to the parents of students in my after school program because then they will know to give me valuable information which pertains to the both of us. And, based on the information which they provide me, I can plan accordingly (e.g. expect for a particular student not to show up).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Student Teacher VS Volunteer

CalStateTeach, the credentialing program that I'm in, requires its students to be placed at a school for student teaching. Essentially, a student teacher is the equivalent of an intern in a teacher's classroom. My current supervisor, James, was helping me find a placement, but I was trying to quicken the process by getting in contact with other principals.

When I started my first year with CalStateTeach, I wasn't aware that I was a student teacher. I just saw myself as volunteering. So, when I presented myself to any given principal, I would ask them if any teacher would want a volunteer. It was pretty easy for me to find myself a placement. Go to any given elementary school. I would guess that 100% of the time, someone in there would find a way to make use of a volunteer.

Of course, after I met with the teacher, I would discuss what exactly I was looking for in my experience as a volunteer. For example, I would want to eventually teach at least one lesson a day. And, as the teacher becomes comfortable I would become comfortable taking control of the classroom in other ways.

For this last term, I've been advertising myself as a student teacher, I've found it much more difficult to find placements. I have a lot of elementary schools that are actually rejecting my offer to student teach for one of their teachers. I was a little surprised by that. I have a guess as to why that is. This is a definition of "student teacher" that I just pulled off of Google: "Web definitions:a college student who is teaching under the supervision of a certified teacher in order to qualify for a degree in education." Google pulled it off of 

So, if other elementary schools are operating off of that definition, then that means that a student teacher adds more work for a teacher. And, if a student teacher adds more work for a teacher, then teachers will be less focused on other aspects of the classroom. Whereas, if I'm just seen as a volunteer, they can direct me as needed as opposed to keeping an eye on me like one of his/her students. 

This is the bottom line. If you are trying to student teach at an elementary school, you are better off presenting yourself as a "volunteer." It seems that a lot less pressure or burden seems to come with the connotations of a volunteer. After you are accepted by a teacher as a volunteer and as a teacher becomes comfortable with you, you can begin to solidify details that will give you a student teacher-like experience. So then, you have the acceptance rate of a volunteer and the experience of a student teacher.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Being Known

I had a couple interesting encounters yesterday. So, the principal and vice-principal of Chabot Elementary still remember me. They both know that the term I did for my credential program in spring of the last school year was SUPPOSED to be my absolute last. So first, I cross paths with the principal. He asks me if I'm still looking for a job. Not thinking, I say yea. So he says, "Ok good because we're expecting something to open up." I thought it was cool how he was considering me. It's too bad that I'm not actually looking for a job since i don't have my credential yet.

I ran into the vice-principal on the school grounds on my way to work. She also asked me whether I was looking for a job. I told her that I have to repeat my last term since I didn't pass a state mandated assignment. Still... she suggested that I get in contact with OUSD and just tell them that I only want them to contact me if they have a sub position for me at Chabot. She suggested that I do that so they can see how I teach.

I love that they're both willing to give me a try. What made that possible was that I was basically on school grounds from before school started until after it ended. I don't think that anyone needs to do that to be known and thus given an opportunity to prove one's worth to a principal, but definitely, the stronger one's presence (i.e. in my case, the more time you spend on school grounds), the more likely that you'll be given that opportunity.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Low Resource Afterschool Activities

Alright. So, the next school year has begun. Unfortunately, due to an academic complication in my credential program, I cannot pursue almost any teaching positions. Most of them require that I have a credential.

That complication has led me to continue with my job from last year as an after school teacher. I want there to be a change between this and the last school year. In the last school year, for outdoor activities, I pursued pretty pointless and preparation free activities. That's great because its really easy to do that. It doesn't require me to do any thinking. I would just play hockey or two square everyday. However, I don't really teach the students in the program anything new.

So, this is what I decided to do. I decided that I would play improv games with the students in the after school program. This is the book that I'm using: "101 Improv Games." For example, today, I had one person temporarily leave the group, we chose an emotion, the group pretended to display that emotion, then the individual who had left the group would have to return and guess which emotion they were displaying. Essentially, I guess I'm also getting them to focus on aspects of drama and acting. In this case, the goal was to display and recognize the physical gestures associated with different emotions.

The great thing about playing improv games is that they require no resources. As corny as it sounds, all it requires is a willingness to play and preparation on my part. The reason why I say that it requires a willingness to play is because some students are less receptive than others to express emotion or pretend. For those individuals, it will be difficult to get them to play.

Anyway, in the future, if I have some of the same students playing these games, I will need to refer back to past improv games that we had played. I presume that future improv games will use some elements that were used in previous improv games. In which case, it will make their transition into pertinent improv games that much easier.

So, that's how I'm trying to get more teaching experience while working in the after school program that I'm a teacher in.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tactic for Unmotivated Students In Class

This will have to be my last post until... I'm guessing around August 27th. This will have to be my last post until then simply because I'm not working right now. I get all of my ideas for posts from my experiences at my jobs. So yea, sorry for those of you who look at my blog regularly.

Anyway, the idea I'm going to talk about is how to get an unmotivated student to work on their in class assignment. There might be many ways, but I'll tell you one. Often, while I was teaching in the tutoring center, this one particular student would have this constant complaint for most in class assignments (it seemed like almost all of them). His common complaint would be "I don't know what to do!"

How did I respond? I would retell him the steps to complete. I thought that maybe sometimes even telling him ALL of the steps was too overwhelming for him. So, then I watered my explanation down. I would just tell him the very first step and have him do that. But, that didn't do a whole lot of good for me because then, as I was rotating throughout the room, he asked me again, "What do I do now?" That was problematic for me because then it distracted me from continuing to monitor the other students.

I noticed that he liked to talk with the student sitting next to him. So, I asked him if he wanted to work with the student next to him. He was happy with that. So, suddenly, instead of sitting down and doing nothing while waiting for me, he completed his work with his partner. I'm uneasy about that arrangement for one reason. I'm uneasy about it because I worry about them just copying each other's work. I would've been uneasy for a second reason which would be their distracting each other during the in class assignment, but that never happened.

So, bottom line, if a student does not focus on completing their work, find a student which they get along with, and have them work on the in class assignment together.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Post In Class Assignment Activities

So, something I learned last month which was my first session teaching at this tutoring center is that word searches are extremely popular among them. Since my experiences with word searches have been isolated to this tutoring center, I'm not sure whether the interest in word searches varies all that much when the ethnic demographics change. But, I know that students in my tutoring center from 3rd to 6th grade enjoy word searches.

What I did with my students is that I would tell them what in class assignment they need to complete. Once they complete the in class assignment and show me that its complete, they may pick up a word search. That often seemed to motivate several of my students to complete their in class assignments.

Making the word search was pretty easy. I took one of the vocabulary words for the week, looked up synonyms and antonyms in, and used a word search maker to make two ten word synonym and antonym word searches.

Next month, I will have to teach middle schoolers. I'm unsure about whether they will get bored of word searches faster than my 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. So, I want to give them something a little more challenging.

I love Amazon... I found these picture detective books. You're given a narrative of a crime, a picture, and some yes or no questions, including who murdered the victim. It looks like fun. I'm not 100% sure that they'd enjoy it though. I'd hate to get it and figure out that they find it too difficult or not interesting.

Anyway, there are some post in class assignment activity ideas for you.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Letting Students Make Learning Fun

Just as I welcomed my students' creativity to create their own character, I hammered on that idea. A couple days ago, I wanted to get students to familiarize themselves with identifying sentences which are not relevant to the main idea. I told them that I would give them a challenge. They got excited and they perked up. I told them that I would say four sentences and they would have to guess which one is not related to the other. As soon as I told them what the "challenge" was, they almost immediately lost their excitement. So, I changed tactics.

"Ok. Here's the deal. I want to make this fun for all of you. You know what I want to accomplish. I want you to identify sentences that are not related to the main idea. If you can tell me how we can make a game which requires us to do that, then I'll do it."

I received a few ideas from the students. A couple were promising. When one of the ideas was expressed, I saw that a lot of students were into it, so I went with that idea. The idea was that everyone will stand up, one student will make up four sentences and will say those sentences twice. Upon saying those sentences for the second time, everyone will duck under the table as soon as the irrelevant sentence is expressed. The first person to duck under the table wins and then they get to be next to make up four sentences. It was a great idea. We ended up playing the game like 6 or 7 times. And, I got students to participate that don't normally willingly participate. After the 7th time, my students got bored, so we stopped playing. That's fine. That was good mileage to me.

So, if students want the lesson to be fun, tell them what you want to accomplish and let them come up with the ideas. Pick the idea which you find to be most suitable for your academic goal. So far, its my view that that is the most efficient way to make fun lessons and hence maximize voluntary participation.

On a side note, one thing I would've changed is to not have students duck underneath the table. Certain students bumped their heads consistently on their way down. Luckily, they were only in minor pain.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Embedding Student Creativity into Assignments

Today, we started working on how to write biographies. Originally, I was going to model how to complete a worksheet which would have them organize details such as when and where someone was born, what they did when they were little, something special they accomplished when they were older, when and where this individual died.

I guessed that the content of the worksheet would not have connected to my students. Recently, my students have taken potshots at me. They didn't do it on purpose, but I took it as an attack on me as a teacher. In another lesson, I was talking about Galileo Learning which is another summer school program. One of the students chimed in, "They don't have to learn anything. All they do is play." Well, that's because this girl assumes that learning and playing are mutually exclusive. Anyway, she felt like all she did was work in my class. And, she wasn't alone. I know that many of the other students felt the same way. So, I tried to change up my lessons a bit.

Today, instead of doing the worksheet, I told my students that I wanted to create a character. We would answer questions such as the ones that I mentioned in the first paragraph. I took an answer to each question from a different student. I was pretty proud of this change in the lesson. I definitely got more participation than I normally get. Students were thinking of characters from TV shows and using this information to make the character. So, in essence, they brought their own content to creating the character.

After creating our character together, I dismissed them to create their own character by answering the same questions. I also let them draw what their character looks like. After they finished, I collected all their work. I said that I would read three of them. They wanted me to read all twelve of them. I was proud of that because usually all of my students are so shy to share anything in front of the class.

Anyway, that's an example of how to utilize student creativity to make a fun in class assignment. If you can make a fun in class assignment, then will get you maximum involvement. It sounds like common sense, but what could happen on the flip side might not be so obvious.

It might not be so obvious what might happen if your lesson is boring. If your lesson is boring, the environment of the classroom could be worse than simply some students not participating. Not every student has the inherent desire to learn. A lot of students just want to have fun. So, if they're not having fun through your lesson, they'll find another way. Those ways could come in the form of making noises, playing with their pencils, erasers, talking to other students, and etc. Sometimes, that's a distraction ranging from just the students who have the inherent desire to learn to all students. That's why its important to utilize student creativity to make fun lessons. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Improved Homework Tracking

So, in the past, I've been keeping track of homework in an inefficient way. At the end of each week, I would record who had completed their homework in my notebook. At the end of the week, I would give a prize to whoever I had down as completing all of their homework. An incentive is no longer necessary.

Again, I got this idea from the teacher I reached out to and hired for a few weeks. To be fair, my mentor, Mr. Agajan, a third grade teacher, also does something similar. Instead of waiting until the last day of the week, I start keeping track of my students homework as soon as each school day begins. As soon as each school day begins, I collect the homework from all of the students. One by one, I count them off. Recently, I've been giving a student the job of reading off the names for me.

As each student who has turned in their homework is read off, I write each name on the whiteboard. Each of those students whose names are on the whiteboard will get to go out to break/recess. Everyone else will have to stay in for break to complete their homework. Once every students' name is written on the whiteboard, I can erase all of the names from the whiteboard.

When the day began today, I only had five students who had completed their homework. By the end of the first of the two breaks, all twelve students had completed their homework. That saved me a lot of trouble because then I didn't need to keep track of whether students did their homework. Everyone finished it. Also, because I require everyone to finish their homework, they don't receive an incentive for finishing their homework. I'm unsure whether that is something that I should maintain or not.

In any case, that's how you can save yourself a lot of running around at the end of each week. Just verify and require that homework for each is finished on every one of those days.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wielding the Desire for Attention

Like in any classroom, I have students that have a particularly high threshold for attention that they want to be satisfied. Some of them will do whatever is necessary to satisfy that craving. They'll make noise, they'll wiggle their body, slam the table, or wave their arms around all just to get attention. It annoys me because it is definitely a distraction to my lessons in that such gestures get my students to focus on those students who crave attention rather than the lesson content.

To prevent distractions which have their origin in the craving for attention, their craving needs to be satisfied through other more productive outlets. That's something that I learned recently. As I had mentioned in a previous post, I try to grab the interest of my students for vocabulary by making it competitive.

Normally, when I initiate the competition, I'll do something like read the definition, count to 3 and then, pick a student with their hand up to state which word the definition refers to. One day, instead of doing that, I called on another student to do this job for me.

This gives them that attention that they wanted, but now instead of distracting students in the class, they're helping move it along. It gives them the attention that they want because it puts them in front and center of the classroom and they are required to be listened to in order, by the students, for them to participate. I've done this with multiple students who are especially persistent attention seekers. They're definitely less distracting while they're taking over a component of my lesson.

Having said that, I need to think of more ways to include my students to take over parts of my lessons. Consider it an integrated behavior management technique.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Responding to Students Doing Homework in Class

Originally, when my students didn't do there homework at home, I would take their break time (i.e. recess). On top of that, if they had free time (i.e. after completing the mandatory in class assignment(s)), I would have them work on their homework during that time. That was a mistake. Don't allow students to do their homework during their free time if they didn't complete it at home.

Originally, my only thought was that I would allow my students to make up their homework during their free time because I just wanted my students to complete all of their homework. But then, I conveyed an implicit message. The implicit message that I conveyed to my students was that if they don't complete their homework, its cool because they can just work on it at school during their free time. And, if they can work on it during their free time, that is a motivator to not do their homework at home. Some students would love that because that means they have more time to play with their friends, watch TV, play videogames, or whatever else it is that my students enjoy doing.

Homework isn't just given for the hell of it. Its supposed to be extra and to an extent, independent practice. If students are allowed to make up homework in class during their free time, #1 they will be doing their homework in a distracting environment (I say that in ignorance of what their home environment is like). It's distracting because they're surrounded by friends, students that annoy them, my announcements, point systems, and probably other factors that I'm ignoring. Also, their time to make up the homework is very limited. They would literally have at best, about 20 minutes to make up their homework, which doesn't include all of the distractions.

On the assumption that their parents are caring and attentive enough, students will have more time and a more focused environment to work on their homework at home. And, for that reason, my speculation is that the quality of the homework would also be better at home than at school.

Since they aren't allowed to finish their homework during their free time, they must complete it during their break and only during their break. They should only make it up during their break because every student likes to have a break. They don't want to lose their break. So, if they want to keep their breaks, they need to make sure that they do the work. That's motivating enough for them to complete their homework. Just don't give in to letting them complete their homework during their free time.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mass Tutor Marketing Strategy

So, I'll be starting my next school year pretty soon. I had a problem with CalState Teach which prevented me from getting my credential. I didn't pass my 4th and last TPA after three tries. So, they're making me repeat the last term. That's a whole other issue that I want to complain about, but don't have the space for in this blog post.

In any case, for that reason, I wasn't able to look up full time teaching jobs because generally speaking, I won't be considered if I don't have a teaching credential. So, I'm stuck with 4 hours at my new job and 26 hours at my new job. If all I was worried about was living expenses, those hours would be pretty good for me. But, that's not all I'm worried about.

A lot of people have told me not to worry about my loans because the interest rate is so minimal (i.e. 6.8%). Some how, that doesn't appease me. That doesn't appease me because the point is, as the years go by, I will owe more and more money. That means, it will take me longer and longer to pay them off. So, I want to pay those loans off ASAP. One of my supervisors for my old job gave me an idea.

So, a few months before school started, I decided that I would try to offer my services as a tutor. At first, what I was going to do was just put up fliers around campus about my tutoring services. The idea my supervisor gave me was to ask the principal whether I could make an announcement on the intercom. When I heard that teachers had done that in the past, my first thought was, "That's genius!" I'll reach every single student with my ad in a single instant.

I'll offer my services at $20 per hour. That's a pretty reasonable rate. If I can get at least 10 hours a week, I'll get around an additional $800 a month. I'll add another $200 to that. And, there you have it. I'll pay off my loans $1000 a month. The best part is that at least one third of the students at the school that I was an after school teacher at knows who I am and I'm on pretty good terms with them. It sounds like a good idea. We'll see how that goes when the time comes. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Competition as Motivation

Here's one more idea that I picked up from Cassandra. It's making classroom activities into a competition. I teach my students some new vocabulary every week. I introduce twelve new words each week. However, some of the words are sometimes known. I'll spend the first day just introducing the first six words. I'll write the first syllable of each word on the whiteboard. I'll give all of the students access to the vocabulary list. Now, here's an example of how I make learning new vocabulary competitive.

I will point out which word I'm looking for them to spell and then, I'll count to three. After I count to three, hands will shoot up. But, the reason why hands are shooting up is because they get points for answering correctly. After a student has achieved ten points, they get a prize. I'll give them a piece of candy.

At least one problem with this is that later on in the week, when I mention definitions and ask students to state the word that the definition corresponds to, some students just shoot up their hands without having an idea of what they want to say. So, ahead of time, I mention that any students who shoot up their hands, but have nothing to say, or just constantly raise their hands and shoot random guesses will be excluded from the current and next round.

As students state the correct answer, I write their name on the whiteboard, and put a tally next to their name. After the competition is done for the day, I take a picture of the points on my phone, but if you have time, you could just as easily write them down.

I didn't explain in entirety what I do to teach new vocabulary to my students. I only wanted to explain how I make it competitive. So, there you have it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Systematizing Your Classroom

So, I've put up a bunch of signs in my room. When I'm inside the classroom, I act like since I'm the teacher, the signs are up to remind my students how they need to act at different parts of the school day. To be honest, the signs are also up to remind me. I didn't realize that until I started using them.

The purpose of the sign above is to limit distractions and disruptions both on the floor and on the table. As soon as they enter, we review the homework. So, all they should have out is the homework. I point to each number to make sure that they only do those things.

As for number 2, sometimes students will have water bottles and pencil boxes, I don't even accept that. I don't accept that simply because they find a way to play with those items. I've seen some students treat their water bottle like a toy rocket and a squishy toy. So, I made a signal for them to use when they want to ask me to drink from their water bottle. Otherwise, they keep their water bottle in their bag. As for their pencil box, some students build catapults and buildings out of their pencils and erasers. So, I don't allow their pencil boxes out. Anyway, those are examples of why the only things they should have out at the beginning of the day is one pencil, one eraser, and their homework.

 The purpose of the chart just above is to give them reminders for what the class can do to get points and what they can do to lose points. I use this chart to implement ACT. If students are meeting all of the "YES" requirements, I let them know that I see them doing those things, and then I give the whole class a point. If one student does any item from the "NO" section, then the whole class loses a point. This is both a reminder to myself and the students. Also, the chart lays out the consequences in pretty simply terms. I use that chart during my lessons, but mostly during in class assignments. 

I use the sign directly above at the end of the school day. The purpose of it is to make sure that the tables are clear and that they know what homework they need to do at home. And, I make it known that if those three things are not done, no one is going home. It definitely minimizes clutter in the classroom. Again, the reminders are meant for them, but I find myself referring back to them once in a while.

Anyway, those are some examples of how to give yourself personal reminders as well as the class on what they need to do at the beginning, during class time, and at the end of the day. For those who use them, they will maintain the structures associated with those signs in the classroom. Hence, classroom activity will be that much more predictable.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

ACT Reaction

Yesterday, Cassandra wanted to set aside time to model how she uses Academic Challenge Time (ACT). I've got a pretty good idea on how she uses it.

She prompts the students with what she wants them to do and she'll give them a time limit to do it. If the students perform the task within the given time limit, they'll get a point. If they do not perform the expected task within the given time limit, they neither gain nor lose a point. If they are noisy, distracting, or have more out than what they need, the class loses a point. She used ACT prompts a lot while I was watching her, but she told me that she gave them a lot of prompts because the system is new to them, so she wants them to get familiar with which tasks they will need to perform to get points. My speculation is that eventually, I want to just stop giving them prompts and eventually, they will just be mechanized to act as needed when they are needed to. But, that means I just need to be consistent about when I want them to work quickly.

Here's an example of how I used ACT today. "Your backpack needs to be under your chair, your homework needs to be out, you should only have a pencil and eraser out. Do all of that by the time I count down to zero, and I'll give all of you a point." Once I start counting down, they move with haste. The only problem I'm having which is something that I need to prompt my students about tomorrow is that if someone is not moving fast enough, don't rush them. Some students are not used to moving fast, so it will take a little practice for them.

Today, they reached ten points. So, we immediately stopped what we were doing. Majority of the students wanted to play 7 up, so that's what we did. It was only five minutes. After we finished the one game that we were able to play, students were complaining that they had such little time to play. But, shortly after, they were focused on trying to get points again.

So far, the system is working well. The students want to work for the points and encourage each other to act accordingly in order to get those points. There's only one thing that I'm worried about. I'm worried about over time, students becoming numb to five minutes away from academic work. I'm worried about the joy of that five minutes of free time losing value for them. Oh well... I'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Easy Fix: Table Arrangement

Last week, Cassandra made a really easy fix for me. I teach in a really small room. My room has three long tables. Two of the tables are the same length and the other is about a third shorter than the other two. This is a visual of what the setup looked like:
|  |
|  |

The two horizontal lines represent one table and two vertical lines represent one table. For the vertical tables, you had chairs on both sides. It was a hassle for a number of reasons. Students in the middle had a tough time getting out because it was such a narrow space. So, they always had to ask students to move out of the way to get out of the middle if, for example, they wanted to go to the bathroom.

When any students wanted to go to the bathroom, they had to go behind the right vertical table. But, they had difficulty getting through because students' chairs would block some of the way. So again, students would have to say excuse me before going to the bathroom. That sounds really simple, but there are two general difficulties with that. Some students often don't say excuse me. And, the students who are asked to move often do not. So, those are some causes for some unnecessary drama.

Basically, the suggestion that Cassandra made for the two vertical tables was to close the gap between them so that there wasn't this narrow space between them. Instead, students would sit on the outer edges of the tables rather than on both sides of the tables. So, instead of sitting like this:

x|x  x|x
x|x  x|x

They're sitting like this:

Unfortunately, my diagrams are not particularly graphic, so I'll have to upload a pic tomorrow to give you a better idea.

As a result of closing the gap in the middle, there is a lot more space behind the tables. No one has to say excuse me to go to the bathroom. Students can more often walk right behind others. So, simply putting tables together has squelched a lot of argument, which means that I have more time to teach.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Academic Challenge Time

This is another technique that I learned from Cassandra, the teacher I'm paying to observe and guide me. Academic Challenge Time (ACT) is really easy to set up. All you need is a piece of 8.5 X 11 paper, a pen, and a paper clip. On the left hand side starting from the bottom, start with number 1, write 2 above that, 3 above that, and so on until you reach 10. The paper clip is clipped so that it horizontally overlaps with 1.

Before you begin with this system, you should have three general rules in mind that the class must comply with to earn these points. Let's say that the general rules are "Be Ready," "Stay Focused," and "Be Respectful." "Be Ready" could mean have only a pencil and eraser out. "Stay Focused" could mean that every student only works on the in class assignment. "Be Respectful" could mean that students work quietly and keep their bodies and objects to themselves. Whatever rules you choose, make sure you model them so the students know how to comply with the set rules.

When you observe that the whole class is following all of those rules, then you move up the paper clip from 1 to 2. You should limit yourself to giving 3 or 4 points per day. After about 3 days, if your students have complied with the rules satisfactorily, then as soon as the class reaches 10, everyone immediately stops what they're doing. For 5 minutes, the class gets to do some fun non-academic task. That could include tasks like drawing, playing a class game, or whatever else you can think of.

Something important to keep in mind is that if you don't have the entire class following the rules that you set to earn a point, then you don't give the point. The purpose of ACT is to have complete class cooperation.The advantage of that is that students will pressure others to follow all the set and explained rules. Also, if you have about a third of the class not complying with the rules after two reminders, then take away a point.

I've been finding ACT useful, but I haven't reached its maximum effectiveness just because I need to practice with it. Cassandra is a pro with it though.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Student and Teacher Contract

It's the start of my second month at my new job. I feared that I might get a student like the one that caused me trouble last month. Actually, I got that same exact student. In preparation for that possibility, I immediately started reading another book on behavior management. It's called "How to Reach and Teach Children with Challenging Behavior." It reminded me of the idea of making a contract with my students.

I say it reminded me because actually, Mr. Agajan, my mentor while I was a student teacher for his 3rd grade class also made contracts with his students. At the beginning of yesterday morning, I told one of my especially challenging students that if he raises his hand before he talks and is quiet while he is in class, I will give him a gummy worm. He will get three chances in each section of the day. There are three sections each day (9:30 am to 10:30 am, 10:40 am to 11:30 am, 11:40 am to 12:30 pm). Each time he doesn't do that, he loses a chance to demonstrate that behavior and get his gummy worm. Each time he loses a chance, I let him know. If he loses all his chances in one section, he can't get his gummy for the day. And, even if he earned his gummies, I wouldn't give them to him until the end of the week. He agreed to that arrangement. He was excited about getting the gummy worms. He did well in the first section, but not so hot in the remaining sections.

I tried it again the next morning. He didn't want to play along anymore after he lost all of his chances. He was getting angry. He was tearing up paper on his table. He was dropping some of his homework assignments on the floor and hiding is head in his hoodie.

Today, I started paying a teacher from LeConte Elementary (i.e. one of my previous schools where I had a student teaching assignment) to give me ideas on how to control my classroom. She made me aware that the way that I was using the contract was framed negatively. She suggested that whenever I notice him demonstrating the behavior that I was looking for, I give him a star and make it known to him. Because, when I was taking his chances away, it was still more like a punishment. But now, every time he gets five stars, he gets a gummy. That is a reinforcement rather than a punishment. On top of that, my mentor suggested that instead of waiting until the end of the week, make the reinforcement more immediate and give it to him at the end of the day. After I started giving him stars, he was actually finishing his in class work quietly. I was just happy because he was finishing his in class work. Previously, he would often just leave it blank. But today, he even wanted to help students near him. So, I was pretty pleased with that.

Anyway, there you have it. Those are both the bad and good ways to execute a contractual relationship between a teacher and a student. Keep in mind that the frequency at which a student is reinforced will depend on the specific student. Some will need more immediate reinforcement and others not so much. It depends on how... defiant or distracting the student's behavior is.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Student VS Teacher Provided Supplies

So, I was prepping for my next month of teaching. I was picking up supplies like homework folders, folders for them to keep their vocabulary work in, and lined paper. After I bought all of the supplies, I was thinking... "Why aren't my students buying all of this stuff?"

As far as the cost is concerned, I can get deductions from my tax return or at least that's what my mom tells me. I haven't tried to get the deductions myself, so I'm not sure how accurate her statement is. She's done it before, so perhaps that gives her some credibility. Ideally, what do I want? I want the students to get the necessary supplies on their own. I'm not going to be using the supplies. They will. So, they should get it. Otherwise, it shows that I'll do the work for them and they can just sit back.

On the other hand, just based on how my students were last month with turning in homework, I don't have a lot of confidence in my students' ability to go out to the store and pick up the necessary supplies. I want them to use this supplies to keep themselves organized. If I get it for them, I know that they'll have it. But, undeniably, I shouldn't be getting the supplies for them. If I was good at keeping my students responsible, I would require them to get the supplies. But yea... I'm not good at that unfortunately. I just don't know how to pressure them hard enough. That's why I'm getting the supplies for them.

It's an unfortunate state that my current quality of teaching leaves me in. Oh well... hopefully, that's an aspect that I can change soon.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Offer Accepted

So, about two and a half weeks ago, I told you how I was on the look out for an experienced teacher to observe me while I teach at my new job. I wasn't able to find anyone in a neighboring university, but I got in touch with my friend who is a special resources teacher at LeConte and he referred me to a teacher whose behavior management skills he thought well of. That got me excited. As soon as he said that, I asked whether he could give me her email address, and so, he did. This is the email I had first sent her:

"Hi Cassandra,

My name is Autif Kamal. Juan Zuniga, the special resources teacher at LeConte Elementary referred me to you. I know him because I did a year of student teaching their under Luis Argueta, Dana Blanchard, and Sasha Tyshler. Juan spoke well of your behavior management skills. Recently, I've started teaching writing to a class of sixteen 3rd and 4th graders in a tutoring center in SF Chinatown. I've been reading books in behavior management, but my skills aren't improving quite as quickly as I'd like.

I'm looking for someone to observe me while I teach, share their observations with me, and then suggest how I can modify my behavior management. I would be willing to pay $50 an hour for two hours a week for a service like that. Would you consider this offer? Please let me know. Thanks.


So, that's the email that I sent out. You might be wondering why I started straight out with an hourly wage rather than letter her make an offer. Because if I did let her make an offer, she might have pitched an offer lower than $50 per hour. Well... to be honest, I'm just desperate. I want to improve as quickly and effectively as possible, so I just wanted to make sure that I made the offer as enticing as I was able to. Anyway, this is how she responded:

"Hi Autif
I would love to help!  That is so nice of Juan to recommend me.  I have been an advisor for Mills College student teachers for 4 years and love working with teachers in this capacity.  When were you thinking? 



So yea, she said yes! After that, we talked over the phone to give her an idea of what I'm having difficulty with. Afterward, I sent her an email to explain what the purpose of the class is just so she has some background on what I'm trying to achieve in the class. Because if she doesn't then she won't have an idea of what students are supposed to be doing in the class. I also told her some demographic information for the classroom as well as the time schedule. I'm not sure whether I should be telling her anything else about the classroom.

Anyway, I'll keep you updated on how this arrangement goes. I'm excited to make some dramatic improvements in my teaching.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Comingling Playfulness and Behavior Management

I had a great moment today. Alright so, I was going over synonyms today. I gave the students "look" as an example of a word which has a lot of synonyms. One of the words that a student gave me was "peer." Another student hadn't heard the word "peer" before. So, he wanted to know what it meant. I had to think for about 30 seconds. I gave him an example of a pirate taking out his telescopic monocular to look out for other ships.

I was losing some students attention. Usually, what I'll do is I'll show five fingers. Each finger means something. If I extend my thumb outward, but pointed towards my chest, it means that I want students to look at me. And, once students do so, I thank them for looking at me. I changed my vocabulary a bit. I looked around and asked if someone could peer at me, so then, I get a bunch of students who make a motion as if they have a telescopic monocular in my direction. We were just playing around, but at the same time, that act of pretending made students more enthusiastic to focus on me. Enthused with my own improvement, I decided to apply the same idea of getting my students' attention in one more playful way.

When I extend my thumb, index, and middle finger, it means that I want students to be still and quiet. Normally, I'll thank students for being still and quiet. Instead of saying that, I tried to scout out a student who was looking at me and appeared to be focused and then I said, "Sophie looks awesome right now because she is as still and quiet as a statue." Once I said that, other students were competing to see who could be more still, quiet, and facing my direction. Success!

Anyway, it seems to be a good principle to merge playfulness and behavior management, so I'll do my best to continue doing that until I discover its limitations.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Calling Yourself Out

You might be aware that I've been having difficulty managing my students. There's a lot of chatter going on. I try to recognize the good behavior of students as much as I can, using signals to get students to give me their attention and quiet down, giving students warnings, keeping students in for some of their break time, and sending students out. Despite all of that though, it still gets kind of loud in the classroom. I feel especially pressured to get the class to remain quiet because right next to my little room is another classroom. So, if the students talk loud, the other class can hear it.

Yesterday, I yelled for the class to quiet down. So, the class falls silent. About 30 minutes later, it gets loud again, but this time, another student yells out for everyone to be quiet. After that, in my head, I was kind of kicking myself in the butt because that student was following my example.

It was bothering me that he was following my example of yelling to get the class to quiet down. So, I decided that first thing this morning, I would do my best to set the record straight on how to get the class to quiet down. First, I said that I made a mistake in how I behaved. I told them that me yelling to get the class to quiet down was bad for two reasons: #1 To yell, you have to be loud. But, getting louder does not make the class noise get quieter. It adds to the class noise. #2 By my yelling, I implicitly tell my students that yelling is a good way to get students to quiet down. I told them that that is not true. So, no one should do that because I was setting a bad example. Personally, I never want to yell again.

After I explained why yelling was not a helpful way to quiet the class down, I tried to tell the class which students were good role models. I told them that three of the students were good role models because they turned to me quietly as soon as I use my signal and two other students were good role models for the class because they remind me to use my signs to get the class to quiet down. I tried to encourage them to show their signs to everyone else as well.

After I mentioned that, the students who had been reminding me to use my signs were continuing to do so. That's good. And, the students who I emphasized were giving me their attention when I ask for it were doing so a little more than normally. Now, if only I could the other students to follow their lead.