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.