May 30, 2012

Do you apologize to your students?

Photo credit: Chicago Theater Beat
I was a bad teacher today. I lost my cool, which rarely happens in a student-centered classroom, especially near the end of the school year.

A student got a little loud, and before I knew it, I had moved his seat and engaged in a war of words that left the rest of the class in shock.

This awful scene started when I put the student on the spot for something extremely insignificant. This was not a proud moment for me, as it could have easily been avoided, had I dealt with things as I've done all year -- with patience and collaboration.

Upon further consideration, I tried to pardon the act by telling myself that it's the end of the year; it's hot, and all teachers are starting to lose it. This didn't help.

I did, however, feel better when the student came to me after school and apologized. I was happy that he admitted to his own wrongdoing.

I was even happier that I got a chance to apologize to him for my own role. It felt good to do it.

So, have you ever apologized to a student? What happened?

May 29, 2012

Do you use Free Voluntary Reading?

USC Professor Emeritus and literacy expert, Stephen Krashen
Stephen Krashen, arguably the foremost expert in language acquisition and literacy, promotes in numerous books, papers and talks what he calls, Free Voluntary Reading (FVR).

The FVR strategy, also popularized by Nancie Atwell and Donalyn Miller, among others, encourages students to select books of interest -- books that are not too difficult for the reader. In The Power of Reading, Krashen says of Free Voluntary Reading that there are:
"No book reports; no questions at the end of a chapter. In FVR, you don't have to finish the book if you don't like it."
I have had remarkable success with FVR in my 7th and 8th grade language arts classes. The autonomy in this program fits beautifully with the philosophy of a results-only classroom. When students read books that they choose, they read more often and soon begin selecting more challenging books.

So, do you use FVR? How does your program work?

May 24, 2012

Why can't administrators figure out assessment?

Many of my colleagues understand me. They don't agree with all of my methods, but the logic behind results-only learning is clear.

Why, then, can't administrators get it?

I've made it clear in many places, that narrative feedback is far more objective than grades. The SE2R method I use, eliminates the subjectivity that comes with numbers and letter grades. I tell a student what she did, explain how it matches learning outcomes, redirect her to a prior lesson if necessary and request a resubmission of any changed activity. Simple and objective enough, right?

Not to a principal. Today, I was asked to share my "grades" on a particular student with a principal. After one quick glance at the lengthy, detailed narrative feedback left on our online grade book, she said, "So, it's just all of these subjective comments?"

Of course, I quickly explained that my feedback was not subjective at all. In fact, I proclaimed, my feedback is far more objective than any points or percentages would be. The principal persisted.

After reading feedback that ended in 'You have demonstrated mastery learning on this activity,' she looked at me quizzically and wondered aloud what the points on that activity would be. "I  assume it would be 100%," she stated.

When I persisted that there are no points, percentages or grades, she strode off shaking her head.

I started shaking my head, too, wondering when, and if, administrators will ever figure out 21st-century assessment.

May 23, 2012

The power of daily goals

When students are working in a workshop setting -- both individually and collaboratively, on computers and in books -- there can be many distractions. Although proper coaching from the beginning of the year helps students understand the value of efficient work, it's easy for the chaos to get out of hand, especially when the year is coming to a close.

What I always fall back on that quickly reels my students back into solid engagement is daily goal setting.

Teachers often help students set yearly, perhaps even quarterly, goals. Sometimes the daily goal can be even more powerful.

I don't have students set daily goals all year -- next year when working in longer blocks I intend to do so -- but when I notice less engagement, I know it's time to return to this, as I did today.

The process is simple. We use my classroom message board, but this can easily be done on notebook paper or an index card. I instruct students to tell me what they'll accomplish in a specific amount of time. So, a goal might look like this:
"In 40 minutes, I will read two nonfiction articles, bookmark  them on Diigo and annotate both. I will also post a reflection  letter on the novel, The Hunger Games, on KidBlog."
What makes this truly effective is saving five minutes at the end of class and asking students to complete a self-evaluation, in which they now write down exactly what they accomplished and see if it matches the goal. If not, ask them what they could do differently next time to meet the goal.

What do you think? Can daily goal-setting work for you?

May 17, 2012

Academic teams improve teaching and learning

Next year, my school is returning to academic teaming for the first time in many years. Not surprisingly, some teachers have reservations. I think this is mainly because they don't know the benefits of teaming.

Hoping to allay their fears, I created this presentation on teaming and working in extended blocks of time.

Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement.

May 16, 2012

One good day keeps you coming back

An old golf expression says, "One good shot keeps you coming back." I suppose this is true, since one good one is usually all I can count on. I think teaching is similar.

All it takes is one good day, occasionally, to keep you coming back. Recently, I had that kind of day.

A student wrote on our classroom web site's message board that she had read 15 books, falling short of the 25 that I challenged my students to read. "25 is just not realistic for me," she explained.

I called her to my desk and asked her to consider her whole life as an independent reader. "What is the most books you have read in a single year, prior to this one?" I asked.

"Probably three," she said.

"You didn't read 25," I said. "So what? Consider what you've accomplished, while reading 15." She had become an avid reader in one school year -- something, I told her, that is pretty special.

As she walked away smiling, I smiled too and thought, Now, this is a day that will keep me coming back.

May 15, 2012

No common sense to Common Core

I found this in the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts:
Certain measures are less valid or inappropriate for certain kinds of texts. Current quantitative measures are suitable for prose and dramatic texts. Until such time as quantitative tools for capturing poetry’s difficulty are developed, determining whether a poem is appropriately complex for a given grade or grade band will necessarily be a matter of a qualitative assessment meshed with reader-task considerations.
Huh? If you can explain it, please do so, because I can't make sense of it.

May 12, 2012

Teach kids how to text and drive

Thanks to @eschoolnews for sharing this humorous, albeit educational, video about the dangers of texting and driving. Worth sharing with your new drivers.

May 11, 2012

What does National Teacher's Day mean?

Today might be the first time I've ever really considered National Teacher's Day -- likely because I read about it on Twitter.

I wondered what it's all about. When I Googled it, I came to a National Education Association site. The news from the NEA was grim.

I was surprised, because I thought an NEA site about National Teacher's Day would be a place of hope. Then, I was faced with these statements, among others:
Teachers themselves are less positive today than in the past about the education and training they have received.
Forty-five percent of new teachers abandon the profession in their first five years. 
Teachers’ salaries still lag behind those for other occupations requiring a college degree, and the pay gap is growing larger.
I hate to be negative, but this day seems more like a bummer than a celebration.

May 10, 2012

Where do you go for project-based assessment ideas?

Next year, my school will be moving from 46-minute teaching blocks to 60-minute blocks. This scares a lot of people.

"What will we do with all of that time?" they ask. "The students can't sit still for 40 minutes, much less 60."

Of course they can't, I think. And why should they? Who wants to sit around listening to teachers talk for two-thirds of an hour?

"If the students work on projects, you'll see that 60 minutes isn't really that long at all," I say. Many reply not-so-sheepishly that they have no idea what that looks like. Admittedly, they don't know where to begin, and the notion of shifting from a traditional lecture-worksheet-test style to a student-centered project-based class is frightening.

There isn't a lot of good, detailed blueprints for projects in various subjects, so I understand their fears, even though I use project-based assessment in language arts all year.

So, where do you go for helpful ideas for creating good projects in different subject areas?

May 9, 2012

How dare you chew gum in my class!

photo credit:
Our student discipline handbook is jam-packed with rules, designed to keep students from running amok. It is, after all, critical that order be maintained.

One such rule is "no gum chewing."

Many of our would-be learners are dismissed from classes for this awful breach of the school's judicial system. These destroyers of education are often banished to our Student Management Room (a euphemism for detention center). And why wouldn't they be? How could any teacher be expected to engage students in a place filled with these bubble-blowing, lip-smacking, eye-rolling miscreants?

Imagine your child missing an opportunity to learn, because she was jettisoned for chewing gum. Would you expect anything less? I mean, how dare she chew gum in an institution of learning?

I keep wondering, is there anything that merits more consideration in the world of education than this insidious gum-chewing? Something has got to be done!

May 8, 2012

The new classroom abandons rules and consequences

Photo credit: ShareTv
If you are a product of Teach for America, you likely have all sorts of rules and consequences posted around your classroom. Your students may routinely write their names on the board -- branding themselves as troublemakers on the verge of doom.

Subscribers of assertive discipline allow their students to think they are part of creating the discipline system -- a subtle manipulation. Teachers in these classrooms may be caught lavishing praise on the do-gooders and giving gentle reminders of punishments to the offenders.

In a classroom based on results-only, there are no posted rules, and there is no praise when Sally brings her materials or Johnny comes  to class on time. This new classroom disdains these embarrassing methods, completely eliminating rules and consequences.

A rule and its accompanying consequence is  nothing  more than a crutch for a teacher, who struggles to provide effective guidance within a learning community. Rules and consequences give a teacher a perceived sense of control.

If you are skeptical about eliminating rules and consequences, try it for a while, even if you don't announce the experiment to your students. Replace reminders of rules with one-to-one discussions about the mutual respect that makes a learning community successful.

For specific ways to eliminate rules and consequences, refer to this post.

So, what do you think? Is a classroom with no rules and consequences possible?

May 7, 2012

Do you evaluate yourself?

In a Results Only Learning Environment, students are taught that reflection and self-evaluation are far more important than the judgment of a teacher. I want my students to be as hard as themselves and I am on myself.

I remind students constantly that I spend time daily reflecting on what took place in my classroom. "I evaluate myself, just as I evaluate you," I tell them. I often discover things that didn't go as I had planned. Sometimes this means presenting them again another day in a different way. Other times it means discarding a lesson or activity completely.

I firmly believe that this reflection and self-evaluation are the most important parts of making teachers better.

So, do you evaluate yourself? What does your reflection help you discover about teaching? Please share your thoughts.