“Have you ever thought of being a teacher?” was the question that changed my life all those years ago. The truth is I never thought of being a teacher until that chance question and self-reflection which led me on this life’s journey. Looking back, I had plenty of great examples of teachers who believed in me and nurtured my love for learning. Those teachers are indirectly responsible for my choices, and I am very grateful. Through the years, I have posed the same question, and I am proud to say that quite a few former students have entered this noble profession in all levels from pre-k to university positions. For these reasons and more, it is imperative to recruit a highly qualified and diverse pool of potential teachers, and, once hired, to retain them.
Teacher recruitment is an ongoing concern at the local and state levels. While the causes include increasing occupational choices, falling enrollment in schools of education, lack of diversity within the teacher ranks, or a public perception of the profession in general, students still deserve a leader of learning who is committed, caring, and accessible to all. The challenges are real, but so, too, are the solutions!
If a challenge is an increasing choice of occupations, our profession must entice recruits through the very means by which they are lured away, and that is a multi-level recruitment blitz leveraging social media as a starting point. Recruitment should be yearlong with networking opportunities often. Asking young professionals what attracted them to teaching and playing on those insights is another tool to employ.
If a challenge is falling enrollment in schools of education, school districts can partner with them to recruit high school seniors into various fields within education. Schools of engineering do it all the time! Also, all high schools should offer a "Teacher Cadet" course or a type of teacher’s club that introduces the field of education as a possible career choice, making it easier for students to navigate and understand the entire process.
If a challenge is a lack of diversity, recruitment efforts could include maintaining job boards aimed at underrepresented groups, revising position announcements that are more inclusive, and/or making sure there is diversity among the recruiters for the school system. (7) The positive is that once teachers of various backgrounds are hired, candidates for future jobs will see the school (district) as a welcoming place and will be encouraged to apply.
If a challenge is public perception of the profession, teachers are at the forefront. We must act as ambassadors for our school, district, and state. We must advocate for the profession by uplifting what we do on a daily basis and lead by example. We must be knowledgeable in current educational issues/trends and contribute to the discussion. Finally, we must be recruiters and continually ask those worthy of consideration, “Have you ever thought of being a teacher?” and then follow-up with “Students need people like you in their lives!” It just may start a moment of self-reflection and another journey to begin.
Teacher retention is just as important as recruitment. When teachers leave the profession, a talent pool of experience walks out the door. How can the profession keep the best and brightest? Of course, teacher compensation is often cited as one way to retain teachers. But, there are other ways. They include offering meaningful systems of support, ensuring positive onboarding experiences, and making connections with new hires that build relationships within the school. Encouragement of work-life balance cannot be underestimated. Teachers at high-poverty schools need additional support, as determined by their unique circumstances, to attract highly qualified professionals and keep them there.
Teacher retention truly begins at the school level. When the magic elixir of a school’s climate and culture are combined with a collaborative principal-leader and collegial relationships are formed, teachers stay. Keeping excellent teachers provides continuity for students, most especially for students with greater needs, for today, as well as in the future.
Last year I went from consultant to classroom teacher again and I loved every minute of it, but it also meant that I had no time to update this homespun website. I am going to work through the summer to provide more content and to keep lines of communication open. I am also planning to add more protocols (strategies) and revamp the Itty Bitty Book. Lots to do and hopefully, enough time to accomplish these goals.
I have returned to the early college where I first designed the strategies book to assist teachers who worked in the unique setting, but also for the numerous visitors who looked for a consistent academic language. Now, to address the changing needs of education, I will write blog articles based on online learning and other situations that will occur in schools this fall. An example is how to get students to "work together" without working together! Yes, there is a need to reexamine the hows of teaching.
Please check back every month for new strategies, protocols, tips and tricks. I remain committed to all things teaching and learning.
Alison Thetford, M. Ed.
Summer is the best time for teachers to reflect and consider trying new strategies, methods, or protocols for the next school year. The six I have selected come directly from The (Not So) Little Itty Bitty Book of Classroom Protocols book that is free for the asking!
Do you want your students to work together? Try this:
COLLABORATIVE BRAINSTORMING (Collaboration, Discussion)
Description: This is a role-assigned group method for generating original ideas and promoting higher-order thinking.
Application: Use this method when students need to expand project ideas, determine problem solutions, or review and revise answers. It can also be used as a frontloading activity.
Process: Introduce the subject to be brainstormed. Form groups of three and assign roles within group.
Organizer: contributes ideas and sets parameters for group and keeps work session flowing.
Scribe: contributes ideas and writes down every idea so that all team members can see.
Presenter: contributes ideas and shares group list with whole class.
Direct the students to brainstorm for the allotted time. Bring class back together so that each presenter shares list. Lead class discussion with a focus on prioritizing top responses.
Do you want your students to use classroom talk meaningfully? Try this:
CONSENSUS CENSUS: 1-3-6 (Discussion, Feedback, Collaboration)
Description: This collaborative strategy is designed to support students’ building group consensus.
Application: This is used when students are asked to answer a question, solve a problem, or analyze a statement.
Process: Pose a question, problem, or statement. First, ask students to individually (1) tackle the challenge. Second, form groups of three (3) in which students combine sets and agree on one list. Third, join two groups together to form groups of six (6) and instruct them to combine the two lists into a final list, prioritizing by teacher-determined parameters. Assign a student from each group to present final list.
How about feedback? Try this:
THINK ALOUDS (Feedback, Discussion)
Description: This tool helps students understand the kind of thinking required for a specific task.
Application: Use Think Alouds to model the thinking process and/or as a diagnostic tool that pinpoints a student’s strengths and weaknesses in the thinking process.
Process: Model a process that requires analytic and trial and error reasoning. Describe the process, as well as the “mental stops” along the way. Ask students to then “think aloud,” too, demonstrating their understanding of the process.
This protocol is specifically geared toward questioning. Try this:
TEST THE TEACHER (Questioning, Reading, Discussion, Feedback)
Description: Test the Teacher is a game where students will create questions based on a reading assignment and then students “test the teacher.”
Application: Use this game to check if students are reading assigned text but to also pique student interest.
Process: In preparation, assign students a reading. Tell them that each student must create at least five content-based questions from the reading. Remind them that questions can be true/false, short answer, multiple choice, or fill in the blank. Meanwhile, create a student quiz with ten to twenty questions. Say to students, “When I draw your name randomly, you will get to ask me one of your questions. If I get the answer right, I get a point. If I get it wrong, the class earns a point. I then will ask you a question from my quiz. If you get the answer correct, you earn a point for the class. If you don’t know the answer or get it wrong, you earn a point for me. Each student will get at least one turn. Although only one of you is participating at a time, your incentive is to listen so that repeated quiz questions will be easy to answer. At the end of the game if I have the most points, the class has to take the quiz. If the class has the most points, each of you will each get the total points for the quiz recorded in the grade book without actually taking the quiz.” Be ready to follow through on the game’s parameters.
How about getting students to read? Try this:
OPINION-PROOF (Reading, Writing)
Description: Opinion-Proof is a two column reading strategy that forces students to support an opinion with facts, evidence, or ideas found within a reading.
Application: Use as a pre-writing activity in language arts or social studies classes.
Process: Have a topic with corresponding reading in mind before class meets. On class day, assign reading and create a statement that requires a side to be taken. Tell students to draw a two column chart, labeling the first column “Opinion” and the second column “Proof.” Direct them to write the opinion statement in the first column and, in the second column, to bullet each supporting fact from the text, newspaper, story, or other source of content. To extend learning, require students to be prepared to use the chart as the basis for talking points in a debate, a persuasive essay, or an editorial.
Finally, would you like your students to write in class? Try this?
ADMIT SLIPS (Writing, Questioning)
Description: Admit Slips are used to help students reflect on their understanding of the previous day’s lesson or homework.
Application: Use this activity as an assessment tool.
Process: Give students a thought-provoking question that must be answered before they come to class. As students enter the classroom, collect slips. Pull random cards and read answers as a bell ringer activity.
Some of these you may have seen in your teacher travels, others may be completely new. Below are references and/or where you can find out more information:
Consensus Census: 1-3-6
The Learning Place. Consensus 1-3-6. Retrieved from learningplace.com.au
Victoria Dept. of Education and Early Child Development. Consensus 1-3-6. Retrieved from www.education.vic.gov.au
Summer time for teachers signals the end of one year and the beginning of another. Perhaps you've decided to transfer or shift to another position in your current school. What a fantastic leap of faith you've made, congratulations! You are about to experience a new normal and anxiety could be your new best friend. Let's take a look at how, with a few guidelines, you can enter the unknown with happy anticipation.
Give yourself time to become part of the established department or school faculty.
Give yourself time to get to know the people in your new group-set and more importantly, give time for your new co-workers to get to know you! As Covey says, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Unless you were hired to be a disruptor, be mindful of the written and unwritten norms of the school and know that there are responsibilities, roles, and a pecking order within the group(s). Eventually, you will learn the norms and quite possibly contribute to them. A small tip to newbies- try to refrain from the words, “In my last school we . . .” This immediately puts people on the defensive because you are suggesting your previous school was better at something and while this may be true, people will turn you off. Instead, at the appropriate time say something like, “Hey, I have an idea! What if we . . .?” Give it a try!
Give yourself permission to be the newbie on the faculty.
Although teaching in itself is standard, things like schedules, duties and responsibilities, housekeeping, tutoring, faculty meetings, etc. will most likely be different. Adjustment is necessary because you have entered into a new position and by accepting the job, you are tacitly agreeing to these differences. Be open and willing to adjust and be easy on yourself when you do not meet expectations. Remember, there’s a lot to learn and most principals give a year for the new hire to adopt to the new practices.
Give yourself an attitude check each and every day.
You moved to a new position for reasons only you can explain. Were you running away or were you embarking on a challenge? The answer to this is profound because, generally speaking, those who are running away from “a bad school, principal, department chair, and/or co-workers” usually find the same type of people at the next school and the next. Attitude checks can help you from seeing only the faults in co-workers. For those who are looking for a challenge, attitude checks can strengthen your inner resolve, even when things are not going well.
In my experiences, these three things have helped me adjust to a new position within education. What would you add as a guideline? Comment below.
One of my favorite bloggers, Jennifer Gonzalez of the Cult of Pedagogy, posted an e-article titled, The Big List of Classroom Discussion Starters and I couldn't help but find a few that I can translate into protocols (that can easily be used in secondary or collegiate classrooms). Please note that I do not take any credit for the development of these strategies. Let me know what you think by commenting below.
TEACH-OK! (Discussion, Feedback, Collaboration)
Description: This popular fast-moving protocol integrates classroom talk within the framework of other learning experiences such as lecture or direct instruction. Credited to Whole Brain Teaching (www.wholebrainteaching.com) it is a meant to help students become more comfortable talking to each other with a stated purpose.
Application: Use this as a re-teaching platform for students in all subjects.
Process: Prior to the lesson, provide guidelines for Teach-OK. (Students will work in partners. Within a lecture or direct instruction and after teaching a key point or concept, the teacher claps once and says, “Teach!” students respond by clapping twice and saying “OK!” Partner #1 will teach Partner #2 the concept or key point, taking no more than a minute. At the next Teach-OK opportunity, the partners switch and #2 teaches #1.) At appropriate time, employ strategy. Listen to students’ discussions, being prepared to clarify or reteach concept if responses are incorrect or just surface learning.
In 2016 I posted an article titled "Moving Day" and I reminded myself and others that moving is a drag, but can also be an opportunity to do some much needed clutter cleaning (as well a new lease on life's personal and professional purposes). It recently happened again to me and what I discovered is this . . .you can't fit 5,000 sq. feet of "stuff" into 2,500 sq. feet! I began to really look at objects with the popular outlook of do you really love it, need it, have a space for it, and does it bring joy to your life?
I have tubs and tubs of teacher materials, but I don't work in the classroom anymore.
Should I keep it? No. (But I can ask other professionals if they could use them)
I have wonderful trinkets, yearbooks, and school wear (from schools I do not work at anymore). Should I keep it? No. (But I can take a digital picture of the item and offer my teacher colleagues my trinkets for free)
Take the opportunity to look at your stuff and see if you can digitize the contents or give away that which you no longer need. I promise it will bring much joy and relief and isn't that what every teacher needs and deserves?
The second semester can mean a new batch of students and an opportunity to build trust the very first day. Ice breaker activities are meant to ease nervousness of the unknown. Consider using the following borrowed and modified ideas:
Extra! Extra! Talk All About It!
Description: This is a fun way to break the ice and get participants to share and know more about each other.
Application: Use at the beginning of a new school year or semester.
Process: Create blank sandwich boards prior to class meeting and hand one to each participant. Provide markers. Give participants 10 minutes to think and write “headlines” to describe themselves. (Ex. Woman Meets Three Presidents in Three Months! “Bono hugs adoring fan at Raymond James Stadium”) Tell participants to write at least five headlines total and they may write on both sides. When time is called, instruct participants to "wear" their sandwich board, mingle, and ask questions to seek clarity about the headlines. Give the whole group up to 10 minutes to walk around the room.
Description: Originally titled, A Classroom Icebreaker with a Lesson that Lasts, this ice-breaker combines purposes of students getting to know the instructor with behavior management. This wonderful protocol was conceived by Virginia Freed, formerly of Bay Path University.
Application: Use this at the beginning of the year/semester as a way to remind students of classroom expectations in a non-threatening way.
Process: Fill a box with about 15 random items (items can be large or small, from home or from work). At precisely the time class starts, walk into the room with the box. In silence, take each article out; place it on a table; and finally, when all of them are out, return the items to the box. Tell students to take out a sheet of paper and write down as many of the items as they can remember (and they remember very little).
Students sitting in the back of the room have not been able to see the items on the table.
The point- Sit as close to the front of the room as possible.
Some students have been engaged in conversations and did not see the teacher or the box.
The point-Pay attention right from the beginning of the class; teachers often offer the most interesting and important information at the beginning and ending of class.
Some students come in late.
The point-Arrive on time.
Some students don’t have anything to write with or on.
The point-Come prepared.
Make immediate connections to the lack of answers (and student protests):
Repeat the process, slowly taking each item one by one, placing it on the table, then returning them all to the box and ask the students to list as many as can be remembered. (The point-lists are longer because students are paying attention.) Repeat the process again and start class the next day with the same box and a marked improvement in understanding expectations.
In-Class Scavenger Hunt
Description: An in-class scavenger hunt is a “get to know you” game that is fun and engaging while allowing students to learn about others in the group.
Application: Use as a great icebreaker activity or team building game at the beginning of a meeting, new academic year, or semester.
Process: Create or use an existing scavenger hunt document. Hand one to each student and tell them that they will have ten minutes to mingle and find someone in the class who fits the categories. Remind them to write student’s name who provided the answer in the box. After mingle, randomly call on students to share answers.
Virginia Freed, MEd, MA, is a Professor of English at Bay Path College.
Excerpted from Thinking Outside of the Box, The Teaching Professor, October 2008
Scavenger Hunt based on work by http://thesciencelife.blogspot.com/2012_07_01_archive.html
Today I had the privilege of visiting a Spanish class hard at work. The teacher wanted to incorporate purposeful reading in her lesson, so she decided to use lyrics as the reading vehicle for the learning. The protocol is below:
Lyrics for Learning (Reading, Discussion, Collaboration)
Description: This reading protocol assists foreign language students' comprehension in a fun and meaningful way.
Application: Use this protocol in most courses, most especially in foreign language.
Process: Select a song that has an appropriate video that reinforces prior learning. Place students into groups of four or five and hand each student a copy of the selected lyrics. Tell students to read them once silently, then aloud, each student within the group, reciting a stanza or two. Remind them not to translate at this time. Ask each group to compile a list of the top five key words they do not know. Post them on the board. Define words with little or no reference to the song and direct them to predict, on the back of the lyrics paper, what the lyrics mean. At the proper time, insert questions such as What is the general theme of the song? What seems to be the problem? What may happen next? Show music video and provide debrief time, acknowledging successes as well as tweaking gaps in comprehension.
Reference and/or for more information:
Lyrics for Learning
Rappold, T. (2018) Lyrics for Learning. Cross Creek Early College.
Fulbright Summer in Peru. http://www.peruculturelessons.com
I just love the start of a new academic school year, don't you? The school has been buffed and polished and a true sense of a new beginning is in the air! Much like making "new year" pledges on January 1, teachers tend to make resolutions to do things differently or try something new but sadly, by the end of the third week of school, the hopes and plans for change dissolve and the old routine resumes. I've certainly experienced this phenomenon and I've witnessed it far too many times.
From my observations, I've drawn some conclusions on why our very best intentions turn sour. When it comes to making a new school year resolution, sometimes:
Our resolutions (goals) are too ambiguous. Let's look at John Q. Teacher who recently overheard two teachers talking about how wonderful interactive notebooks are in their classrooms. John wants to add an interactive notebook piece to his history class, but that's about the scope of his goal. He has not researched, discussed, or planned how he was going to implement the notebook in his subject. On the first day of school, he told students to bring a 70 page spiral bound notebook to class and at the next class meeting started the implementation. Most students didn't have the notebook and he had to wait a few days to get started. When he "jumped in" and gave assignments for students to include in the notebook, the assignments had no regularity, no cohesive structure, and certainly no grading parameters. He soon realized he wasn't ready and abandoned the project with no fanfare. It just disappeared.
Our resolutions (goals) are too overwhelming. Instead of taking time and setting up a notebook before class met, Mr. Teacher was "making it up" as he went along. When he ran out of ideas, the notebook was used less and less. Students wanted to use the notebook, but he was overwhelmed at the amount of work the notebook was causing during his planning time. He realized creating an interactive notebook had many parts to it with "value-added" being at the top of the list! Because he was so stunned at the enormity of it all and wasn't sure what the students were getting from it, he just stopped.
Our resolutions (goals) require the right mindset. Changing course within the classroom like using an interactive notebook requires determination to see the change through. Wanting it and doing it are two different things. The sad part is that by abandoning the notebook implementation, John Q. Teacher modeled the wrong thing to his students. Before he began the endeavor, Mr. Teacher should have started small using the notebook once a week with set parameters of usage. He should have modeled his expectations of how to use the notebook because that would have helped him stay focused on the goal.
With school barely started or just around the corner, plan (not just wish) to reach your goals for the new school year. Forget the failures of the past, and approach this year with a clean slate! If you need help on goal planning, check out the SMART goal system. It helps in all aspects of life, not just your professional one. Good luck!
I was going to title this post "Exposure Can be the Best Cure for Test Anxiety" but I'm afraid that may scare a few of you away; after all, you've just completed testing for the year and would like to forget the stress and anxiety testing time produced. I understand but let's look at this with the coming excitement of a new school year.
We instinctively know the more we expose students to test styles in format and construction, the more they are likely to be comfortable taking a test. I'd like my students to concentrate on the prompt, not on the way the prompt is presented. Allowing students the opportunity to experience the format and construction of a test more than once or twice during your course is time well spent. Rehearse the "test day" procedures, of course, but don't ignore other ways to insert the format: in-class experiences or when there is a substitute or even a homework assignment.
The protocol below comes from the Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, but any teacher can use this format to assist in achievement. If your state has a particular format, adopt it and expose students to it well before the day of reckoning. There are outlets (Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers) that offer at-the-ready prompts for you if you are willing to take the time to find them or you may find released test items that provide format/font/layout, etc. Search and you will find! Let me know what you think.
READ-THINK-WRITE FORMAT (Writing, Feedback, Reading)
Description: Based on the Texas STAAR writing prompt format, Read-Think-Write includes scaffolds that allow students to analyze a written passage or image, think through listed considerations, and write an expository, narrative, analytical, or persuasive essay in a clear and concise fashion.
Application: Once students have practiced the format, Read-Think-Write can be used in language arts, science, or social studies courses as an in-class experience or with a substitute or as a homework assignment.
Process: Prepare the four part Read-Think-Write prompt(s) based on the topic of study. Map out elements of the prompt. Begin with a “Read” or “Look” section by providing a clear written passage, poem, image, or other relevant information. Next, in the “Think” section include a reworded or generalized scaffold statement that will focus students’ writing efforts. Finally, in the “Write” section, compose the focused prompt and provide a bullet list of elements (up to five) that must be included, labeling it “Be sure to-” (See example below)
Reference and/or for more information:
STAAR: "Deconstructing the Writing Rubric"
It is a very awkward time in education. I admit that it makes me nervous to see so many colleagues angry and upset over pay and benefits because I alone am powerless to change anything and as a rule, I try to solve problems and these issues are well beyond a single person’s action. It will take many people to make a difference and it is my summer wish that the civic leaders who can effect change do so without hesitancy. Another summer wish is to ask brave educators to become civic leaders and lead from the front. It is a time and money commitment, but think of the benefits to the entire education community! Summer is also a good time to sit back and reflect on job satisfaction. If you are thinking of leaving education altogether, please read my February post: “Thinking of Leaving Education? Read This!” I promise there are many ways to serve the youth within a community; it doesn’t always have to be from the classroom. Most of all, I am sending a summer wish that you temporarily disengage from the politics of education and take time for yourself, family, and friends to renew your spirit and reignite (if needed) the love of teaching and helping others. What is on your summer wish list?
I read an article yesterday about how a college professor assists students with reading assignments. I enjoyed it very much and thought how beneficial the method Dr. Barry Casey calls GSSW could be for college bound high school students. If you get a chance, please read the entire article, the link is listed below. This article truly gives students a way to tackle written information in a thoughtful and meaningful way. In pure Edumentality fashion, I've designed a protocol for ease of use. Enjoy and let me know what you think!
44. GATHER, SORT, SHRINK, WRAP (Reading, Writing, Discussion, Collaboration)
Description: Perfect for pre-college students and based on Dr. Barry Casey’s GSSW (Gather, Sort, Shrink, Wrap), this deep reading method helps students write clear and concise essays based on multiple readings or complex text.
Application: This method can be used in numerous courses, most especially in literature, social studies, and/or humanities.
Process: Model this method early in the semester so that students may apply the learning in more than one instance. Provide text to students and outline the "GSSW Method:"
Gather: Partner students and direct them to read the text out loud to each other noting things that stand out as significant to the general understanding of the text.
Sort: Tell partners to “cluster the ideas into chunks, both for retention and for
understanding the general themes that run through the text.” Check to make sure
the pairs are writing down the information.
Shrink: Direct partners to further refine the information by expressing their thoughts into
sentences using their own words. Remind students that the sentences should
reflect their deeper understanding of the text (no superficial or general ideas
allowed). Allow partners to work together creating sentences or to work
Wrap: After sentences are created, instruct students, either as partners or individually, to
use them to create an outline or mind map which will act as the foundation for an
essay or other written product.
Casey, Barry. “A Method for Deep Reading.” Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning, 15 Sept. 2017, www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/method-deep-reading/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork.
Multiple-choice tests do have a place in education. They are relatively easy to make, to give, and to process for grades. But the feedback potential for both student and teacher can be greatly enhanced with a nuanced approach. Use a multiple choice test, with added choices, to "reveal" each student's levels of understanding. The information will help students focus on things that need additional study or practice. It also reveals flawed thinking or sloppy test-taking methods. For teachers, it allows them to clarify confusion between two similar, but not exact, things. Assign a half point value to the additional choices. I have an easy example sample below.
ex. Who was the first President of the United States?
A. Abraham Lincoln
B. Alexander Hamilton
C. George Washington
D. Thomas Jefferson
E. A or B
F. C or D
If the student selected "C" as the answer, full point awarded, but if the student chose F give half point value. All other answers are incorrect and no points are given. The next step in this method is to ask students to go back and clarify all of the "half point" answers. In the above example, the student could say "Washington was the first and Jefferson was the third President of the United States." This could be a follow-up homework assignment or in-class review. Not all questions on the test have to have more than the traditional four choices of answers. Provide students opportunities to self-adjust, re-learn, and clarify understanding. This is the true essence of feedback.
Even though it is just February, teachers are beginning to think of the next academic school year. Some are contemplating leaving the profession for various reasons; some reasons are outside their circle of control like salary and yet other reasons stem from the position they currently hold at a particular school. If the latter is the case, instead of leaving teaching why not consider transferring to another school or school system and get a fresh start? We need qualified teachers with experience. Not all schools are alike, so, “don’t quit, find your fit!”
We know that schools within a system vary greatly. Some tend to be community-oriented while others are more transient, some tend to struggle and others are high flyers. Some schools promote teacher leadership and others have managers for principals. Each school has their pros and cons and when a teacher starts to see only the cons, it may be time to move forward.
When teachers are dissatisfied at their current school they tend to share their unhappiness with colleagues and this can be detrimental to the school’s culture. Sometimes the dissatisfaction comes from the actions of a new principal or department head. It can be hard to let go of the way it “was.” It is human nature, I suppose, but when teachers are “marking time” versus enjoying their jobs, perhaps a change of scenery will reignite the educational embers.
If moving does not seem to change the attitude, then maybe a move within the system (teacher to administrator or public to private or high school to college or vice versa) is the way to continue to serve others. If all else fails perhaps retirement or a profession change will ignite “life embers.” There is no rule that says once a teacher always a teacher. Your happiness or satisfaction gets a vote in all of this, don’t sell yourself short.
We all know somebody who took that step into the unknown. Did it help them? Are they happier? Will they continue in the profession because of the move? Asking questions to people who have gone before may be just what a teacher needs to stay put (and make the best of it) or move. Ultimately, being informed is critical to making a decision.
I'm not a New Age thinker, but recently I read a passage from a book by Harry Wong (The First Days of School, 2001) that made such an impact on me that I can't stop thinking about it and I feel compelled to share it with you.
In the chapter entitled, How You Can Become a Professional Educator, Mr. Wong tells teachers that professionals like doctors, lawyers, and athletes, often seek assistance or advice from peers when confronted with a dilemma. He laments that most teachers rarely get help from anyone. He says, "Though the essence of a teacher's work is helping others learn, teachers are the worst learners when it comes to improving their own performance." If you've been in the education field long enough you've witnessed the "reluctant teacher-learner." Sometimes the amount of protest infects the faculty and opportunities for improvement are diminished for all participants.
At one time or another, we've all been the reluctant teacher-learner, but Mr. Wong pleads with us to go beyond the initial reaction of resistance and seek connections that will ultimately improve performance and build relationships within the educational setting by (1) joining others that seek self-improvement too; (2) by becoming a peer coach or mentor; (3) by listening to peers; (4) by researching educational practices; (5) by observing peers within the classroom setting; and, finally, (6) by welcoming visitor and visitor evaluations. Wow! I can feel the energy, can you?
Study groups are usually encouraged and formed within the college setting, but I have found it is a rare occurrence at the high school level. Why? Why not build self-sufficiency tools for students in high school too? When we incorporate skills that help students get college ready, good things happen! While many may say it isn't feasible for many reasons, transportation before/after school being the biggest factor, educators have to think outside of the box! When I asked my teachers at Cross Creek how they encourage study groups outside of class time, this is what they said:
*Exchange e-mail/phone numbers
*Promote FaceTime/Skype/Online groups
*Use lunchtime/study buddy review
*Assist students in seeking solutions to group study dilemmas
*Provide incentives for successful group study meetings
*Share positive college examples
*Formulate group assignments and projects that require outside class time.
What is the best gift you can give to your students? For me, it was always a combination of predictability and novelty. Enough structure for students to feel comfortable but also novelty for them to be intellectually curious and to engage with the content. But there's another gift to give and that is helping them realize that they are in charge of their learning- lock, stock, and barrel! When we provide students with tools to help them self-monitor their learning, good things happen. These skills can be infused within content rather than taught separately (using time that can't be spared). When I asked my teachers at Cross Creek Early College how they provide tools for students to monitor their own learning, this is what they said:
*constant use of agendas/planners
*interactive study guides
*model meta-cognition skills
*self-paced computer programs
*student-created progress reports
*online Study Island
*accountability/victim statements (The reason(s) I do not have my homework today is . . .)
*grading/feedback with three specific ways to fix/change poor academic behaviors
***student-led parent conferences
Students must be held accountable for what they do and don't do in the classroom. Placing the responsibility on them to be active participants in their own learning is essential. What ways do you incorporate self-monitoring skills in your classroom?
We've all experienced students who are intellectually gifted, but most decidedly "gift-less" when it comes to using study habits as a way to increase achievement. Some students do not possess self starting mechanisms and chug along on brain power alone. Eventually, these students will hit the wall and stop working. Other students have no idea how to study and are too proud to admit it. We have to admit that not all high school students that enter the classroom come equipped with exemplary study habits and in some cases, any study habits. What to do?
As I have mentioned in the previous two blog articles, when we instill academic behaviors within our content, good things happen! I use my time in the classroom like a precision instrument and that means including instruction in study skills without compromising content. It can be done and done well, but admitting that all students can benefit from this instruction is a good first step. When I asked my teachers at Cross Creek Early College in Fayetteville, North Carolina, "If I were a student in your class, where would I find study skills being taught within the class/class content?" This is what they told me:
*organizing study groups
*using Cornell Notes on a regular basis
*showing "good" and "not-so-good" examples
*modelling note-taking during lecture
*highlighting for purpose
*using on-line study helpers like Study Island
*manipulating text via textbook, articles, and other media
*keeping up with the calendar (due dates) and grades
*teaching skills during class starter and/or class closure
*providing peer evaluations
*entering information in an interactive notebook
*showing explicitly how to study for a test when at home
How do you instill study habits in your classroom?
What do you do when a student gives up? Some educators say they would work with the student until the last minute of the last class they are together. Others would say that it's not their job to motivate, but to teach, so if the student gives up, it's her problem. Since I am a learner-centered educator, I find the latter answer disappointing and sad, but I understand the frustrations of having a student who has stopped working. I really do!
As I mentioned in my last blog article, when we instill academic behaviors within our content, good things happen! Including and/or teaching the tenets of persistence and perseverance in the classroom may help that struggling student stick-to-it versus giving up. When the climate of a classroom looks at failure as a start point, rather than the end, a student may keep going. When I asked my teachers "If I were a student in your class, how would the ideas of perseverance and persistence be developed within the classroom setting?" Here's what they said:
*Not "allow" the student to give up!
* Tutoring opportunities
*Students collaboratively working in various group formats (partners, trios, quads)
*Time management mini lessons
*Support and encouragement
*Including insight on the growth mindset model
*Appropriate level of difficulty
*Syllabus/Classroom Subject Guide
*Informal assessments (to catch a struggling student before it's too late)
What are the ways you instill the ideas of persistence and perseverance in your classroom?
No doubt, the most successful secondary teachers create opportunities for students to enhance their academic knowledge and behaviors within the classroom each and every day. When we insert moments of learning outside of content we are building the whole person, a person who will be ready for higher education, a career, and life! If done with intention and deliberate planning, it doesn't take time away from the subject content, but enhances readiness to succeed. Any time a teacher helps build skills that will transfer in other parts of a student's life, achievement increases. But where to start? Think about your content, the processes, procedures, and culture in your classroom and let's take a topic, time management, and apply this reasoning. I think everyone would agree that most students need to be better managers of their time. By putting yourself in the "shoes" of your students, ask the following:
If I were a student in your class, where would I find time management skills being taught within the class/class content? (Go ahead and start thinking . . . ) When I asked this question of the faculty at my school, the answers made my heart warm:
*Use a student planner, syllabus, and daily agenda where teachers model how to use them correctly and consistently.
*Post the calendar due dates on board.
*Use timers, signals, and deadlines so that students begin to think in terms of urgency of task.
*Model chunking of projects so that large tasks do not overwhelm.
* Ask students to reflect on the task at hand and how to tackle it with a step-by-step approach.
*Differentiate by supplying tiered lessons.
* Provide intentional class starters and closures to replicate "the beginning and the end."
* Use transition time between activities as precious moments not to be wasted.
*Communicate/signal/express to students each time management skill moment so that they make connections to the action and the goal (being better time managers).
A typical secondary level classroom on any given day in any particular subject will include questioning as a method for learning. The challenge is, however, the degree of effectiveness in its use. I visited many classrooms while I served as a curriculum specialist and I tried to understand why teachers fell into the "question trap."
Scenario One- a teacher asks a comprehension question, hands go up, teacher calls on a student who had hand raised, student answers question and teacher moves on with the lesson.
Scenario Two- a teacher asks a question, hands go up, teacher answers his own question and moves on with the lesson.
Scenario Three- a teacher asks a comprehension question, student answers, teacher moves on with lesson without follow-up higher level question. Let's look at why all three scenarios are "question traps:"
Scenario One: I challenge you to stop asking questions of students that are pretty sure of the answer, that is, those who raised their hands. Unless it is a "friendly reminder" of the answer, a teacher's job is to seek those who need to know. But if the teacher only calls on students with their hands raised how does he know who needs help?
Scenario One could look like this- a teacher asks a question, hands go up, teacher ignores hands and directs students to "answer question with a nearby partner." (ALL students answer question!) Teacher randomly calls on a partnership and they answer. Teacher encourages class affirmation or rejection of answer. Discussion follows or lesson continues.
Scenario Two: I challenge you to stop answering your own questions! Are you asking and answering for expedience? Are you tired of just hearing wrong answers or "I don't know" answers? Is it a habit? Please allow students to do the hard work of thinking and be confident that, in the long run, making students work for an answer will make them better thinkers! Wait time is hard for teachers to include because they think it's "waste time." Don't fall into this question trap!
Scenario Two could look like this- a teacher asks a question. He states clearly that he will give students time to think and at an appropriate time, asks follow up questions that may lead those who are unsure to the answer. Discussion follows or lesson continues.
Scenario Three: I challenge you to start asking follow-up questions that lead to higher level thinking! If we want our students to think only at basic knowledge and comprehension levels, then proceed with asking only basic level questions. Create the follow-up questions before class begins so that the questioning is deliberate and intentional. Be the Socrates of your classroom and encourage all students to answer questions with you, to you, and with each other.
Scenario Three could look like this- a teacher asks a low-level question. Students answer (see above) and immediately teacher asks a follow-up question that reaches, for example, application of information or judgement of information. Move up the ladder of Bloom's Taxonomy, always pushing students to think deeper.
For ways to enhance questioning in the classroom, click on the "Questioning Protocols" button.
I was asked a critical question from an instructional coach: "Are your students reading, writing, talking, and thinking in class every day? I answered, "Yes, of course!" But then I began to reflect and my answer became "most of the time." Then, after reviewing my practices in the classroom, my answer became "some of the time." Luckily, I was in a school that had a six strategy innovative instructional model called the Common Instructional Framework developed by Jobs for the Future. Later, another model, NCNS's Aligned Instructional Strategies, in my opinion, improved on the former. Let's look at these strategies, but a reminder that strategies are only as good as the teacher using them. Strategies are the guiding principles that promote excellence in the classroom and protocols support strategies. Let's look at the strategies:
The Collaboration Strategy generates focused groups, enables students to communicate, both as speaker and listener, exposes them to other points of view, and maximizes engagement. Individual accountability within the group is paramount for true collaboration to exist. Click on "Collaboration Protocols" for additional ways to make collaboration easy in the classroom.
The Discussion Strategy is a process by which both speaking and listening skills are taught and valued. It promotes collaboration and questioning skills as well. The suggested ratio is 80% student talk to 20% teacher talk. Click the "Discussion Protocols" button to enhance classroom talk!
The Feedback Strategy provides both teacher and student perspective on performance in relation to goals sought and meaningful ways to improve. Data collection, formative assessments, and student self-assessment are examples included on this page. Click on "Feedback Protocols" for additional methods and strategies.
The Questioning Strategy assists students to connect concepts, make inferences, increase awareness, encourage creative and imaginative thought, aid critical thinking processes, and generally helps students explore deeper levels of knowing, thinking, and understanding. Click "Questioning Protocols" for more information and specific protocols to use.
The Reading Strategy promotes the idea that building reading skills is a continuous process. Incorporating reading and skills to improve reading creates a sense of expectation and importance for students. Reading must be included in all secondary subjects. Click the "Reading Protocols" for specific reading strategies.
The Writing Strategy is a process that promotes critical thinking and is not content-specific. These strategies help students to develop expressive language skills and fluency as well as train students to process information. Writing should be included in all subjects, including mathematics. Click "Writing Protocols" for ways that will improve learning via the written word.
I believe that every professional in the business would agree that time in the classroom is finite and valuable. So why do we sometimes give in to the "group work" mentality? We've all had times when it easier to put students together and let them work through problems, questions, or even to start homework before class ended. Our instructions are minimal ("get into groups no larger than four and do problems 1-10 even only"). Sometimes it goes well and other times you may wonder why in the world the students were not working. It's time to go "beyond group work."
Collaboration in the classroom is planned, organized, and with clear objectives in mind. With prior planning it can also be spontaneous. How? Early in the semester create and assign teams, trios, and groups of four. These group assignments do not need to be by name. For me, I used gem names for groups of four (pearl, garnet, diamond, emerald, etc.), trios were numbers (1,2,3), and teams were letters (A Team, Z Team, etc.) While groups of four were set, trios and teams could change. For example, “Get into trios with a one two and three-your choice.” Provide students with a sticker to remind them of their groupings and ask them to place it on their folder for the class, but make sure you have the master copy just in case a student forgot to bring their folder. A sticker would have their name, their gem group, their trio number, and their team letter.
Of course, these can be modified based on personality, academic strength, etc. But the important thing is to plan it, assign it, and stick to it.
When you want students to work in groups, be very specific in directions. (“You will be working in teams today, I want As to work problems 2,4, and Bs 1,3,. Do not share your work yet. At the designated time, A you will work 1, 3 and B you will work 2,4. When time is called, share answers and work through problems if there is a discrepancy.”
There’s a lot going on here. First, the burden of all of the work is not on the “smart” student, a major complaint of high-flyers. For collaboration to really happen, each student has a specific part of the whole assignment. Students must talk to each other vocally explaining how they arrived at their answer. Second, the teacher is monitoring the students. This is critical, especially at the beginning of the semester. As the semester progresses, allow students more freedom because they know what is expected. Finally, for true collaboration to take place, each member of the group must be dependent on others with the group; otherwise, some students slide while others work hard. Make sure students are held accountable for their efforts- as an individual and as part of a team.
There are plenty of ways to teach students (37) that include collaboration as the main strategy. Click on Classroom Protocols, then Collaboration, and start exploring. If you like what you see, let me know. Do you have a strategy that you would like to share? Send it to email@example.com.
Words are so powerful, just take the word informal. For many, informal means “casual” and casual means unplanned, off-the-cuff, and spontaneous. Following through on that thought, if the words “informal” and “assessment” are joined, there may be a misunderstanding that informal assessments are unplanned, off-the-cuff, and spontaneous too. Truly, to maximize time with students and to use informal assessments properly, deliberately planning informal assessments throughout the lesson is a must! When teachers insert an informal assessment before, during, or after a lesson, the first question that comes to mind is what is the purpose of the assessment? Is it to measure a student’s progress or to check understanding or to allow students to monitor their own learning? An informal assessment must have a primary purpose, otherwise, time is wasted! The protocol below is a standard in many American classrooms and if used properly, the K-W-L chart can provide mountains of data, for both teacher and student alike:
K-W-L CHART (Feedback, Writing, Discussion)
Description: K-W-L, a classic graphic organizer designed by Donna Ogle, connects prior knowledge with new information for maximum learning opportunities.
Application: This chart can be used as an assessment of learning.
Process: Have a topic in mind before class meets. Direct the students to create a three column chart (Label column one “K,” column two, “W,” and column three, “L.”). Announce the topic and remind students to write the topic at the top of the paper. Give instructions and allow thinking time: 1) List everything they Know about the topic; 2) Write everything they Want to know about the topic and set-aside; and 3) after the lesson, reflect and write what they Learned about the topic. Ask students to be thorough in the last column and discuss answers and/or turn-in as an informal assessment.
Ogle, D.M. (1986). K-W-L: A teaching model that develops active reading in expository text. Reading Teacher 39 (6), 564-570.
As a new teacher I mistakenly thought that if students were busy, learning was happening. Indeed, I was the queen of classroom activities and students seemed to learn and enjoy my class. In reality, however, my students were "busy," but not actively engaged and my scores proved it. I realized that "busy" wasn't enough! As a member of the early college system, I was challenged by these questions, Are my students reading, writing, thinking, and talking in my class everyday? Are they allowed to have experiences that include working as individuals, but also as a member of a group? Are they held accountable for their work or lack thereof? Consider looking at your practice through the lens of active engagement versus students just being busy. If you are anything like me, you will be amazed. The protocol below has all of the active engagement elements listed. Enjoy!
Alison Thetford, M.Ed