Friday, January 23, 2015

modeling your thinking

One of the instructional strategies that has a lot of research to support its use is the think-aloud. This strategy can feel awkward at first, but is so beneficial for students of all ages in all content areas to see the work in action. It moves beyond modeling something, as it really seeks to uncover thinking, rather than just the "doing" of something new. 

The think-aloud strategy is most often applied to reading texts across content areas to support comprehension. Teachers model their thinking as they read aloud, indicating places in the text where they employ strategies. This can be used across content areas, particularly when students are being asked to read more challenging content texts. When you get started using the think-aloud, it can help to use Hmmmm... as a signal that you are transitioning from the text to your thinking, so students don't get confused about what is in the text and what is in your thinking.

Below are a few cues if you need ideas for sentence starters in read-alouds (adapted from Schoenbach, R., Greenleaf, C. L., & Murphy, L. (2012) Reading for Understanding. San Fracisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. and Wilhelm, J. D. (2001). Strategic Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton Cook:
  • I predict... (prediction)
  • I think the next part... (prediction)
  • Why did... (questioning)
  • What did... (questioning)
  • Why was... (questioning)
  • Should there... (questioning)
  • I picture... (visualizing)
  • This is similar to... (making connections)
  • This reminds me of... (making connections)
  • I got confused when... (monitoring)
  • I'm not sure of... (monitoring)
  • I didn't expect... (monitoring)
  • I think next time I'll... (monitoring)
  • I think this is mainly about... (summarizing)
  • I think the most important part is... (summarizing)
For these think-alouds, I'm talking broadly about "text" - math problems, learning objectives, lab reports, images, song lyrics, sports rules, speeches - you name it. The think-aloud is widely adaptable to the work of teachers, and is really effective for helping apprentice students into the thinking of any discipline.
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Thursday, January 1, 2015

transitioning from break

While most teachers count down the days until break, many students find breaks from school to be difficult. Many students live in challenging homes and neighborhoods, and the uncertainty and lack of structure for some students makes breaks from school hard.

Spending time with students transitioning after a break (or even a weekend) can help students refocus and center the class on the relationships built and community of the classroom. Some questions to use as openers for transition are found in the book When Teaching Gets Tough: Smart Ways to Reclaim Your Game by Allen Mendler (2012).  Here are a few to get started:
  • What is one thing you did, saw, or heard this weekend that was interesting?
  • Who would like to share something important that happened to them?
  • Is there anything that happened that made you feel happy? sad? mad? disappointed? scared?
  • What is something that made you feel proud? What would make you feel even more proud?
Giving students a chance to share their experiences, fears, or hopes can help them before beginning back to work.

What are some ways you help your students transition back to school after a weekend or a break?

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

recharge

Enjoy this winter break, dear readers. It is most certain to be earned and is likely happening not a moment too soon. As a teacher I chatted with in the hallway said a few weeks ago, the weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break fly by, until the last two, when time stands absolutely still.

Take this time to recharge in your most favorite winter ways. Drink hot chocolate, read a book for pleasure, go ice skating, take a walk in the snow or build a snowman, listen to holiday music. Rest up and recharge.

See you in the new year!

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Monday, December 8, 2014

disillusioned, the 2014 edition

There comes a point in almost every teacher's academic year where they begin to feel disillusioned. This is particularly true for novice teachers. It usually happens after the excitement of the beginning of the year wears off. Disillusionment is characterized by the stress that settles in after the beginning of the year flurry. You have likely been evaluated by your principal, made it through the first set of parent-teacher conferences, and might be struggling with aspects of your teaching that aren't going as you'd envisioned. Things seem different than you imagined them.

 It's important to acknowledge the way you feel, first and foremost. This doesn't mean that you don't enjoy teaching. It is a very common phase of teaching. Check out the New Teach Center phases of new teachers for more info. Or, check out previous blog posts about this topic here, here, here, here, and here.

There are a lot of things you can do if and when you begin to feel this way. First, take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself makes you a better teacher. Get sleep, enjoy a night away from the gradebook with your spouse or children or friends or doggie. Exercise. Try a new healthy recipe. Watch videos of cats or the beaches in Bali. Spend some time every day thinking about what you are thankful for. Whatever it is that fills your soul, find a way to make it happen.

Then, focus on what might be contributing to your disillusionment. Next time you feel frustrated, write down things that are causing your frustration. From your list, think about what is in your control and is ongoing. What is one thing you can do to make a change in this factor? Think about ways to let go of those things that are not in your control.

The upcoming winter break can serve as a chance to reset - to gain some perspective, to refocus on the big goals for the academic year, to recharge with family and friends and fun.

What is your plan to get through the disillusionment? If you have experienced this before, what has helped you in the past?

Reference: Mendler, A. N. (2012). When teaching gets tough: Smart ways to reclaim your game. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

teaching about Ferguson

Though the grand jury decision was announced a week ago, students still have questions and are working through their responses to Ferguson. Teachers and classrooms are often the safe spaces where conversations about controversial topics can happen. So, if your students want to talk about Ferguson, here are some resources to help you.
How have your students responded to the news in Ferguson? How have you facilitated discussions with your students about this, or other controversial topics?

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

formative feedback

In the best classrooms, grades are only one of many types of feedback provided to students.
― Douglas Reeves
Feedback. We know we need to provide thoughtful, thorough feedback to students in order for them to make progress in their learning goals.
The importance of feedback has been widely studied and documented. We all know from our own educational careers that feedback was important to us. It helped validate our work, identify strengths, and show us areas to continue to improve. Formative feedback is usually the most helpful, as it provides us with tools in the midst of learning rather than presenting achievement after learning. Time is a factor, of course, with providing feedback to students, and especially at this busy time of year, time is at a premium.

There are a number of places to look for suggestions to make formative feedback work for you. An article in Educational Leadership describes 7 keys to formative feedback. Edutopia has a link to some formative feedback ideas here. Here is a list of 10 tips to make formative feedback most effective. Across these articles, the keys are that effective feedback is practical and timely, and specific to the learners' needs and the learning targets. While this type of feedback is challenging, finding ways to incorporate specific feedback, rather than simply a "good job" at the top of a paper, can really help propel students' learning.

What are your favorite tips for providing formative feedback to students? What challenges do you face? Comment below with your thoughts and ideas!
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

alternatives to withholding recess

“Those of you who did not finish your math homework
will be staying in from recess to complete the assignment.”

I’ll admit it – I was guilty of saying this. When I was teaching 5th grade, I occasionally had students who missed homework chronically. Managing missing and late homework is such a difficult aspect of teaching, and there were times when I felt I needed to hold students back from recess in order to finish this assignment or that.

American Academy of Pediatrics’ Policy Statement on The Crucial Role of Recess in School states:

Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom. But equally important is the fact that safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits that may not be fully appreciated when a decision is made to diminish it. Recess is unique from, and a complement to, physical education—not a substitute for it. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.

I realized that, after reflecting on why students were not completing homework, there were things I could do proactively to support students and avoid withholding recess. I made sure that students’ planners were updated with the homework, and had some positive consequences if they got their planner initialed by a parent each night. It might be the case that students forgot what was assigned by the time they got home, so having an accurately filled out planner was one step.

Because I was teaching in a self-contained classroom, I was able to adjust my schedule a bit to include 20 minutes in the day that was choice time for students that were caught up and homework make-up for those that were behind. This time was really valuable for students, so they were motivated to get their homework done so they could have choice time. I know that not all teachers can play around with the schedule, but it could work to have 20 min / week out of your teaching time work for this if missing homework is a big problem in your classes. It can allow you time to work in small groups or individually with students that might not be completing homework because they need additional instruction.

Now, if the misbehavior is during recess time itself, then the consequence of missing recess might make sense. But in the case of missing homework, this wouldn't seem like a good consequence. And as an educator writes in this Edutopia article, you can talk to the student. See what might be behind the missing work. But try to avoid withholding recess.

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