Monday, May 11, 2015

tired teaching?

Guest Blogger: Jay Rasmussen, Ph. D., Professor of Education at Bethel University


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Tired Teaching?

While the title of this first blog post does not sound terribly exciting, it does describe how new teachers feel at times. “Tired teaching” is not just the result of countless hours put into planning, teaching, and grading. It is also a result of trying to function in a challenging work environment filled with “important” meetings and competing demands for time. The phenomenon I describe of tired teaching is known in the professional literature. Weimer (2010) characterizes it this way:

it lacks energy and is delivered without passion; it is easily offended by immature student behaviors; it favors the tried and true over innovation and change; it does the minimum, be that feedback to students, office hours, or the use of technology; it decries the value of professional development and manifests a kind of creeping cynicism about almost everything academic. (p. 174)

Now, no teacher sets out to become a passionless teaching machine. Waning instructional vitality sets in with time but it can be dealt with when recognized. It is important, however, to acknowledge that no one institution, leader, or colleague can do this for us. Staying alive and fresh as a teacher will only result from purposeful action that we take.

So, how do we avoid being that instructor who plods through the day counting the years until retirement? Weimer (2010) offers a few helpful suggestions:

     Contribute toward a healthy institutional environment. Without this type of environment “we get frustrated, then furious. We get depressed, then disillusioned. We get tired, then exhausted. We get skeptical, then cynical” (p. 181).
     Recognize that there is much to learn about teaching. One must consider if experience teaches everything one needs to know.  And, are the lessons learned through experience always the right ones” (p. 184)? “Most would agree that experience is a good teacher, but not when it’s the only teacher” (p. 186). “Without an infusion of ideas and information from outside, without openness to other pedagogical methods, without recognition that education is a phenomenon that can be studied systematically and learned about endlessly, teaching stays put; it runs in place” (p. 185).
     Consider how to marry methods and content. This takes a sophisticated knowledge to accomplish and it often begins with recognition that some forms of content are best understood when processed collaboratively, some by experience, some by example, etc.  “What is taught and how it is taught are inextricably linked” (p. 187). The most effective teachers are not necessarily those with the most sophisticated content knowledge; the best teachers are often those with a continually growing repertoire of instructional strategies that develop along with their content knowledge.
     Embrace the power of change. A regular amount of change “does for teaching exactly what exercise does to improve overall health” (p. 192). That change can be in the form of new courses, new texts, new delivery modes (e.g., online), new students, etc.
     Infuse new ideas. Instructional vitality thrives on new ideas. Most would concur that regular pedagogical reading should be a part of every teacher’s life but research has consistently shown that this does not happen. Fortunately, new ideas and fresh insights are readily available in the form of professional development activities, consultation with faculty development specialists, and conversations with colleagues.
     Explore different conceptions of teaching.  What teachers believe about teaching has an impact on how they actually teach. Akerlind (2003) found that teachers typically start as teacher transmission-focused which revolves around covering material. This category is often followed by being teacher-student relations focused which is characterized by developing good relations with students as a way of motivating them. The next category, student engagement-focused, brings attention to what students (vs. the teacher) are doing. The final category is student learning focused. Teaching in this category is focused on assisting students in developing critical and original thinking, questioning of existing knowledge, exploring new ideas, and becoming independent learners. It is important to note that growth in conceptions about teaching does not occur automatically as careers progress. Movement on this developmental continuum requires conscious effort.

Bertolt Brecht once said, “The world of knowledge takes a crazy turn when teachers themselves are taught to learn.” Learning, especially as a teacher, is effectively summed up by thinking about the two characters for the word “learn” in the Chinese language. One character represents “study” and the other represents “practice constantly.”

It is an honor to author this blog post. What are your thoughts/feelings, experiences, questions, and suggestions related to being a tired teacher as you move into your new career?

Let us learn together!

Jay Rasmussen, Ph. D.
Bethel University
Professor of Education
Faculty Development Coordinator
Program Director MA in Education

References

Akerlind, G.S. (2003). Growing and developing as a university teacher: Variation in meaning. Studies in Higher Education, 28(4), 375-390.

Weimer, M. (2010). Inspired college teaching: A career-long resource for professional growth. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

students whose behavior challenges us

Teachers know that students challenge us in a variety of ways. Knowing how to work with students who are challenges for these varieties of reasons is one of the main ways teachers consider themselves either successful or not. And this is not to be taken lightly, as 13% of U.S. teachers leave the profession every year, and many of those cite job dissatisfaction, including the challenging behaviors of students, as their reason for leaving.

There are a number of strategies to work with students when behaviors are challenging in the classroom. In Rappaport & Minahan's Cracking the Behavior Code, the authors outline strategies for work with a variety of challenging student behaviors.

Oppositional - A student exhibit oppositional behaviors have frequent outbursts, argue with or question rules, blames others for their mistakes, and maybe has tantrums.

For oppositional students, some accommodations are to modify schedules so the student can alternate between subjects she likes and those she doesn't. Arrange a quiet, alternate activity if recess is a challenge. Give open-ended, flexible assignments and assessments. Offer hands-on experiences. When interacting with an child exhibiting oppositional behaviors, focus on their strengths, avoid power struggles, avoid yes-no questions or asking "ok?" if making a request, and make indirect demands when possible. In addition, set limits that are enforceable, reasonable, clear, and simple.

Withdrawn - A child who is withdrawn, either consistently or occasionally, exhibits low motivation and interest, can be irritable, and have low energy. A withdrawn child may be experiencing depression, which is often accompanied by headaches, muscle fatigue and soreness, or stomachaches. They may be clingy with the teacher or act bored.

When thinking about accommodating students exhibiting withdrawn behaviors, teachers can support these students by setting up the child with a buddy for recess or specialists, teach experiential lessons, use students' interests in planning instruction and assessment, and foster self-efficacy. Interaction strategies that have shown to be effective include giving positive, specific feedback, reframe students' negative self-perceptions including sharing evidence to dispute those negative self-perceptions, and avoid using sarcasm. Other response strategies are to avoid over-helping withdrawn students in order to foster self-reliance and self-efficacy.

Anxious - A child who is anxious is easily frustrated, upset, or startled.  These students might have difficulty finishing work, avoid work, and frequently worry (about school as well as other areas). 

For children who are anxious, it is important to build a safe environment for their work. Anxious children appreciate frequent breaks and untimed assignments and assessments - broken into smaller chunks so they are not overwhelmed.  Meditation or calming exercises are particularly helpful rituals that can support students who are anxious, as well as teaching self-regulation strategies for what to do when they are feeling anxious. It can be helpful to be concise with directions, use activities to build self-esteem and self-efficacy, and work on building relationships within the class. In addition, avoid employing responses that reinforce avoidance such as time-outs, provide specific, positive feedback when students are self-regulating, and be explicit with the student about their anxiety and when the student is showing anxious behaviors. 

While it is late in the year, there is still time to practice new strategies when interacting with students exhibiting challenging behaviors.  What are your most effective strategies for working with challenging student behaviors?
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Monday, April 13, 2015

the right questions

At the New Teacher Center annual symposium in February (great conference, btw), I learned about The Right Question Institute and the Question Formulation Technique. Since learning about it, I have used this successfully in a number of my classes, and have coached teachers to use it with their K-12 students. This is a great strategy to use to activate prior knowledge, to encourage questioning techniques, and to develop critical thinking skills.

The technique begins with a focus statement or an image. Students read the statement or view the image in class. For example, students in an ELA class might respond to a statement about a character in a common text, math students might view a graph or science students might view a picture of an X-ray, and social studies students might view a painting of a historical event. It is important that the focus is not a question, but rather a provocative statement or image that might evoke many questions from students. 

Students in small groups (or whole class, dictated to the teacher in lower grades), produce questions that are raised for them in response to the focus image or statement. Before beginning, students should identify a note taker for the group. There are four rules for students when producing questions:
- Ask as many questions as you can
- Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer the questions
- Write down every question exactly as it is stated
- Change any statement into a question
Additionally, students should write questions that remain relevant to the topic.

Give the students a specific amount of time to produce questions (3 min, 5 min, 8 min, etc.) and then have them reread the questions. 

The next phase of the process is designed to improve questions. Students should now review the questions and identify the questions as either open-ended or closed questions. Students will need some instruction on this before they will be able to identify questions accurately. Not all students will agree on whether a question is open or closed, and that's ok! The debate is part of the process, as students are analyzing each question. Mark open-ended questions with an "o" and closed questions with a "c." 

Next, students should discuss the value of the each type of question, both in general and for the specific questions for the focus. What knowledge would they gain by answering the closed questions? The open-ended questions?

Once students have identified and debated the types of questions, students should work to change one type of question to another. Students should alter an open-ended question to be closed and vice versa. Students can discuss what knowledge they might gain from this process with those particular questions.  

Next, students evaluate the questions they have written and prioritize their three most important questions. As they narrow, they should be thinking about why they select each of their most important questions. 

Finally, students should discuss next steps: how will you use these questions? How would you answer these questions?

This process is really about supporting students in asking questions, rather than the process of answering the questions. Teaching students to be inquisitive and curious through asking questions is an important skill, one that can be well-supported with this strategy.

Try it out, and then post back here how it went!

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

secondary STEM teacher? ask a mentor.

Ever have a question you need answered from an expert teacher? Ever want feedback on an aspect of your teaching? Ask a Mentor.

Because secondary teachers in the STEM fields are often the only specialist in their building (or sometimes even their district), it can be hard to find mentors that are content specialists as well as teaching experts for new STEM teachers. 

The New Teacher Center is offering a wonderful, FREE service for secondary teachers in STEM fields. You can select one of their vetted mentors, specialists in their fields, and submit a question (and can upload a video of your teaching too) for feedback. You'll receive feedback, either written or by video, within 48 hours of submitting your question.

If you check it out, post a comment about how it worked!
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Sunday, March 15, 2015

NTT Survey

Hello dear readers. I'm in the process of planning the upcoming months of New Teacher Talk posts. I'd love some information about you all so I can best plan posts that meet your needs.

I've created a survey, to collect data on the blog as well as to help plan new posts, located here.

If you have a spare 5 minutes or so, please help me out and complete the survey. The more information I have from you, the better I'll be able to plan meaningful, relevant posts to support your teaching and learning.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

webinars for new teachers

New Teacher Help is a professional learning community (PLC) that helps new teachers get advice and support, and share experiences about the first years of teaching.

In order to support new teachers, New Teacher Help provides a series of free webinars, live chats, and online discussions. The upcoming webinars are hosted
 by Shannon Holden, who has been a high school and middle school teacher and administrator, and a new teacher coach, in North Dakota, Texas, and Missouri for 20 years.

Check out the list below, and see if any of these webinars might be helpful to you and your practice!

Tuesday, March 10, 5 p.m. EST

Legal Issues Facing New Teachers

Tuesday, April 7, 5 p.m. EST
Why Formative Assessment is So Important

Tuesday, June 9, 5 p.m. EST
Using Padlet to Collaborate With Mentors & Colleagues

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

rethinking children's literature

There has been quite a bit of press regarding the need for more diverse children's literature. The We Need Diverse Books movement has developed into a nonprofit organization designed to advocate for more diversity in children's book publishing.

To put some numbers behind this, the Cooperative Children's Book Center School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison reviewed books received by the library each year beginning in 1985. In the first year of the review, of the 2500 books reviewed, 18 were by African American authors or illustrators. Fast forward almost 30 years later to 2013, and of the 3200 books reviewed, only 68 were written by African American authors and 93 were about African American characters; this means a little less than 3% of books published for children were about African Americans (though they represent over 15% of the student population in the US). Other racial/ethnic groups do not fair any better: by (18) and about (34) American Indians, by (90) and about (69) Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans, and by (48) and about (57) Latinos. In total, Though the student population in US schools is mostly nonwhite, our books are about people of color in only 8% of books published in 2013.

Though as teachers we don't control what gets published, we do have a say in what libraries purchase, what books we ask for in public libraries, what we suggest to students that they read, and what we look for in bookstores. If you need help determining some high-quality diverse titles for your classroom library, check out the resources here. You can also download the free literary magazine focused on promoting diversity in children's literature to your tablet read about more great resources.

It's time to put the pressure on the publishing companies by letting them know that diverse books are in demand. Working together as a school to increase the diverse titles in classroom and school libraries is an essential part of helping students see their place in the world.
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