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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Calming the Year End Chaos Tips for Success

As a teacher, there are so many chaotic moments at this time of year.  It is chaotic for you as well as your students.  However, as much as you (and they) are counting the days to the end of the school year, there are some steps that you can take to both calm that chaos now, and reduce the chaos in the fall.

As a teacher, there are so many chaotic moments at this time of year.  It is chaotic for you as well as your students.  However, as much as you (and they) are counting the days to the end of the school year, there are some steps that you can take to both calm that chaos now, and reduce the chaos in the fall.

Read below for some great tips, and a chance to enter to win a $60 gift card

For your classroom, you are likely to have some downtime as students are finishing up, completing projects, reviewing for tests, and generally winding down.  Their attention span is waning, as is their level of effort and focus.   This is a great time of year for several types of activities.  I like to use this time to try out new classroom activities or routines that I am thinking about trying in the future. I wrote about this in my recent blog post here (with a couple freebies)!

I also think that this is a great time to do some of those 'fun' activities that you may not have time for at other times.  Have students film a video as either a reflection or a portfolio, or a final project.  For science, this means that this is a good time to do something like the chemistry of tie-dye.  Or a map reading practice outside on school grounds (a treasure hunt perhaps)?  If there is a lab that you'd like to do, but it doesn't quite fit into the curriculum, you can sometimes fit it in at the end of the year.   Here are two free, fun activities.  One has to do with density and one has to do with static electricity.  Students definitely need to be kept engaged, as the weather gets nicer, and you want them to leave on a positive note.

This is a time of year when its good to give students a choice.   Maybe some students want to do a lab, and others have work to finish up or another assignment to work on.  And there are some students who are just done with doing any organized type of activity.  I think it is always a good idea to have some 'jobs' that a student can do if they don't want to do school work, or they are finished. At this time of year there are plenty of jobs.  Students can do the following (and much more):
  • go through markers and throw out those that no longer work
  • sharpen colored pencils
  • take posters and decorations down
  • pack boxes if needed, and with good direction
  • some students may be able to help file papers, alphabetize, hand back work.
Use this help! As you are cleaning up and closing out this year, the more organized that you are (and your students are) you can make your next year start off much less chaotic.  If you are anything like me, you think that you will remember what's in that unlabeled box that you just put on the top shelf...but I won't and I don't know if you will either.  Label!!  Be organized! For labs, if you put away the lab partially set up (such as in student kits, labeled) you will save yourself so many headaches!   Get yourself in order (computer files, paper files, lab equipment). 

As much as you want to get out and enjoy your summer, while the school year is fresh in your mind, a few other things that you can do include ordering supplies if you have any budget and know what you are teaching.  It is so nice to come back to a supply order ready to go.  If you are teaching something new, secure a textbook and/or curriculum guide or pacing chart so that, after you've had a bit of a break, you have some resources to start getting up to speed and you won't be scrambling to find them later (I have curriculum/resource guides for Earth Science and AP Environmental Science available in my store).  Take the time to do a little bit of reflection, whether its through a student evaluation or a self-reflection, think about what went well, and what you would like to change.  The end of the year is a good time to think about some possible changes.   If your school is starting any new initiatives next year, such a 1:1 technology, see if you can get a few resources before the end of school to start you thinking.

If you are really ahead of the game, you could even think about some basic classroom materials that you may want to get printed out and have on hand.  A good place to look would be in the Classroom Organization Bundle, which includes such things as station signs, testing sign, editable seating chart templates, tickets out and other 'goodies' that I use at the start of the year, and throughout the year in my classroom.  

Classroom Organization Bundle

And most of all, after you've done all that, or as much as appeals to you, go home, sit out in the sunshine with a glass of ice tea, and enjoy it! You've earned it!!

More End of the Year Survival Tips
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Monday, May 2, 2016

Giveaway and Sale!!!

If you haven't heard, TpT is having a Teacher Appreciation Sale tomorrow and Wednesday.

To show how much we appreciate you, in addition to everything in my store being on sale 28%, I will be giving away TWO $10 TpT gift cards.  Use the rafflecopter link below to enter.  You have lots of ways to enter.

Giveaway will close at midnight 5/3, winners announced early 5/4 so that you may use the gift card during the sale, if you choose (or you can save it)!

This includes a lot of Digital items as well. This is your chance to try digital at a lower price. Or buy a growing bundle for next year at a REALLY low price!!

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Classroom Routines at the END of the year!?

What kind of classroom routines do you put in place?  As the year wraps up, I think it is a critical time to think about classroom expectations and routines that you want to change for next year. It is also a good time to try out a new procedure or routine that you are thinking about for next year.

I know its a hard time of year to think about that, but its worth it. If there is a classroom ritual or routine that you have been thinking about implementing, but aren't sure, this can be a good time to try it out.

Think of it as a pilot program :).  Granted, some things are different at the end of the year than the start, but it gives you a chance to get a feel for what you want to try, and then think about changes that you want to make for the upcoming year.

What kind of classroom routines do you put in place?  As the year wraps up, I think it is a critical time to think about classroom expectations and routines that you want to change for next year. It is also a good time to try out a new procedure or routine that you are thinking about for next year.

In the past I have changed my homework policy for the last unit or last marking period. I have tried a positive behavior incentive system (it doubles as a good way to keep students motivated at the end of the year).  I have also changed how I did the start of class, or the end of class.   Here is a starting point for reading about behavior incentive systems. I know they are controversial, and can be problematic, but they can also be helpful.  Along with this, another behavior system to try can be If you haven't heard of classdojo yet, and have a class that is struggling with either behavior or just is not really engaged and motivated, it can be a great tool. You may want to check it out!  Both of these systems take some work and adjustment on the teacher's part, so the trial period/pilot program is a great time to see how you like it, and if it will work for you, or what you want to adjust.

Another area you may want to experiment with is how you start or end class.  It is so important to teach students not to waste time in class, and to come in 'ready to go.'  Part of this means being on time, but it also means engaging your brain at the start of class. Whether its a quiz on yesterday's class, an open-ended question to get thinking about today's topic.  If you use a timer, it becomes a way to really keep students focused and get on task at the start of class.  It is also important to give some students some closure at the end of class, and for both you and they to get a good understanding of their learning and comprehension.

I do think through both warm-ups/bell work and exit tickets.  Over the years I have done warm ups on a smart board or even an overhead (gasp!), and had students answer on paper.  When I did it that way, a big time saver is this bell work sheet.  It will save you time at the copier, and also save time grading, and save class time as students aren't scrambling for paper to write on.

If you are thinking about using Google Forms or Google classroom, they are another great way to do warm ups or tickets out.  I have created a set of warm-up/tickets out in Google Forms that you could try out. I also have the same set of warm ups in Google Slides and an PDF's, if you prefer to project them, do them on paper.  These will eventually be part of a growing bundle of warm ups and tickets out on various topics to use throughout the year (should be posted this weekend).

If you are thinking about trying out different seating arrangements, use editable seating templates to get some ideas going.

 Finally, if what you really want is general tickets out, that are not topic specific, check out this freebie.  Tickets out can be used for reflection, formative assessment, or closure on a lesson. These four freebies are part of a larger pack that is NOT subject specific and can be used in so many different ways.

If you are looking for a timer, to use for bellwork, I have used several free options.  Within the chrome browser is this extension for 1-click timer.  If you use the Smartboard you probably already know that there is built in timer.  If you are looking for a freestanding time in Windows here is good one.  It is 'portable' which means that you don't need to install anything (say on a district computer where you can't install) to use it.

Hope some of these ideas were helpful, and give you a little bit of perspective on your classroom routines at this point in the year.

What things are you looking to change or try out?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What I have learned from my students

As a teacher, and even a veteran teacher, I learn a lot from my students (yes, I know its a cliche, but its true!)

They fill me on and make sure I learn about clothing and music trends, and which rappers and TV shows to watch.  I learn about struggles that young children and teenagers have to deal with that I could never imagine, now, as an adult. I have learned what it really means to live in poverty, and gained an appreciation for the drive, ambition, and pride that some students have, against all odds.  When you teach in an urban area, in a very impoverished setting, and come from a middle class background, you learn a lot.   

However, across different grade levels (7th grade through college), different achievement levels (AP to credit recovery and special education), and different backgrounds, one thing sticks out to me.   

As a teacher, and even a veteran teacher, I learn a lot from my students (yes, I know its a cliche, but its true!)

Cutting across all of those groups,  I think the biggest thing that I have learned is how important positive feedback and recognition is. Students will work harder in your class if they feel successful.  You have the power to make sure they feel successful during class, regardless of their grade. Yes,  there are ways to make lessons more fun, more relevant,  more engaging,  but beyond all of those students need to believe that they are appreciated, recognized and successful in class to take a risk and be a part of those activities. 

Students quickly decide that they 'like' or 'hate' your class, and a lot of it has to do with feeling successful. They can also change their mind! You can control this!  I don't mean by changing your expectations or your grading system.

How can you make students feel successful?  Compliment them.  Compliment them on the skills that you want them to continue to utilize.   Reinforce the behavior that you want them to do. Reinforce when they are doing well.  Praise them for using those skills and behaviors.  Its a win-win -- they are feeling successful and are likely to continue or increase those behaviors.  

Let me give you a couple of examples.  My own son does taekwondo.  At taekwondo, when he struggles with learning a particular kick or gets beaten at sparring, he sometimes doesn't want to go back.  When he gets praised from the instructor, wins a contest, or gets a compliment from a peer, it makes his day. In fact, not only does it make his day, but it makes him that much more excited to go again, because he feels like he's good at it.  

This same principle applies in the classroom, but now, instead of starting with a blank slate, you are starting with students who may have previous 'scars' and preconceived ideas that they are not good at school, especially be secondary school.  

I have done a ticket reward system several times in my classroom over the years, depending on the group of students that I have, and the building in which I am teaching.  In most cases, the students who are the most responsive to it are some of the lowest performing.  Also, in most cases, they don't really want the prizes.  There are a few students who are really after the prizes, but most want the points/tickets -- they want the recognition!  That's not something they are used to getting in class! And when they do collect prizes, one of the most popular prizes (yes for high school and middle school students) is a positive note or phone call home.

I give tickets or points for things like getting to class on time, answering questions, taking notes, helping a classmate.  These are basic classroom behaviors, but often it is our weakest students who aren't doing these things.  It is part of our job to teach these steps.  And then when students do them, recognize that!  Then it is cyclical - as they do those behaviors they become more successful and it builds.

In thinking about praise and recognition is, and what kind of non-materials rewards we could give students I started a google search.  I typed and this is what I got

Yep! The top result is for employees!  Yes, I clicked on it.  And you know what, a lot of the ideas suggested I think would be great.  Everyone wants to feel appreciated, and recognized.  I would love to work in a place where there were things like comp time off (does that sound similar to free time to time to listen to music in class?), or a nice card from a boss, recognition at a meeting (similar to a note home, or recognition at an assembly), a better parking spot (not so different from a special seat in class).

School shouldn't be so competitive.  Who wants to come to a place every day where they don't feel successful and appreciated?!  I wouldn't want to work in such an environment, and I doubt you do either.  Not everyone fits into the one-size-fits-all approach that is present at schools.  Part of our job as teachers is to help all students feel successful, welcome, and appreciated for who they are.

I do my little piece by greeting them by name, making positive phone calls home, recognizing in class when they are working particularly hard or helping a class mate. None of those cost a cent! A ticket or point system, I believe, is really in place to make both sides of this process (teacher and student) more tangible, and to serve as a reminder. 

What do you do to help your students feel appreciated and successful in class? 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Test Taking Strategy

When my students take a test, I want them to reason through the answers, read carefully, support their thinking, and make connections to what they know. Don't you? 

I don't know about you, but this is not often the case. When it is the case ,it is usually for my stronger students, but my weaker students (who most need to utilize these strategies) often don't do so.  Instead my weaker students are more likely to just pick answers, sometimes randomly, or even to leave questions blank.  

Like many of you, I have tried many other strategies to help students develop their test taking abilities and strategies, but with limited success.

When my students take a test, I want them to reason through the answers, read carefully, support their thinking, and make connections to what they know. Don't you?

My favorite is to allow students to work with a partner.  However, I don't tell them this right away.  I let them work on the test for the first half the period or so.  Then I will allow them to choose a partner.  They have to finish the test with a partner, or use their partner to check any that they aren't sure of.  Sometimes I tell them they need to turn in only one answer sheet.  Sometimes I allow them to turn in two answer sheets.

The results are amazing!  Students are already quiet, and for the most part engaged, but may be struggling. They are in a good spot to collaborate. All of a sudden I walk around the room and hear students saying things like,

"I think it has to be B because...."
"Well it asks us to compare, that means we have to talk about how they are alike and different"
"Did you look at the diagram?"

They suddenly have a reason to explain their thinking. They are encouraged to go back and look more closely at the question, the diagram, the vocabulary.

This works better than open notes, in my opinion because my weaker students often don't have good notes from which to pull information.  Here they have a crutch, but they have to convince another person of what they know, or work together with another person to agree upon an answer.

This has been an amazing strategy in my classroom to encourage even the weaker students to work through the questions, just the way that we want them to!  As they do, they learn from talking through the questions, using vocabulary, and also they gain confidence when they see what they know.

This is one of my favorite strategies. It can't be used all the time, but used sporadically it has great results.  One time my kids were taking a test this way and the director of science for my district walked in. He was very impressed with the conversations that he heard taking place!

What are your best strategies to build confidence and help students learn to think through difficult questions?
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