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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Infographic: Making the Grade

Making the Grade: Great Teachers in Our Schools
Source: Making the Grade: Great Teachers in Our Schools

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Posted by on May 31, 2013 in Teaching as a Profession

 

Tools That Work And Why We Abandon Them

Some years ago I tried my hand at insurance sales. I had to learn the hard way that I am not very good at selling, though I really liked the guys I worked with, especially the boss, who was a prince of a man. He used to tell me on a regular basis that he would find a tool that was really effective and he would work it for all it was worth for several months. Later, he would find his sales were falling off and he would wonder why. On closer inspection he would find that for some strange reason he had stopped using the tool that had been so effective. It’s a strange quirk of human nature that we do this; we find something that works and use it effectively, then we feel like we have graduated past needing it and stop using it- to our detriment.

Strange as that may seem, I have found the same to be true of teaching. Several months ago I discovered the effectiveness of bending down to talk to a disruptive student and whispering in their ear (this is a stage whisper that can usually be heard by curious students three aisles over) “You are a bright student and I like having you in my class. However, I cannot tolerate these continuous disruptions. The next time you do that I will have to ask you to leave.”

This strategy works for several reasons; 1) most students are terribly self absorbed and a bit insecure, so a complement serves them well, 2) it is completely devoid of drama and rarely provokes a haughty reply, 3) it puts the onus of responsibility squarely where it belongs- on the student. There is no mystery about what is going to happen; the next time they disrupt you calmly take action. Period.

One of the  things I like most about this strategy is that I stay friends with the student being disciplined. There is no anger or drama, so I can see the student later in the day or on a following day and speak to them as if this incident never happened. I could not do that if I berated the student, told them how bad they were and then made a show of removing them from class as I saw someone else do today. I hate that… or at least, I did.

Yesterday, someone told me they thought I was mean. “What happened,” they said, “You used to be so nice!” I brushed the statement off at first since the one saying it had just been disciplined, but on further consideration I realized I had got away from quietly instructing students who misbehaved before pulling the trigger on discipline.

I know, some behavior does not warrant this approach. Yesterday I heard a girl call out and turned just in time to see her strike her neighbor. I immediately sent her out of the room without a warning. Students should know that striking another student is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. But other things, like talking out of turn, deserve a bit more finesse. That’s where the quiet description of what is going to happen works particularly well.

I promised myself today that I would go back to what I knew would work, and sure enough, it did work, just as it had in the past. Why do we move away from things we know are effective? I don’t know. Some strange quirk of human nature, I suppose. But we can overcome that tendency if we try.

Make careful note of what is working for you and review those notes religiously. Look for the things you may have drifted away from that could be serving you well now. Most of us know what we need to do, we just wander away from it after a time. Get back to basics and make things work for you again.

 

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Growth

 

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Cornell Note Taking System – Simple But Effective

cornell_diagThis weekend I had the chance to see my nephew, Jason, who graduates from high school in a few weeks and then immediately heads for college in a special summer program. In the course of our conversation we talked about some of the differences between high school and college and the different skills you need to develop for the larger work load. I asked him if he had ever heard of the Cornell Note Taking system; something I only learned about a few years ago but wish I had known about it while I was in college. It was not a surprise to me that he had never heard of it.

The system is fairly simple and can be used with regular notebook paper, though I will show you a link below that will allow you to print your own paper specifically for this purpose. On the top of the page is a place for your name, the subject and the date. At the bottom is a space for summary notes and particularly important features. In between are lines for writing notes, those this part of the page is divided by a vertical line about a thrid of the way over from the left hand side.

The idea is to write your notes in the larger part of the main section. Like all notes they should be somewhat crytpic, catching only the high points and significant details. The difference comes after the notes are taken. As soon after the lecture as possible, you should review your notes, writing questions in the smaller section just to the left of your main notes that are answered by the details in the notes themselves. This is your first review and again, as has been said before, it is important to try to do this as soon after you make the notes as possible.

For future review, you take a blank piece of paper and cover the main note section. Then you look at the questions you have written on the left and see if you can answer them, pulling the paper aside briefly to see if you are correct. You now have a very easy to use system for self study and practice testing to see what areas still need attention. Simple and very effective.

I have been able to purchase legal pads at the local office supply house that are already set up as I have described. Their are also online source for purchasing pre-printed pads, though they tend to be pricey. (Levenger.com) However, there is also a program online where you can print custom sheets, with features like putting your name and class at the top of the sheet and determining the spacing of the lines. (cornell-notes.com) I like to use pre-drilled paper so that the pages can be put into notebooks once they are written and organized by topic.

To me, this is one of those ultra simple systems that just works. My wife is a university professor and she says that a lot of her students like to bring their laptops to class and take notes on their keyboards. That is something I would have like when I was in school, though there is a lot of evidence that handwriting notes helps you remember better. Handwriting notes and typing them engage very different parts of the brain. As a result, one is simply much better at helping you get the information into your long-term memory. Of course, typed notes are better than no notes, but side by side, the handwritten notes will outperform those that are typed.

My wife, a university professor, complained the other day that many of her students are asking for her Power Point presentations ahead of time. They want to have the presentations up on their screens as the lecture is given so that they can type notes into the appropriate section. That works fine for some classes where teachers are willing to post these presentations, but many, like my wife, are not. Some of the students are not happy that she is unwilling to share her presentations, but she has good reasons for choosing not to and is not going ot change her mind.

However, why should a students note-taking be contingent on the teacher does? Does it not make sense to have a system that allows you to make notes regardless of what your teacher supplies?

That is exactly what the Cornell System does; it supplies you with a very handy tool that can be used anywhere you have paper and pen. As I have said, this is a tool I wish I had when I was in college, and that in spite of the fact that I thought I was an exceptionally good note taker.

Take a note from my page, Jason, and do a great job!

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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A Great New Program For Studying; Both For You And Your Students

studyblue-logo

If you are anything like me, you are always on the lookout for handy study aids that might help you or your students. Recently, in preparation for a major teaching exam, I found a program that was incredibly helpful called Study Blue. Essentially Study Blue is a replacement for the old 3×5 cards we used to use in college, where you write a word or question on one side of the card, then put the answer on the flip side; in an electronic format.

Why is this better than the old paper system? Once you have assembled your notes in this format you can push the information to your laptop, tablet, ereader or smart phone. That way whenever you have a few minutes, regardless of your location, you can access this electronic cards and spend a few minutes studying. Since we all know that repetition is the key to getting things into our longterm memory, this is a great advantage.

You can enter the information one at a time, card by card, but I found it easier to enter the information into spreadsheet format, a column for questions, another for answers, then upload the entire file to Study Blue. The program knows to separate the information into individual cards for you.

studyblue-flashcards-app-0You will also find, especially with word definitions, that many words have already been entered by other students. When this happens, the program suggests the information already entered in a side panel that you can click on if you like, or proceed with your own definition. There are also times when you will find someone else has already created a set of cards for the subject you are studying. In those cases, you can either study their material or incorporate it into yours. (Some teachers have actually preloaded study notes for their classes!)

Once you have your notes set up you can study each note a card at a time. The program shows you the front of the card while you try to remember what should be on the back. When you flip it over to see if your answer is correct, the program will ask you if you have this information mastered. This accomplishes two things; those things you feel you know well are taken out of the rotation allowing you to concentrate on the things you don’t know well, and the program keeps a running total of the cards you have mastered so it can give you a percentage number for how close you are to mastering all of the information.

It’s simple, I know, but the best ideas often are. I used it to great effect to pass my teaching exam and I recommend it to other teachers and students as well. How nice it was this morning to tell a colleague who will be taking the same test that that can access all of my notes at StudyBlue.

Since the program is free to use, it is well worth your time to check it out to see if it is something you would like to use or recommend yourself. (There is a paid version, but all of the features I have mentioned above are available in the free version.) Who knows, you may find that, like me, you are preparing study notes for your students in the future.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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A Surprisingly Effective Tool for Substitutes

My wife is a very accomplished teacher with a doctorate in health sciences and the equivalent in education, so when she made a suggestion at the beginning of my substitute teaching career, I took note. Her suggestion was that I put together a brief PowerPoint presentation about my life, particularly those things in my life that my students might find interesting and unusual. She has taught overseas on several occasions and knows the powerful effect such a presentation can have. Rather than just looking like a substitute who is there to collect a paycheck, you create a three-dimensional character for yourself that your students can identify with.

Still, I didn’t know how such a presentation would be accepted here in the classrooms where I worked. I put the presentation together wondering if it would ever be used. When I was finished I promised myself that I would use it if, and when, the opportunity ever presented itself. The day finally did come along several weeks later. I was teaching at a middle school and the way the schedule was written, there was plenty of time for the presentation and the tools to show it were easily accessible.

Sample Image From My Presentation Showing Places I Have Been

Sample Image From My Presentation Showing Places I Have Been

I quickly went through the slides showing where I have lived (three different continents), some of my interests (I have a very broad range of interests) and some of the things that make my family unique (my oldest son is deaf, my middle son had just got married and my daughter was a cheerleader at a nearby high school.)  The whole thing took me less than five minutes to show and yet, at the end of it, and to my great astonishment, I got applause.

Buoyed by the support of that class I showed it to the next and the next and the next. As a matter of fact, I got applause in every class where I showed it. I began to show it at other schools and while I didn’t always get applause, everyone who saw it seemed to appreciate it. Some weeks later I was subbing in a high school and after the class a student came up to tell me that the day before their substitute had been a professional baseball player, but, he wanted me to know; I was cooler than that guy!

How can my rather mundane life possibly compare to that of a professional athlete? On most levels it can’t, but that is not what is important here. What this student was responding to was the fact that he was able to see me as a real person with many of the same challenges he and his peers face.

I will admit, this is not the presentation I would use to try to get a job. It is simply a fairly straightforward look at who I am as a person. Since those first days I have had the chance to show it to every age group from kindergarten to high school seniors and all have appreciated it. One of the bonuses of showing it is that it quickly earned me the reputation for being one of the cool teachers. That doesn’t mean I have compromised my standards; I suspect the rigor I try to apply in the classroom is tougher than most other subs, and yet I have this reputation that allows me to be tough and still be considered ‘cool.’

I now recommend this to all the subs I meet. Just a few pictures, an illustration or two, and if you can, work in a few jokes, especially if they are at your own expense. I end mine with a review of bathroom and emergency procedures so that showing it has some real value. (Hard for the staff to complain when you are including emergency protocols.) Just be sure to keep it under five minutes; under three if you can. That way no one can complain you are wasting valuable class time. Aside from that, give it a go. See if your results aren’t at least as good as mine. And if you find something that works better, please let me know so I can try it too.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Education

 

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A Lesson in Education Technology From a Very, Very Old Tradition

Pearl diver in Japan

Pearl diver in Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Okinawa, Japan, women have been diving for pearls for more than 2,000 years. Traditionally dressed in only a loincloth, they would dive to depths as deep as 120 feet to find the oysters and mussels that produce pearls. This work was largely done by women because they were better able to endure the cold of the depths they were diving (Women’s bodies distribute fat more evenly then men.) The work was very dangerous, as you might expect, exposing them to predators, harsh environments and shallow water blackouts.

In the 1960s, they were approached by a firm selling scuba gear. The company demonstrated that one person with the right gear could gather as many oysters as an entire village of women in a day. The results were enticing, but they also raised a number of very significant questions including which women would use the gear, and how would the profits be divided. A town counsel was called and everyone discussed the pros and cons of buying scuba gear. In the end, the decision was made reject the use of scuba and continue with their tradition.

Today these Ama Divers, as they are called, still dive for pearls, though largely for the benefit of tourists rather than for the pearls they gather. Even scuba divers couldn’t compete with the advancements in pearl culture, where thousands of oysters could be grown in shallow depths and tricked into growing pearls in a confined area where they could be easily harvested.

Technology Integration with Science Content

Technology Integration with Science Content (Photo credit: Old Shoe Woman)

So what does this have to do with education? Look just about anywhere in the education industry and you will find wholesale attempts to introduce as much technology into the classroom as quickly as possible. There are even watchdog groups that report on the school boards that are acting the quickest to engage in these technologies. Blog after blog extols the virtues of employing the latest technological masterpiece, while those who are slower are looked down on as archaic and anachronistic. Some of these programs have good empirical data to back them up, many do not. Some programs are developed by wonderful people with altruistic motives, but many are being promoted by new non-profits that are little more than shells for large corporations who stand to make fortunes if their particular technology becomes the new standard.

With all the hype and hyperbole that is flying around right now, it is virtually impossible to find a voice that will ask the tough questions about whether or not these technologies make good sense. Unlike the Japanese Ama Divers, there are few town council meetings to carefully consider what makes sense and what does not. One of the reasons the Common Core standards, good as they may be, are getting such resistance at the grass roots level is because the proponents have A) used a top-down approach, and B) have not been completely forthcoming about who the stakeholders are and who will profit when these technologies are adopted.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with coming up with something new and making a profit on it; it’s the American way. However, using healthy political contributions to get the support of legislators in bellwether states in exchange for support for new programs is certainly less desirable.

This doesn’t mean we need to be reactionary; it just means that we need to examine the new technologies that are introduced, checking the validity of their claims carefully before we purchase them. It also doesn’t mean we need to reject a promising new technology, as the divers did, if that technology can produce better results at a lower cost. What it does mean is that teachers and parents alike should ask the requisite questions to make sure we are getting the best bag for the buck.

Progress and technology are wonderful tools when balanced with careful consideration and forethought. Let’s do the due diligence before we head down a rabbit hole that could take years to escape. It’s our future we are betting on here, and that is certainly worth our full attention.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Education

 

Your First Day as a Substitute Teacher

English: A special education teacher assists o...

After jumping through the hoops necessary to become a substitute teacher, some school boards put new subs through some sort of orientation and training. (Many offer no training at all.) However, those that do have training tend to prove to be woefully inadequate to prepare you for the job ahead. There is a very good chance that after the first day of subbing you will wish you had been better prepared. With that in mind, let’s look at your number one priority as a sub and what you can do to prepare for it.

We all remember what it was like when we had a substitute teacher in school; it was a license to play. The teacher would leave an assignment but we would do everything in out power to keep from doing any of the work. It was a license to play and we did all we could to take advantage of the situation. The bad news is, nothing has changed. Students still see substitutes as an opportunity to play, goof off and create as much mischief as possible. Therefore, the first thing you are likely to learn is that if you can’t manage your class noting will be learned.

In these days of high stakes testing, schools cannot afford to let a day slip by. Studies at Utah State have shown that during the years from kindergarten to high school graduation the average student is under the tutelage of a substitute for the equivalent of a year. That’s too much time for schools to let slip by. True, many teacher will do the minimum by giving you a movie to show the kids, but if you are able to prove that you can actually teach you will find you are in great demand in classrooms all over your county.

For these reasons, your first and most important duty is to learn how to manage your classroom and that typically means doing a little research before you get started. The first thing you need to know is what your school’s policy is dealing with disruptive kids in your classroom. Usually there is a graduated plan of some sort that starts with a verbal reprimand, then moving the student to another desk, then, if the behavior continues, sending them to a neighboring teachers classroom, and finally, referring them to the dean or behavioral resource teacher.

Long practice has taught me that it is wise to begin this process as early as possible, and not put them off as a last resort. Behavioral problems escalate quickly and are best handled by nipping them in the bud. If, by your actions, students get the impression that you are permissive and unlikely to take action and you will quickly have a problem too big to manage alone. Conversely, if your start out too strict, you can always loosen up as time goes on.

Remember, it is not your job to make friends with these students. Your job is to teach for a day and you can’t do that if you have behavior problems in the class. One of the things I have found interesting when I have an especially disruptive student, is that after I send them out of the room I will often hear someone say “Thank You” in a barely audible voice. Your students are expecting you to be in control and will respect you more if you handle these problems quickly and effectively.

One quick caveat to go with these instructions: never, never, ever discipline in anger. You should never allow yourself to get to the point where your anger builds, but rather you should exercise discipline long before your emotions are engaged. Trust me on this one; I have seen teachers and subs alike furiously yelling at students for their misbehaviors and there is simply no excuse for that. You will lose all the respect you have worked hard to earn from your students. What’s more, in overreacting you will often find that instead of just one or two troublemakers, you now have twenty who feel like you are out of control and do not deserve to be head of their class.

Teachers who can discipline coolly, with a minimum of drama, maintain learning environments that are both pleasant and professional. You will also find that in multi-day assignments, students you discipline one day will show no resentment the next, provided you handle things in a quiet and professional manner. There are no emotional wounds that need to be healed, only the faint recollection of a corrective behavior and the sense that it would be unwise on their part to misbehave again.

 

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Teaching as a Profession

 

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