Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Avoid Confusion: Create a Transparent Classroom

There is an old teacher’s joke that goes something like this, “If you promise not to believe everything your children say happens at school, I promise not to believe everything they say happens at home.” Just think of all of the miscommunication that happens somewhere between school and home.  Few veteran teachers have avoided being startled at hearing from an angry parent about an insignificant classroom incident that appeared harmless at the time, but somehow morphed into a dramatic confrontation involving an overbearing teacher and an innocent student by the time the child arrived home.

Not only can unpleasant incidents such as this be avoided with just a bit of planning and effort, but the rewards of a transparent classroom are well worth the trouble: cooperative relationships between teachers and parents or guardians, a more peaceful and productive classroom, students who are held accountable for their actions at school and at home, and more successful students as a result of increased support and cooperation.

One of the easiest ways to prevent miscommunication and establish a positive relationship with the parents and guardians of your students is to make sure that your classroom is as transparent as possible by providing easily accessible information about your students and their learning activities. A transparent classroom is one where your students, their families, your colleagues, and community members can all view what is taking place in your classroom at any given time. There are no hidden agendas. No secrets. Just adults and students working together.

When you create a transparent classroom, you are not a teacher who grudgingly shares test dates or other routine information with your students’ families. Instead, actively reach out to solicit participation and support from everyone concerned. With today’s technology, making sure that everyone knows firsthand what is happening in your class is easier than ever. Your students’ parents or guardians expect to be kept informed about these topics:

·        Class policies, rules, and consequences

·        Beginning of the year information

·        Homework and major assignments

·        Tests and other assessments

·        Grading concerns

·        Due dates

·        Field trips

·        Special projects

·        Resources to help students learn

·        Behavior problems while they are still minor

·        Academic problems as soon as reasonably possible

·        Positive things about their children

When teachers take the time to communicate directly with the parents and guardians of their students, the trouble that can follow miscommunication diminishes. One frequent complaint that parents and guardians have involves homework assignments and important project due dates. Take extra care to make sure your homework policies are published in several different ways and that project due dates are announced well in advance. The parents and guardians of your students should not have to struggle to find out what their child’s homework is and when work is due.

Some of the ways that you can make sure students and their parents or guardians are aware of the expectations, rules, policies, procedures, and activities in your class include these low tech options:

·        Send positive notes home frequently

·        Maintain a daily class log or calendar

·        Use the bulletin board space in your room to post information

·        Photograph your students at work and display the photos

·        Make positive phone calls

·        Publish a syllabus so that students and their families can plan ahead

·        Send home progress reports frequently

·        Return all phone calls promptly

·        Make sure parents and guardians know that they are welcome to visit your class

·        Invite parents or guardians to visit your class for special occasions such as guest speakers, field trips, and exhibits of student work

Some methods that teachers have found effective for creating a transparent classroom using technology resources can include these options:

·        Create Power Point presentations of your students at work for parents and guardians to view at open house or other schoolwide meetings

·        Publish a class blog or have students maintain individual blogs as learning logs. An excellent free site for this is Edublogs  (http://edublogs.org). At this site over a million teachers and students around the globe maintain classroom blogs.

·        Create videos of your students working and publish them on a class web page. There are numerous sites that offer free sites for educators: Google and Weebly are just two that are easy and quick to use.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Remove the Barriers to Peer Acceptance in Your Classroom

It is important for teachers to make it easy for their students to work well together—an undertaking requiring diplomacy as well as dedicated effort. Social inclusion is such a vital aspect of any student’s life that the effort often results in beneficial dividends. What are some of the most common barriers to social acceptance in school? Many students could feel excluded because they do not know their classmates. It is a mistake to assume that students know each other well. Even students who have attended school together for several years may not know much about their classmates.

Another barrier is that your students may live in different neighborhoods. If you teach in a school where students may live at a distance or come from very diverse neighborhoods, it is likely that they have not had many opportunities to interact with each other outside of school.

In addition, students who have not been taught how to behave courteously or who have not learned socially acceptable ways to resolve conflict often struggle to form appropriate relationships with their peers.

Perhaps the greatest barrier that you will have to help your students overcome is the perception that they may not have much in common with a classmate whom they do not know well. With effort and persistence, you can assist students in learning to recognize their commonalities so that they can learn to accept and support each other. Use the tips in the list that follows to guide you as you work to help students remove the barriers to peer acceptance.

  • Make sure that each student’s strengths are well known to the rest of the class.
  • If a student has an unpleasant history of failure or misbehavior, make it clear that it is time for a fresh start.
  • Show your students the correct ways to interact with each other. They need plenty of models and monitoring until they have learned to cooperate productively.
  • Let each student shine. Every student should believe that he or she is really your favorite.
  • Be sensitive to the differences that divide your students and to the potential for conflict that those differences can cause.
  • Make it a point to recognize students who work well with others. Whenever possible, praise the entire class for its cooperative attitude.
  • Provide opportunities for students to get to know each other. These do not have to take up a great deal of time, but can be done in brief activities scattered throughout the year.
  • Plan enough work for your students to do so that they are focused on school and don’t have time to discover their classmates’ negative character traits.
  • Promote tolerance and acceptance with a display of posters and encouraging mottoes.
  • Encourage students to share experiences and personal information about their family, culture, and goals while working together.
  • Make it very easy for students to understand class routines and procedures and to follow directions well. Students who know what to do are less likely to make embarrassing mistakes for which they can be teased or excluded later.
  • Be careful that you model appropriate behavior, thereby encouraging your students to do the same.
  • Don’t give in to the temptation of rolling your eyes or losing your patience when a student blunders in front of classmates. Your actions could set that student up for social exclusion later.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Fifty-seven Freebies to Help You Organize Your School Paperwork

According to the old joke, the three best reasons to teach are June, July, and August. Although parts of these three months can be more relaxed than the other months when we spend so much time at school or thinking about school, summer is a great time to reflect, to look ahead to the upcoming year, and to plan.

One of the most important traits that great teachers share is that they are very organized. It is just impossible to teach in chaos--whether that chaos is caused by students or by an unprepared teacher. There are simply too many things that we need to do all at once for teachers to be successfully unorganized.

In addition, being well-organized is an important way to be a role model for students. It's simply not fair to ask students to keep their notebooks straight, their desks neat, and to show up with the necessary materials if we have piles of folders and papers scattered all over the classroom.

Being an organized teacher also means that we are less likely to run out of handouts or other materials needed for class. When we are organized, we can be on top of the things that we need to do so that we can focus on our students and their needs instead of having to look for a missing book or pen or set of notes.

There are as many ways to organize our professional lives as there are teachers. What works for one classroom teacher will not necessarily work for another. The key is to find a workable system to manage all of the various components of the day and tweak it until it works for you.

One way that I have found to keep much of my school organized is to use a large three-ring binder as my catch-all Professional Binder. In this binder, I store the documents that I need often: student rosters, contact information, contact logs, hall passes, discipline records, lesson plans, and other useful information.

If you would like to consider a similar organization plan for yourself, I have posted fifty-seven documents that are ones that I use during the school year. You can access them by clicking on the "Professional Binder" page at my website: www.juliagthompson.com. Many of these forms are ones that I have already published in my books, The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide and Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher,  but here you will find an electronic version that you can adjust for your own use. 

Feel free to download and print the forms that you need to make your own professional life easier, less chaotic, and more organized. If the forms you find at my website can help you be the kind of teacher you want to be, I will be glad!

Just go to www.juliagthompson.com and click on the "Professional Binder" page at www.juliagthompson.com.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How to Survive the Last Few Weeks of School

Here is a post that I did a very long time ago for a wonderful, but vanished site called theapple.com. Monster.com runs it now...still full of great advice on all sorts of topics for educators everywhere. Here is what I suggest to help all of us enjoy the last few weeks or days of school this year!

As the end of the school year approaches, students of all ages and ability levels become increasingly restless and distracted. Even the most studious scholars seem to lose interest in material that fascinated them just a few weeks ago. The result can be enormous frustration for the teachers of these fidgety and disengaged students.
Veteran teachers know about this unfortunate phenomenon and take measures to combat its negative effects. If you have noticed a recent change in your students and find yourself checking a calendar to count off just how many school days you have left until summer vacation, the list below just may help you resolve to end the school year with the best and most professional attitude possible.
The first part of this list suggests some attitudes that may remind you of coping skills you may have forgotten. The second part contains some useful strategies that you may have forgotten, but that can energize your teaching and make school more enjoyable and productive for your students and yourself.

60 Helpful Attitudes

1. Be moderate in your approach. You do not have to be the world’s best teacher all the time. You just have to be a very good one.
2. Spend your energy on large problems first and allot less of your energy for the small ones. Choose to deal with the problems that will give you the greatest benefit right away.
3. Problems can move you forward when you choose to work to solve them. Use your creative strengths to make your classroom well-disciplined and productive.
4. Make room for more emotional energy. Ask for help when you have a problem.
5. Learn to see problems as challenges that you can overcome.
6. Don’t underestimate your students. They are capable of much more than you think they are.
7. Avoid negative people. Better yet, try not to be one of those negative people you are supposed to avoid.
8. Being optimistic doesn’t mean that you don’t have problems. A positive attitude means that you are working on a solution.
9. Make sure you have something fun to look forward to. Reward yourself when you achieve a goal.
10. You don’t teach a class. You teach complex, living, breathing people.
11. Cherish your students. Even the worst-behaved ones have redeeming qualities.
12. Carpe Diem! When a teachable moment comes along, TEACH!
13. Don’t forget that small attitude changes often create bigger patterns of success. What small attitude change can you make today?
14. When a task seems impossible, remind yourself of the teachers who made a difference in your life. You can do the same for your students.
15. The fun you have goofing around during your planning period is equal to the misery you’ll experience trying to catch up later.
16. Be proactive! Plan what you are going to do if…
17. Discard something you’re doing that is not productive. Figure out how to do just one thing more efficiently.
18. Practice deep breathing. You’ll be glad you know how to calm yourself when a student is defiant, disrespectful, or just cranky.
19. Make it your goal that every student will leave your class with a positive attitude every day.
20. Use your strengths. Focus on your positive attributes to maximize the potential for success in your classroom.
21. Keep things in perspective. Ask yourself if the problems you have today will be important next year.
Try Some Strategies You May Have Forgotten
22. Talk less and listen more to your students.
23. Change the pace. Try three new activities this week.
24. Break large tasks into small, manageable ones.
25. Plan to ignore the small stuff.
26. Get to work a little early and stay a little late.
27. Stop trying to rely on your memory! You have too much to do to recall everything. Write it down in an organized fashion.
28. Be sure to plan for the last few minutes of class.
29. Empower your students by designing assignments that allow for limited student options. Give them innocuous choices such as the even or odd problems, essay topics, group tasks, or the best day to take a test.
30. You probably need to model more for your students. Most teachers do. And don’t forget to show them what you don’t want them to do, also.
31. Ask students to justify their answers on a test to encourage deeper thinking.
32. Let your students know what activities lie ahead of them so that they have something to look forward to. Try a little countdown to an exciting event to focus them on the positive.
33. Encourage independence! Tell your students that they must “See three before me” to find answers to questions.
34. At the end of a lesson, encourage reflection (and positive attitudes) by asking students to tell you what went well during class.
35. Build in wiggle breaks. Even seniors need a break now and then.
36. When students are engaged in learning new material, periodically ask them to stop and write about these three topics: what they think about the subject so far, what they understand about the subject, and any questions they still may have.
37. Don’t work against the nature of your students. Make the material compelling by incorporating their interests and goals. When you were a teenager, you thought the world revolved around you, too.
38. Stimulate student curiosity by making your lessons as suspenseful and novel as possible. Ask students to solve puzzles or create solutions to problems.
39. Put some color in your classroom world. Break out the crayons or highlighters to help students pay attention to what’s important in their notes.
40. Lower your voice. Your students will be more likely to lower theirs than if you shout.
41. Avoid problems when students finish work early by having other activities for them to complete. Students with nothing to do will amuse themselves by annoying nearby adults.
42. Increase the frequency of the positive recognition you give students.
43. Display student work. Rewarding students in this way is worth the time it takes to arrange it.
44. Put a list of terms or facts on the board and ask your students to determine what they have in common. If you include unlikely names or items, the class discussion could be lively.
45. At the end of a unit of study, give students a sheet with the alphabet in a column on the left. To review, they need to tell you one important fact from the lesson is related to a letter of the alphabet.
46. Show a movie. Be sure to teach good movie viewing behavior before you do. Better yet, have your students make a movie or slide show.
47. Avoid acting in anger no matter how frustrated you feel. Manage the discipline problems in your class with a problem-solving approach instead.
48. Set a concrete goal with your students: 100% on every quiz, everyone on time for a week, all homework complete… Use a bar graph to illustrate their progress.
49. Graphic organizers are wonderful ways to engage students. Busy students are happy students and happy students make happy teachers.
50. Use a variety of media to capture your audience—movies, art, wikis, songs, podcasts, television, interactive game sites, magazines, advertisements, cartoons, and slogans are just a few of the ways that you can capture attention.
51. When they ask, “Why do we have to do this?” be sure to have an excellent answer ready.
52. Use your student’s competitive instincts to your advantage. Create teams to compete against other teams. Best of all, challenge your students to compete against themselves by working to improve their own best performance.
53. Center instruction around essential questions.
54. Ask students to demonstrate the best way to do something.
55. Make abstract ideas concrete. Ask students to produce a final product as the result of their work. This makes their effort visible.
56. Assign a set of questions to a group of students. Each student selects one question and becomes the expert about it. They can share with the entire class or with teams.
57. Your part of the workload should not always be greater than your students’ part. Hold them accountable for setting goals, monitoring their own progress, and self-evaluation.
58. Ask your students to invent a game for a review activity.
59. Take photographs of your students. Be thrifty and print them on paper. Your students just want to see themselves on the classroom wall.
60. Schedule in some fun every day—for you and for your students. Smile together and misbehavior will decrease.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

101 Ways to Avoid Falling into a Lesson Plan Rut

It is really easy to fall into a lesson planning rut this time of year. After all, you know your students and what generally works to help them learn. The downside of that, however, is that it is all too easy to become complacent and boring. Here is a brief list of some quick ideas that can help you as you plan the most dynamic lessons possible. If you need a fresh look at what you are asking students to do, you should be able to find something in this little list to adapt for your own students. 

                  1.        Write a paragraph.

                  2.        Electronic flashcards

                  3.        Write a paragraph to defend you position on a topic we studied today.

                  4.        Look over your notes from yesterday’s lesson. Circle the key words.

                  5.        List what you already know about…

                  6.        Listen to a recording and take notes.

                  7.        Watch a brief video clip and take notes.

                  8.        List five things that you can recall we did in class yesterday.

                  9.        Create a rhyme to help you recall some of the key facts from class.

                10.      Summarize what you have learned in the last five minutes.

                11.      Pick a partner and play a quick game of “hangman” with your vocabulary words from this unit of study.

                12.      List the key ideas in today’s lesson.

                13.      Make quick flash cards to review the vocabulary words we have studied this week.

                14.      List the steps in…

                15.      Predict what caused…

                16.      Open your book and read the first three paragraphs from yesterday’s lesson. What is something new that you learned today that you hadn’t realized yesterday?

                17.      List ten words associated with the lesson we are currently studying.

                18.      What is your objective for this class today?

                19.      Write out a study skill that you have recently mastered.

                20.      Time a classmate while that person intently reviews yesterday’s lesson. Switch roles and repeat.

                21.      Scan your text and find… (Provide your students with specific facts or information to seek. This is an excellent review technique.)

                22.      Predict what will happen next.

                23.      Here’s your word of the day: ___________. Copy and define it and then use it correctly in a sentence.

                24.      What is the most important quality for a good student to have?

                25.      Provide another example of your own for…

                26.      Supply the missing words in this cloze exercise. (Find a reading assignment that is appropriate for your group and then cloze it.)

                27.      Unscramble these vocabulary words.

                28.      Match the items in column A with the items in column B.

                29.      Find the similarities in these two photographs.

                30.      What do you need to accomplish this week? Make a “To Do” list for this week’s activities.

                31.      Write a set of instructions for…

                32.      Looking back over this week, what did you really learn?

                33.      List ten things you learned in class today.

                34.      Read this short newspaper article and respond to it in your journal.

                35.      Practice the process of elimination on these multiple-choice questions.

                36.      Complete these analogies that relate to the lesson we are going to study today.

                37.      Tell why a change in ___ occurred.

                38.      Brainstorm every possible solution you can think of for…

                39.      Design a ___ to___.

                40.      Judge the value of…

                41.      Make a proposal to…

                42.      Describe what would happen if…

                43.      Look over the first three paragraphs of your homework reading last night. Write a brief paraphrase of them.

                44.      List the factors you would change if…

                45.      Describe the turning point in…

                46.      What are the underlying principles of the lesson we are studying?

                47.      What is the correct procedure for …?

                48.      Justify the rule about. …

                49.      Defend your position on. …

                50.      Defend your teacher’s position on the topic of .…

                51.      How can you modify ___________ so that it is more efficient?

                52.      Proofread this paragraph and make as many corrections as you can.

                53.      What solutions do you have for the problem of ___________?

                54.      Demonstrate the proper way to ___________.

                55.      How does what you learned in this lesson really apply to your life?

                56.      Why is it necessary for successful people to use time wisely?

                57.      Pick a partner and show that person how to use one fact from the lesson that you learned in this class yesterday.

                58.      There are seven errors in the reading passage you were given as you came into the classroom. Can you find them all?

                59.      Take two of the vocabulary words you have been studying this week and use them both in the same sentence.

                60.      Write one of the key words from this lesson on a scrap of paper. Pass it to a classmate. Time that person as he/she has only one minute to tell you five important things about it.

                61.      Why is it useful to learn the information in the unit we are now studying?

                62.      Pick a partner and brainstorm a list of all the ways you can use the information that you have learned in this class in the last three days.

                63.      What did you learn in another class this week that you can use in this class today?

                64.      What have you learned in this class lately that you can apply to another class?

                65.      Take the items on the board and group them according to a criteria that you devise based on the information in yesterday’s lesson.

                66.      What are some of the assumptions you had about today’s class?

                67.      Play an online game to benefit those less fortunate.

                68.      Create an online survey about…

                69.      Using what we learned in class today as proof, justify the reason for …

                70.      Create a word search puzzle that you will share with a friend tomorrow. Use the key words from today’s lesson.

                71.      Use all of your vocabulary words to create a quick short story.

                72.      Create a fair test question about the information you have learned today.

                73.      Take a list of words and create relationships among them.

                74.      Ask a classmate a question about the current lesson that will absolutely stump that person.

                75.      Make a 3-D graphic organizer.

                76.      Combine ideas with another student and…

                77.      Skim their homework and make predictions.

                78.      Brainstorm the causes of …

                79.      Create an inventory of…

                80.      List as many ways as you can that you are like the people we have studied in today’s lesson.

                81.      Find the cause of a crime in the news.

                82.      Write a review of your favorite television show.

                83.      Categorize the facts that you learned in class today.

                84.      Go through your notes and label the main ideas.

                85.      Read ahead to see if your predictions are correct.

                86.      Free associate as many ideas as you can about…

                87.      Use these terms in sentences…

                88.      Research a social problem that concerns you.

                89.      Make a set of electronic flashcards.

                90.      Invent a dialogue between ___ and ___.

                91.      Tell how a celebrity would use what you have learned today.

                92.      Record data related to…

                93.      Review your notes with your study buddy.

                94.      Evaluate your progress to date on this unit of study.

                95.      Annotate the selection for…

                96.      Skim the next chapter for facts and take notes.

                97.      Make a flow chart.

                98.      Prepare a monologue.

                99.      Fill in the blanks while listening.

              100.    Create a motto that expresses what you learned this week.

              101.    Set up your own art gallery.