Saturday, January 18, 2020

Help Your Students Learn to Work Well Together




It is necessary for teachers to make it possible for students to work well together—an undertaking requiring diplomacy as well as consistent effort on your part. Social inclusion is such a vital aspect of any student’s life that the effort can often result in beneficial dividends for everyone in the classroom.

One of the most important ways to make sure all students feel that they are valued members of a class is to work to remove the barriers to social acceptance that may exist among them. For example, 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 may occur because 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. Helping everyone learn how to interact in an acceptable, courteous manner will take time and consistent effort on your part.

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 and that you are providing that opportunity.

·       Show your students the correct ways to interact with each other. Teach courtesy. It will not take long before students become aware of the expectations that you have for acceptable behavior. 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. It may take a while until you get to know your students well enough to be aware of the social differences that exist among them, but vigilance on your part will make it easier to help students learn to work together well.

·       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 instruction and don’t have time to discover their classmates’ negative character traits.

·       Promote tolerance and acceptance with a display of posters, bulletin board displays, and encouraging mottoes.

·       Encourage students to share experiences and personal information about their family, culture, and goals while working with each other.

·       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 frequently, 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, January 7, 2020

If Students Planned the Lesson...





If you were to plug “Great Lesson Plans,” into just about any search engine, all sorts of useful information for teachers immediately pops up. Instead of going online, though, how about thinking about a great lesson from a student’s viewpoint? One good way to find out what students really want is to simply ask them how they would like to learn the day’s material. Or, administer a quick survey (www.surveymonkey.com). Solicit advice via exit tickets or suggestions dropped into a suggestion box. All of these are good ways to find out what your students would like to do in class. Even without that useful feedback, however, it is possible to anticipate the elements of a lesson that students would include. Here are some of the essentials that many students would probably like to see included in a student-created lesson plan.
·       An opening exercise that allows them to chatter away while making the transition to the day’s lesson. The exercise should also be interesting while reminding them of what they already know. Something like a Round Robin or brief discussion, for example.
·       Silly videos related to the topic are always a plus. Even better are student-made videos.
·       Games of just about any sort—low or high tech. Board games are always good no matter what. Student made board games are the most engaging.  
·       Any game that requires players to roll dice is immediately a huge (and noisy) success.
·       The perfect student lesson plan will certainly include sharing, collaboration, or teamwork in every possible permutation.
·       Students like questions that they can answer with relative ease. This sets the stage for activities where they quiz each other. They would also choose to hold competitions where they can answer as a team and not be put on the spot individually.
·       Beating the clock is always fun. So is setting a personal best goal and working towards it.
·       One predictable student preference is being able to shift partners during an activity or switching teams in the course of a lesson. Movement instead of remaining seated all class keeps everyone alert.
·       Music of all kinds. Student performances. Background music. Headphones. Music adds a layer of enjoyment to almost any type of instruction.
·       A countdown to something is always fun. Not a frantic, frenzied race, but a countdown that focuses an activity—such as an online countdown clock to an activity.
·       Students like learning something interesting or peculiar so that they have a good answer to, “What did you learn in school today?” They also like learning interesting and peculiar information just because it’s fun to think about. Weird facts are always fun to know.
·       Students enjoy an opportunity to write on something besides notebook paper. The more outrageous the surface the better.
·       If students were to design a lesson, there would be lots of gaudy coloring. Students would be writing on the board more, too.
·       If there is a lesson with a reading component, students would probably design it in such a way that classmates read it together—and not in that embarrassing popcorn style either, but with friends or friendly teammates to share the reading load.
·       There would also be a component where students do something to help someone else. Whether it be playing an altruistic game such as Free Rice (www.freerice.com), or just helping out classmates, students like to feel that their contributions to the world matter.
·       Having several choices of meaningful and interesting activities to do in a reasonable amount of time would also be part of a student-designed lesson plan. Having a free choice among the choices is even more interesting for some students.
·       Manipulatives, three-D graphic organizers, paper airplanes, and squishy toys are almost mandatory in student-designed lessons. Rubber bands and paper clips would also find a way to be included as well.
·       Finally, in the ideal lesson designed by students, any homework would be something that fits in with their out-of-school lives and interests and can be done simply—without fuss—and in just the right amount of time.  



Monday, December 30, 2019

How to Help Students Adjust after Winter Break

I first published this post in 2015 and from the responses then and in the years since, it still resonates with many caring educators. Here it is again with best wishes and hope that the new year (new decade!) will begin successfully for you and your students.

For many students, returning to school from the long winter break is not an easy transition. Staying up late, sleeping in, unstructured time, family stresses, or holiday travel can all make it hard for students to return to school ready to work productively. You can expect to see students who are tired, cranky, and just not as cooperative as usual because their normal schedules have been disrupted.

Experienced teachers know helping students readjust to their school routines requires understanding, patience, and a solid plan to make that first day back as pleasant as possible for everyone involved. Here are a few brief suggestions to smooth the reentry process for your students.

  • If you have a class website or group email system so that you can contact your students, consider sending an upbeat message a day or two in advance of their return. Remind students about the materials that they will need to bring to class as well as other relevant information to make the transition back to school life easier.  
  • Think back to the first day of school and the techniques you used then to make your students feel welcomed into your class. After all, returning after a long break is really just a mini-first day of school. Adjust as needed, but consider incorporating some of those same techniques to let your students know that you are glad to see them. Take the time to reconnect with each student so that they know that they are a valued member of the class and that their well-being is important to you.
  • Have extra books, papers, pens, and other materials on hand for those students who lost the habits of organization during the break.
  • If your students are old enough to communicate well by writing, pass out small slips of paper or note cards and ask students to tell you about their holiday in one hundred words or less. You can gain some valuable insights into their time away from school with this brief activity.
  • Have students use a checklist to work through the normal class routines on the first day. This will not only remind them of what they need to do, but will also get them back into the habit of working in a purposeful manner. Delivering a flurry of verbal directions will only stress everyone out.
  • Plan activities that are pleasant, but fairly low-key.  Brief games, review activities, pair shares, small group discussions, and other similar strategies are ones that can gradually and successfully reintroduce students to class routines without creating more stress.
  • Photographing or videoing students on the first day of class in the new year is also a good way to celebrate the milestone together. Print on ordinary copy paper and display in the classroom or share on a class website or in a class newsletter. 
  • Take advantage of the time of year as you plan the day’s lessons. Ask students to make predictions about the year ahead or to share their new resolutions. You could even develop class resolutions such as setting a goal for homework completion, improved study habits, or making sure the room is tidy at the end of the day. 
  • Allow time for students to visit with each other and to catch up with each other’s personal news. While this can be done as a whole group activity, small groups really work best as students can engage meaningfully with each other. You could offer open-ended questions for everyone to discuss as conversation starters: What is your favorite memory of 2019? What do you want to do in 2020? If you could change the world in 2020, where would you begin?

Saturday, December 28, 2019

2019 Honors




I've long been a fan of the extensive website for educators, Share My Lesson. An offshoot of the American Federation of Teachers organization, SML offers a wealth of resources for educators everywhere. From blogs on myriad topics, webinars for PD credit, curated lessons contributed by site partners and members, as well as classroom-tested lesson plan collections, Share My Lesson makes it easy for educators to connect with valuable, high quality information in an easy-to-use format. 

I'm thrilled and humbled to announce that three of my Share My Lesson blog posts have made it into the top blogs list for 2019!
Here they are:
# 9: It's Not Too Late to Create, Teach, and Enforce Classroom Rules
#4: Five Classroom Procedures to Make Your Classroom Life Easier
#3: Classroom Discipline Problems: Ten Mistakes You Could Be Making
To access these blogs and all of the other 2019 winning blogs, just click here: 
https://sharemylesson.com/collections/free-lesson-plan-templates-top-resources-2019#top-2019-free-lessons-blogs


In addition, my webinar, How to Work Successfully with Defiant Students, was voted as the #2 most popular webinar in the entire Share My Lesson collection of webinars! This free and on demand presentation is available for you right now. Just click on the link here:
https://sharemylesson.com/collections/free-lesson-plan-templates-top-resources-2019#top-2019-free-lessons-webinars

H

Monday, December 2, 2019

Use Your Teacher Voice


What teachers say to students has more power than anyone can possibly imagine. It's not always easy to remember the powerful effect of a teacher’s words when a student is defiant or rude or determined to hinder others from learning, but it is important to never forget this inherent power.
The words you use when you speak with your students and the way you express yourself are just some of the tools you have to use when creating a strong bond with them. 
There are very few rules about how you should speak to your students. The age and maturity level of your students will guide how you speak. For example, it is usually a serious offense for a teacher in an elementary classroom to tell students to shut up. In a high school classroom, this phrase is not as serious; it is merely rude. You should avoid using it, however, because there are more effective ways to ask students to stop talking.
Kind words spoken in a gentle voice make it much easier for your students to connect with you. If you say something unkind to a student, it will hurt even more than an insult from a peer because it is from someone the student should be able to count on. 
The one language mistake you should never make is to swear when you are with your students. When you do this, you cross the line of what is acceptable and what is not. If you are ever tempted to swear around your students, remember that teachers have been fired for swearing at students. If a word slips out, you should immediately apologize to your students, let them know that you are embarrassed, apologize again, and then continue with instruction. After your class is over, you should speak with a supervisor and explain your side of the situation as soon as you can and certainly, before your supervisor hears about it from an angry parent or guardian.
While swear words are clearly not something you should say around students, there are other language issues you should also pay attention to. Make sure your own words are ones that help your students and do not hurt them. Never make negative or insulting remarks about any student’s

·       Race
·       Gender
·       Religion
·       Family
·       Friends
·       Nationality
·       Clothing
·       Neighborhood
·       Body size
·       Sexual orientation
·       Disabilities
 You should also make a point of using “I” messages whenever you can. “I” messages are statements that use words such as I, we, us, or our instead of you. For example, instead of the harsh, “You’d better pay attention,” a teacher can say, “I’d like for you to pay attention now.” “You’re too noisy" becomes “We all need to be quiet so that everyone can hear,” and “You’re doing that all wrong!” can become “I think I can help you with that.” With these simple changes, the statements are no longer accusatory, harsh in tone, or insulting. The language points out a problem but does not put anyone on the defensive. “I” messages work because they state a problem without blaming the student. This, in turn, creates a focus on a solution and not on an error the child has made.
Another way to make sure to use your teacher voice effectively is to match your tone to your purpose. Teachers who do not use a serious tone when the situation warrants it can confuse students who quickly pick up on the discrepancy between the tone of voice their teacher is using and the seriousness of the moment.
You may also recall teachers in your past who had unfortunate verbal mannerisms—repeating “you know”; or clearing their throat; or using annoying filler words, such as “like.” If you suspect that you may have a potentially distracting verbal mannerism, one of the best ways to be certain is to record yourself and listen critically. You can also ask for honest feedback from colleagues or from your students.
A final way to use your teacher voice to make it a more effective teaching tool is to vary the speed at which you speak. Teachers who talk very quickly or in a slow monotone in front of the class are not tuned in to their audience. Remember that when you are in class, you should not be in the same conversational mode that you would use with your friends. Instead, use your voice to make it easy for your students to understand you.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Quick Tips for Redirecting Off-Task Students




Your most important goal when redirecting students who may be off task is to quickly and quietly help them get back on task without missing even a moment of instruction. The difficulty lies in trying to be as unobtrusive as possible while still stopping the misbehavior.  Fortunately, there are many different ways to redirect students without disrupting instruction. Here are just a few of the techniques you can use to help your students stay on track during class.

·       Use sticky notes to write reminders and put them on the desks of students who are off task.

·       Set a timer and give everyone a two-minute break.

·       Change the pace of the assignment.

·       Ask students if they would like help from a classmate.

·       Use your “teacher look” to remind students to keep working.

·       Call home if several attempts to redirect are not successful.

·       Remind students of their long and short-term goals.

·       Ask students to restate the directions.

·       Ask students to estimate how long it will take to finish the assignment.

·       Count 1, 2, 3 and wait for everyone to pay attention to your directions.

·       Ask students who are struggling with an assignment if they need help.

·       Move to stand near the students who are off task.

·       Have students stand, stretch, and then return to work.

·       Put your hand on the desk of a student whose attention seems to be wandering.

·       Discreetly remove distractions.

·       Ask students who are off task to sit near you.

·       Pleasantly remind students of the behavior you would like to see.

·       Sometimes the problem is not off task behavior, but noise. You can also establish signals such as these with your students to let them know that they need to moderate their noise level:

o   Flick the lights

o   Fan them so that they “chill out”

o   Tell them to use a six-inch voice

o   Ring a bell

o   Wave your hands over your head

o   Snap your fingers until students snap back

o   Blow a whistle

o   Play calming classical music

o   Raise your hand until they raise theirs                                                         

o   Clap your hands until they clap with you

o   Clap twice until they clap three times

o   Stand near a noisy group

o   Give them a thumbs up when they are quiet

o   Give them a thumbs down when they are noisy

o   Shush the nearest group and have them pass it on

o   Place your finger over your lips and have them do the same

o   Hold up your hand in a “V” for volume sign

It’s also helpful to remember that alpha commands tend to be more effective than beta commands when redirecting students. An alpha command is one that is simple and direct while pointing the student in a positive direction. For example, an effective alpha command for students who are lollygagging in the hallway would be, “It’s time for you to go to your seat.” A less effective beta command would be, “Why are you guys still in the hallway?” The effectiveness of an alpha command is that it does not just stop misbehavior, but instead focuses on a desired positive behavior.


Monday, September 9, 2019

Giving Your Class a Positive Label Makes All the Difference



A healthy self-esteem is not handed out at birth—not even to those enviable individuals who were born with such advantages as intelligence, good health, and loving families. The reasons for this are not hard to determine, but the negative effects of a poor self-image can devastate a classroom when challenging students don’t make even the smallest efforts to try to work or behave.  When students regard themselves as capable learners, they act in ways that perpetuate their positive beliefs. They resist the negative effects of peer pressure and learn to develop the social skills that will help them be positive members of class.

Self-confident students are courteous, willing to offer help, tolerant of others, and willing to take risks. Their positive attitudes will make it possible for you to create the inclusive class identity that you want for them. Promoting self-esteem in students is not something that should replace the curriculum; instead, it should be a natural part of the positive approach with all students.

It is also important to remember that in school self-esteem must be based on achievement. It can’t be founded merely on personal qualities; but must be solidly based in the sense of satisfaction that comes from doing a job to the best of one’s ability. Although there are some simple activities that teachers can do to help students see themselves as part of a successful group, the best ways to bolster a healthy self-image are the ones that will appeal most to your students.

Here are some simple suggestions to help create the positive class atmosphere that will allow you to create a positive class identity for your students.   

·       Improve your listening skills; students are acutely sensitive to the nuances of body language. Treat your students as if they are important people in your lives by attending to what they say, even in the frantic press of daily activities.

·       Pay attention to the way you talk to students. Use a pleasant, soft voice. Be friendly as well as firm with them.

·       After a particularly long or difficult unit of study, hold an awards ceremony to celebrate its successful completion.

·       Encourage them through specific praise and encouragement, not just by saying, “Good Job!” no matter what a student does.

·       It is also important to avoid needless negativity with students. For example, instead of saying “Don’t interrupt me,” try saying “I’ll be with you in a minute” if you want to send a more positive message.

·       Offer help to those students who need special help and encouragement. Some students need an extra tutoring session or a bit of extra time with you to become more capable and confident. 

·       At the end of class, ask students to tell you something important that they did well or learned.

·       Hold your students accountable for participation in class. Do not let them sleep, refuse to work, neglect to make up work, forget homework, or ignore what you have assigned for all your other students. Students who opt out of participating in class may be relieved for the moment, but they are not going to feel good about themselves or about your class if you allow this behavior. Other students will also be watching how you handle their difficult classmates, as well. 

·       There is a great deal of personal reward to be found in activities that help others. Involve your students in class activities that are geared to helping other people. Students who tutor each other or younger students, collect money and goods for the needy, participate in an Earth Day clean-up, or are involved in other compassionate and helpful activities will reap tremendous benefits in the form of improved self-esteem.

·       Ask students to describe the most difficult part of a lesson and what they did to overcome that difficult part.

·       Take a no-nonsense approach to how you provide correction for your students, but be gentle. Over and over again, research and common sense both prove that it is the positive actions teachers take with students that promote a productive classroom climate. Students who have teachers who show sincere approval for their actions are more successful than those students whose teachers intimidate them into compliance.

·       Create opportunities for students to reflect upon and recognize the contributions of their classmates after a shared assignment, project, or discussion. Teach the importance of recognizing each other’s accomplishments.