Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Student Lies, An Almost-Free Book, and Fostering Positive Relationships


If you find the advice at this site and in Julia's books helpful, you can have some more of it FREE--or almost free.

You can receive an "almost-free" copy of Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher if you:

1. Are one of the first ten educators to respond
2. Are willing to write and post a review of the book at Amazon and any other online site that you would like before the end of January, 2012

If you would like to participate in this "almost-free" give away, send your name and address to Julia Thompson at thompson_juliag@yahoo.com. Remember, only the first ten people to respond will get a book--and plenty of thanks for posting a review!

Lies and Lies and Lies

Although there have been countless studies about the prevalence of academic cheating and its negative effects on students and teachers alike, another facet of the same impulse is even more widespread: students lying to us at school. While even the most jaded teacher may laugh at the old “The dog ate my homework” excuses, none of us finds a steady barrage of student lies nearly as amusing. Sometimes it seems as if our students lie to us so openly and frequently that we are engaged in a unpleasant daily  battle with them.

It is a sad and sometimes unsettling fact of our profession: our students will sometimes lie to us. The reasons for their lies are as complicated and numerous as our students themselves.

“I did my homework, but I left it at home” is perhaps the most common lie that students tell us. It is so common, in fact, that many of us reflexively do not accept these words as true after hearing it for the fifth or sixth time in one day. Woe to the poor student who really did leave his or her paper on the kitchen table or in the printer—no one will accept that as truth.

Lies can have a seriously damaging effect at school as well as on other aspects of life. The biggest negative effect of student lies is the destruction of trust between teacher and student. When that relationship is damaged by lies, it is not easy to recover it. No teacher finds it easy to be constantly on guard against lies. At the same time, no teacher finds it easy to be taken advantage of by manipulative students.

So, what are some of the most effective ways to manage student lying so that you can maintain a positive relationship with your students and not feel as if you are wearing a sign that says “I am a sucker for any excuse” across your forehead?

1. Strive to find a mental middle ground in your attitude. Yes. Some of your students will not be truthful. Others will be. This seems to be one of the less pleasant things about our profession that you really can’t control as completely as you would like.

2. Strive to see student lies as a problem that you can cope with instead of just reacting to the issue in an emotional way. Remove as much of the negative emotion you may feel at being tricked and redirect your energies in a positive way.

3. When you find that a student has lied to you, privately deal with that student. Don’t compound the problem by humiliating the student in front of classmates with an angry confrontation.

4. Instead of accusing the student directly, ask questions that will lead him or her to admit the truth of the matter. This is especially important and effective with students who have had momentary a lapse of judgment and integrity and who will self-correct when given an opportunity.

5. Contact the student’s home when necessary. Sometimes it takes a united front to tackle the underlying issues that have encouraged a student to lie.

6. Once you and the student have completely worked out the problem, assure the student that the matter is resolved and that you intend for both of you to move forward. Be matter of fact and friendly in your dealings so that this can really happen.

7. Be a role model of integrity yourself. This is crucial if you are to be able to successfully tackle the issue with success.

Fostering a Positive Relationship

At this time of year, you and your students have probably settled into the various routines that you need to make your classroom run smoothly. They know what to do at the start of class, how to hand in papers, and how not to pack up at the end of class until you give the signal. Although there is a great deal of comfort in this familiarity, it is all too easy for busy teachers to overlook another kind of familiarity that is crucial to the success of a classroom—the endless stream of positive connections that good teachers work hard to foster each day.

Because our students are infinitely complex beings, making a positive connection with them is not only a necessary action, it is one that needs to be made and remade every day. Every encounter with students has the potential to make them feel confident and successful and willing to work to achieve their goals and master the material you have for them. Unfortunately, each encounter can also be one in which you lose the fragile respect you may have gained earlier in the term through neglect if not through actual missteps. Here are just some of the many small actions that you can take to make sure that you have fostered a positive relationship with as many of your students as possible.

It does not take a long time or much effort to do the things in this list, but the rewards will be more than worth it.

1. Tell students that you do not intend to give up until they are successful in your class.
2. Celebrate birthdays and other special occasions.
3. Focus on your students’ strong points. Too often teachers focus on correcting weaknesses instead of encouraging students to take advantage of their strengths.
4. Break long assignments into smaller, more manageable chunks of work.
5. Place students in mixed-ability groups. When teachers group low achievers separately, it sends a message of defeat.
6. Provide opportunities for students to self-evaluate so that they know the extent of their progress.
7. Teach your students the skills that they need to be successful students. Good time management, organization, and efficient study skills will all make it easier for them to achieve.
8. Offer a mixture of assessment types so that students can demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways.
9. Acknowledge it when a student is having a bad day and offer to help if you can.
10. Make sure that you use plenty of formative assessments so that students can know if they are on the right track.
11. Invite inspirational guest speakers to encourage your students to work hard.
12. Instill a sense of responsibility for their own success in your students. Teach them that they control their own destinies.
13. Ask about an event that a child is anticipating.
14. Differentiate your instruction so that all students can reach success.
15. Write students personal notes. Be brief. Be positive. Show that you believe in them.
16. Set aside time periodically for students to set goals and then assess their progress in achieving them.
17. Help students determine and then work with their learning styles. This awareness will help them work to reach their potential.
18. Students need specific encouragement as well as praise if they are to continue a positive behavior.
19. Display encouraging mottoes and slogans from achievers who struggled early in life.
20. Provide ongoing support for less-proficient learners as well as enrichment opportunities for all students.
21. Harness the power of positive peer pressure! Have students work toward common goals.
22. Build intrinsic motivation into every lesson. Offer small, tangible rewards occasionally, too.
23. Have students share successful study strategies with classmates. Informal peer support can be a powerful tool.
24. Make it a point to monitor frequently. This will allow you to help students when they first experience difficulties.
25. Consider holding periodic ceremonies to recognize students who have reached goals or who have otherwise been successful.
26. While you should never water down the curriculum, you should alter the way you teach it so that all students can learn.
27. Use wall charts, stickers, and other motivational tools to make student success visible to all.
28. Use positive labels as often as you can so that students know what to call their success and how to repeat it.
29. Take time to discuss the dangers of substance abuse, gangs, and unprotected sex with older students. This will help them stay focused on their positive goals.
30. Call on all of your students and not just the ones you think know the answer.
31. Attend after-school games, performances, and other activities.
32. When a child speaks to you, stop what you are doing and really listen.
33. Assign the work groups in your class. Don’t let cliques choose their friends.
34. Schedule team building activities when you place students in groups so they can learn to work well together.
35. Set class goals and work together as a team to achieve them.
36. Let your voice be the kindest one your students hear all day.
37. If a child is ill, pay attention. Send him or her to the nurse. Call home.
38. Let your expression reflect the pleasure that you take in your students’ presence.
39. Have no invisible students in your class. Speak every child’s name every day.
40. Contact a child’s home with good news.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Going Global--But Some Things Never Change

October 24, 2011

"Hell is empty. The devils are all here." ~Shakespeare

One of the most amazing aspects of modern life is how easy it is to reach out to other people in faraway places. In two days, I will be making a presentation about classroom discipline via the magic of a nifty company called Behaviours Needs in England and Skype. Except for the time difference and the wonderful British accents, I could be talking to teachers in my hometown.

One of the things that has always struck me as I have had the opportunity to listen to teachers in workshops in the various parts of the USA and abroad is what we all have in common--a sort of universal teacher language. From wonderful Worchester County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to the equally wonderful city-state of Signapore and many places in between, I have had professional conversations with teachers who are concerned about their students. We worry about their lack of skills in reading, math, and writing. We worry about their social skills and their unrealistic goals. We worry when they want to sleep in class and when they sass us. We worry...And we especially worry about discipline issues. I worry about it so much, in fact, that I wrote my first book about how to make students behave themselves while they were in my class.

So, with that common language in mind, you may want to check out the free Webinar. In it, I address twelve key strategies of classroom discipline. You want want to join in and listen. At the end, I've put together an ebook of successful strategies to help teachers motivate students. It's a small compilation from all of my books and the new DVD for teacher trainers due out next month.

Here is what the cool folks at Behaviour Needs have to say about the Webinar. Feel free to join in. There is comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your classroom discipline issues--in fact there is an entire planet of educators who worry along with you!

Attention teachers: Need help with classroom management?

One of our most popular education authors, Julia Thompson, will be sharing the fast-acting, super-effective strategies she has written about in three tremendous teaching books and personally uses to successfully manage her classroom with ease.

You can join this exclusive free LIVE teleclass called "Instant Solutions For Your Most Frustrating Classroom Discipline Problems" on Wednesday, October 26th at 5pm EST, 10pm GMT.

Julia will open your eyes to new strategies and tactics for preventing problems and taking control in the classroom and the best bit – you can listen from your favourite comfy chair at home.

You can register or learn more here:


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Problem 5: Are You Wasting Valuable Class Time?

Scenario: You have too much curriculum and too little useful class time with students. Not only are you required to cover enormous amounts of information, but you are expected to do so in ways that ensure that all students are engaged and able to master the material. You feel as if you just do not have enough time in each class to get ever thing done. To make matters worse, although other teachers complain about the lack of time, they seem to be covering the material with greater speed and more success.

Your Goals:
  • To eliminate the ways that you personally waste class time
  • To eliminate the ways that your students waste class time
  • To figure out ways to cover material so that your students master it quickly

Some commonsense suggestions for using school time wisely:

  1. Have all handouts and other learning materials prepared before class so that students do not have to miss instructional time waiting for materials.
  2. Check to make sure that all equipment is in good working order before class.
  3. Be flexible. Interruptions happen. Things do not always go as planned.
  4. Don’t allow small misbehaviors to continue or escalate.
  5. Raise your students’ awareness of how they use class time. Be open in discussing what went well and what did not in class.
  6. Hold students accountable for how well they use the time that they are in class. Promote self-discipline and time management.
  7. Establish and follow a routine for the start and ending of class so that students use every minute that they are with you.
  8. Delegate as much as you can. Students are often eager to help and can be surprisingly good at managing classroom chores.
  9. Don’t ever call roll out loud. Use a seating chart and look around the room as students are working.
  10. Try to photocopy extra copies of handouts for those students who lost theirs or who left them at home.
  11. Make sure students know the rationale for studying a particular topic. This will encourage them to stay on track.
  12. Prevent as many interruptions as you can.
  13. If a misbehaving student has caused a disruption, do your best to keep the disruption small so that valuable class time is protected.
  14. Establish routines for predictable interruptions.
  15. Know what to do in a fire drill. Students should be able to exit the building and return in a timely fashion and with a minimum loss of class time.
  16. Give students a long-term project (sometimes called an anchor assignment) to work on if they finish an assignment early.
  17. If you place students in study teams, often they will work more efficiently together than they would if they were working alone.
  18. Set time limits for completing tasks within a class period. This will encourage students to work toward a goal.
  19. Have students pick up handouts and other materials as they enter the room rather than waste time tediously passing back papers.
  20. Give students checklists of assignments so that they can work on a series of assignments rather than having to check in with you after each step.
  21. Ask students to stop every now and then and share questions or what they have learned with classmates.
  22. Make sure that the activities you plan to cover the curriculum will meet the learning needs of your students.
  23. Be sure that your students know that you are the person who will decide when class will end—not a bell. This will ensure that they work productively and not fall into disorder near the end of class.
  24. Monitor constantly so that your students stay on task.
  25. Don’t waste time assuming that you students will all learn at the same rate. Assess your students’ readiness levels and differentiate accordingly.
  26. Stay on topic. Resist the temptation to be drawn off topic during a lesson.
  27. Overplan. Overplan. Overplan.  Always have a backup plan.
  28. Make learning to follow directions a focus point until your students have mastered this important skill. Students who know what to do and how to do it will not be as likely to waste time as those students who are not sure what to do.
  29. Create and then enforce a reasonable policy concerning how your students may leave the room. Students who lollygag in the hallways during class are not learning anything.
  30. Reduce the distractions that may be drawing your students’ attention away from a lesson.
  31. If an upcoming event is causing distractions and subsequent misuse of class time, then make use of student interest in that event. Channel energy when you can instead of opposing students.
  32. Pace lessons so that there is another assignment waiting for students who finish early.
  33. Assign an appropriate amount of work. Students should not waste time practicing what they already have mastered.
  34. Realize that students of all ages can have trouble changing from one activity to another. Plan effective transitions between assignments.
  35. Teach to an objective. Focused instruction will be much more efficient than merely covering material.
  36. Use formative assessments to determine your students’ readiness for a particular unit of study.
  37. Use signal words to call students to order, direct their attention, or change tasks. This will save time by making sure that students know what to do.
  38. Use exit tickets to ask students to reflect on how well they used their time in class. This will help raise their awareness of the importance of making every minute count.
  39. Display inspirational posters and reminders to help students use time wisely.
  40. Use the small blocks of time that are available to you and your students. Often the time at the beginning and ending of class is the most productive time for student retention of knowledge. Take advantage of this and pack those few minutes with interesting activities.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Problem 4: Your Handouts Could Be Snooze-Inducing, Ineffective, Time-Wasting Exercises in Futility

In recent years, handouts and worksheets have undergone much well-deserved criticism for their mind-numbing effects on classrooms filled with students who deserve more than a dull exercise in filling in blanks.
Even though there are some dreadful handouts out there, not every handout is bad. In fact, engaging, well-thought-out handouts are a useful way to practice, review, encourage critical thinking, enhance creativity, and help students assume responsibility for their own learning.
Designing handouts that will help your students learn instead of just scribbling wannabe answers as fast as possible takes a bit of effort and a little bit of time. The payoff in student engagement and learning is well worth the trouble, however.

·    Thoroughly proofread every handout you create for grammatical, factual, and typographical errors. If you want your students to take care with the neatness and accuracy of their work, then you need to model that behavior when you create handouts for them.

·    Keep the appearance of any worksheet uncluttered and readable. Use no more than three different fonts on a page. (Three fonts may even be a bit much for some students.)

·    Check to make sure that the font size is large enough for everyone to follow.

·    Take care that the page breaks don’t make it difficult for students to keep on track when answering a question that begins on one page and ends on another.

·    Pay attention to format and spacing. If students are expected to write on the handout, allow plenty of room and provide lines for them to do so.

·    Number each page so that students will be able to stay focused as they work through the handout.

·    Provide space for students to head their papers with their name, the date, and the class or subject. Many teachers neglect to do this and then complain when students forget to put their names on their papers.

·    Use text features such as clip art, text boxes, or underlining to emphasize important information.

·    Label each handout with a distinctive title or other type of label so that students can find it quickly when searching through their binders.

·    Make all directions easy to find. Use a bold font and place them right before the assignments they refer to.

·    All directions should be very, very easy to follow. Step-by-step directions written in clear, brief sentences are easier for students to read and understand than jumbled, complicated ones.

·    Some teachers have found that estimating the approximate length of time that each section should take to complete tends to make a longer handout less intimidating. Doing this together at the beginning of the assignment teaches students valuable time management skills and is a friendly and encouraging way for you and your students to collaborate.

·    Consider writing directions in the form of a checklist to accompany a handout if the handout is lengthy. You should still include directions for each part of the handout, but a separate checklist will make it even easier for students to know what to do and how to do it well.

·    Don’t neglect to provide examples or brief models with directions.

·    Allow students options when it would be appropriate. Even something as simple as asking students to choose between doing the even or the odd questions in a section of a handout would add interest and relieve potential tedium.

·    If you are going to grade an assignment, help students focus by including point values.

·    Build student confidence by adding encouraging notes, hints, reminders, and bits of advice. You could even ask for their advice as you go over the directions before students begin working.

·    To capture attention and build community, refer to their interests, past or upcoming class events, and use their names in positive ways (always only positive ways!) in examples or questions.

·    If you require students to maintain a notebook, make this task easier by punching holes in handouts before you pass them out.

·    Be careful not to waste paper. Maximize the way you prepare a page by using print preview, creating narrow margins where appropriate, and using both sides of the paper.

·    Vary the types of questions that you ask students to do. If you include open-ended, higher-level thinking skills in the various types of assignments that you ask students to complete while working on a handout, then you will find your students more likely to be engaged and learning.

·    Consider adding a question or two at the end of a handout asking students to reflect upon what they have learned and what they may still be confused about.



Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How to Cope Successfully with Grade Grubbers

Here is the third in the series of problems that classroom teachers have to manage successfully in order to help every student succeed. Even young students can surprise us with this one.
Problem 3: Grade Grubbing
One of those awkward moments that educators learn to dread can occur when a student either is unhappy with a grade on an assignment or wants to raise his or her overall average. It usually begins when student asks to speak to you about a recently returned graded assignment. Often he or she will begin by telling you how many hours went into studying or preparing the assignment. Then, the request to change the grade comes. If you refuse right away, then the student will counter with a request for extra credit, a reference to another student’s paper, and maybe even a charge that the work was too difficult, too confusing, or that you are unfair. Sometimes, students will even request that you offer them extra credit to pull up their grades.

The grade grubbing student is obviously not interested in a better grasp of the material, just in a higher grade. Often the situation is made worse when the student does this in front of his or her classmates, forcing us to have to respond quickly and appropriately in front of a crowd of very interested onlookers.

Although it is our responsibility to make sure that every assessment is fair and that our students understand how their grades are calculated, teachers can’t be expected to just abandon our standards when students protest their grades.
Student anxiety about grades has many unpleasant causes and regrettable effects. It is our responsibility to make sure that every student’s concerns are treated with dignity and respect even if we find ourselves impatient with the request.
Your Goals

  • To help these students understand the importance of learning the material and not just getting a grade
  • To avoid conflicts with students and their families over grades
  • To encourage students to work to their potential
  • To maintain a positive relationship with every student
  • To help students manage their anxiety about grades
  • To make sure that you are perceived as a fair teacher
  • To avoid future requests from students who are only interested in grades
Mistakes to Avoid

  • Allowing a student question about a grade to develop into a conflict
  • Not establishing a transparent classroom grading policy
  • Not taking student concerns about grades seriously
  • Dismissing every student question about your grading practices as grade grubbing
  • Assigning a subjective grade for activities such as class participation, paying attention, being on time to class, or even effort
Strategies to Prevent Grade Grubbing                                      

  • Make sure to publish your standards for success on every assignment so that students are clear about what they need to do to succeed.
  • Make sure that your standards are reasonable and in keeping with your school district’s policies.
  • Be meticulous about how you grade papers and then record those grades.
  • Take care to present yourself as a competent professional who has made sound decisions about how an assignment should be evaluated.
  • Be as objective as possible about the way that you assign grades.
  • Make a rubric available to students before they begin work on an assignment.
  • Offer plenty of models, samples, and examples so that students will know what you expect of them.
  • Make sure that your classroom is transparent: students and their parents and guardians should know what they need to do and how to do it well.
  • Show students how grades are calculated on various assignments as well as how to average their own grades. Make it easy for them to understand the grading process.
Strategies to Use When Students Ask for Special Consideration

  • Be sure to aside enough time to sit down with the student and work out a solution.
  • Stress that you want to work together to make sure that every grade is as fair as possible.
  • Be careful to let students know that you take their concerns seriously. Treat them with dignity.
  • Even though you probably have already shown the entire class how to work out their grades, take the time to go over this again to make sure the student knows exactly how you arrived at their average or the grade on the assignment.
  • Don’t offer extra credit to just one student. It is not fair to do this for just one. If you do adjust grades by offering additional work, make sure that the work you offer is not just a quick fix that will skew grades.
  • Don’t just give in when a student requests special consideration regarding grades. You will open the door to future unpleasant scenes if you do not proceed with caution and care.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

You're Finished Already? Are Your Sure You Want to Turn It in Just Yet?

Some of the problems we experience in class may be all too easy to overlook, but doing so will only harm students in the long run. Problem 2 is just one of these. Most of us will have students with this poor work habit at one time or another in the course of our professional lives. Fortunately, with a bit of time and effort, we can usually redirect our students' energies in a positive direction to stop this bad habit.

Problem 2: Some of Your Students Rush Through Their Work

Some of your students are always the first to finish every homework or classwork assignment, every quiz, and even every test. These students do not take the time to check for accuracy or careless errors in their rush to get their work over with. Often these students do not misbehave when they finish their work, but quietly go to work on the next assignment. The problem lies not in their efficiency, but in the poor quality of the completed work.

Your Goals

  • To help these students understand the importance of taking the time to complete assignments well
  • To work with students to improve their task management skills
  • To encourage students to continue to work efficiently
  • To help students manage their anxiety at not completing their work on time

Mistakes to Avoid:

  • Not working with students to help them understand the importance of checking their work before turning it in
  • Not honoring the students’ legitimate attempts to complete work quickly and efficiently
  • Not addressing this issue quickly when it first appears to be a negative work habit
  • Not helping students develop their own methods of making sure their work is of good quality
  • Arbitrarily refusing to accept work that appears to be done in haste
  • Confronting or embarrassing students in front of the rest of the class
  • Not having an accurate clock in your classroom so that students can learn to time themselves
  • Discouraging students from working quickly and efficiently when they are confident that they know the material

Strategies to Consider

  • Provide checklists for all students to complete and staple to their work when they turn it in. (See Sample Checklists You Can Adapt for Your Students below.)
  • Hold a conference with speedy students to discuss their task management skills. Focus on showing them how to use their strengths at working efficiently to improve the overall quality of their work. Praise them for the techniques that appear to be working well and work with them to overcome the ones that are not as positive. (See Suggested Conference Talking Points below.)
  • Be sure to provide feedback on assignments as quickly as you can so that students can understand the negative effects of their haste.

Sample Checklists You Can Adapt for Your Students

One of the most productive ways to manage this issue is to help students learn how to double check their work before turning it in. Just advising them to “look it over” will not work as well as giving them more specific help in the form of checklists. One of the advantages of a simple checklist is that you can easily adapt it to meet the needs of your students. Another even more important advantage is that using a checklist will encourage students to develop the habit of checking their work before turning it in. Finally, checklists appeal to those students who like to work quickly and efficiently because they provide specific and concrete directions.

Provide this checklist for all students to complete before turning in a test with an answer sheet to be bubbled in.

  1. ­____     Did I put my name on my paper?
  2. ____     Did I put my papers in the correct order so that they can be graded easily?
  3. ____     Did I check my answer sheet for bubbles that may not be correctly filled in?
  4. ____     Did I use the correct side of the answer sheet to answer questions?
  5. ____     Did I check to make sure that I did not skip any questions?
  6. ____     Did I erase all stray marks that could confuse the scoring machine?
  7. ____     Did I reread all of the directions for each section of the test?
  8. ____     Did I double check any question that I may have found confusing?
  9. ____     Did I write and sign the honor code on my paper?

Provide this checklist for all students to complete before turning in an assignment to be completed and turned in during a class period.

  1. ____     Did I put my name on my paper?
  2. ____     Did I put my papers in the correct order so that they can be graded easily?
  3. ____     Did I check the directions one more time?
  4. ____     Did I make sure that my paper is neat and easy to read?
  5. ____     Did I follow the directions for formatting my paper correctly?
  6. ____     Did I check for misspelled words and grammatical mistakes?
  7. ____     Did I check for careless errors by skimming each part of the assignment again?

Provide this checklist for all students to complete before turning in homework assignments.

  1. ____     Did I put my name on my paper?
  2. ____     Did I put my papers in the correct order so that they can be graded easily?
  3. ____     Did I check the directions one more time?
  4. ____     Did I make sure that my paper is neat and easy to read?
  5. ____     Did I follow the directions for formatting my paper correctly?
  6. ____     Did I check for misspelled words and grammatical mistakes?
  7. ____     Did I check for careless errors by skimming each part of the assignment again?
  8. ­­____     Did I make sure not to leave any papers in the printer?
  9. ____     Did I make sure that I packed this assignment so that I won’t leave it at home?

Suggested Conference Talking Points

When you begin talking with those students who are inclined to rush through their assignments, consider these talking points. You should allow about ten minutes for this conference.

  • Ask students to tell you how they approach their assignments so that they finish so quickly. Be positive about the efficient techniques that they use. Their productive efforts should be honored and not discouraged.
  • Ask students to tell you some of the negative effects that they have experienced from turning in their work hastily.
  • Ask students to tell you some of the ways that they could improve the quality of their work. Work together on creating a list of suggested ways to improve so that students can learn to manage this for themselves.
  • Show students how to time their work in sections so that they allot enough time for each part. Be aware that some students work quickly because they are afraid that they will not finish on time.
  • Discuss the importance of double checking work before turning it in.
  • Show students how to use a checklist or how to develop one for themselves.
  • Be sure to recap by discussing the positive techniques that they are using wisely and the techniques that they can use to improve their papers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thinking Ahead...One Problem at a Time

For most of us, school is over for the summer! Even though this happy time provides a chance to sleep a bit later and at least some relaxation, it is also a time of renewal for many teachers. We spend this time thinking through the events of the last school year and making plans to improve our teaching practices. Most of all, we tend to mentally work through the problems that we had to manage during the past year and try to work them out.

In the blog posts that follow, you’ll be able to read about some of the  issues that teachers face during the course of a school year and perhaps learn some quick strategies and techniques for solving classroom problems while making sure that all students achieve the success you want for them.

Problem 1:

You have a student who is convinced that he or she already knows the material and does not want to participate in any activities that you have planned for the day, the week, or even the unit.


  • To engage all of your students in meaningful and relevant learning activities
  • To make sure that all of your students have mastered the material in the mandated curriculum
  • To work with the student so that he or she can demonstrate mastery and then move to enrichment material
Mistakes to Avoid:

  • Confronting the student directly in an effort to prove him or her wrong
  • Allowing the student to opt out of mastery of necessary material
  • Offending the student by not taking his or her claim seriously
  • Allowing the issue to have a negative impact on other students


  • The easiest way to avoid this problem is to make sure that you begin a unit of study by not just activating students’ prior knowledge, but also by giving an overview of the material that will be covered. By doing this, your students will know that while they may have a good grasp of the material going into the unit, there is much more material to be learned. Showing students the “big picture” of what they are going to learn is often an effective way to direct their thinking so that they can focus their attention on learning new material.
  • A brief pretest of skills and content at the beginning of a unit of study is another way to assess your students’ knowledge and to focus their attention. It does not have to be long or extremely difficult in order to engage your students.
  • Be flexible when you can. By differentiating instruction to meet your students’ needs, you will be able to individualize as much instruction as you possibly can. Remember that it is not your place to enforce compliance, but to reach as many students as possible.
A Final Word:
While it is tempting to just ignore a student with this attitude, neither of you will gain if you do this. It is reasonable to assume that you will have students who feel this way at various points during the year. With that in mind, try to prevent the problem and to honor the students' concern by assessing prior knowledge and using differentation strategies for instruction.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Standardized Test Madness Is Officially Here

Are you as stressed out about standardized tests as most of your colleagues appear to be? Few events in a teacher's professional life can arouse as much angst as knowing that your students will be taking a test that not only covers what they were supposed to learn, but also how well you taught them. Did you cover everything? Did you cover it in such a manner that every student mastered it? Few us us escape the stress of testing. To make it safely through this rough period with your career and your sanity intact, try some of these brief suggestions. Many teachers have found that adopting positive, proactive attitudes about testing make it easier to keep standardized tests in perspective and reduce harmful stress.

• Work hard to be a good teacher every day and you should feel confident that your students will perform well on standardized tests.

• Make test preparation part of the every day business of your class instead of a time-consuming event several weeks before the testing date.

• Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of testing, determine how being held accountable for your students’ learning has improved your teaching.

• Accept responsibility for the part of the test that you can control and prepare your students for that, reminding yourself that you are also responsible for the entire instructional performance of your students and not just the test.

• Remind yourself that standardized tests do not drive your curriculum, state standards and guidelines do.

• Students will vary in the way that they respond to tests. Accept that some of your students will do well and others may not be as successful.

• Don’t go overboard in your attempts to scare students about tests. Help them deal with test anxiety and focus on achievement instead.

• Remind yourself that standardized tests are just part of what you accomplish each day. You are in the business of educating and inspiring students.

• Offer magic pencils with great erasers and the correct answers packed inside just waiting to be bubbled in.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What Parents and Guardians Expect of Their Child’s Teachers

At this point in the school year, parents and guardians can either be valuable allies who work with you to ensure the success of every student in your class or they can be unpleasant and demanding adversaries. As an educator committed to the academic success of your students, it is up to you to make sure that the relationship between home and school is professional and positive.

One of the most important ways to establish this relationship is to make sure that you are aware of the expectations that they may have of you as their child’s teacher. While not all parents or guardians will have the same expectations of their child’s teachers, there are some similarities that you can anticipate and plan for. Your students’ parents or guardians will expect you to:

1. Ensure their child’s safety while in your class

2. Be fair in your treatment of their child

3. Recognize their child’s unique gifts and talents

4. Be reasonable in the amount of homework that you assign

5. Follow school and district rules and policies

6. Focus on positive qualities more than negative ones

7. Contact them quickly if a problem arises

8. Be courteous when you speak to their child

9. Maintain an orderly classroom

10. Be alert to the misbehavior of other students and how it may affect their child

11. Look and act like a confident, skilled, professional educator

12. Keep them apprised of scheduled events such as field trips and due dates for projects and tests

13. Know when to involve other education professionals such as a social worker or counselor

14. Work closely with them for the benefit of the child

15. Be able to meet with them before or after school

16. Return phone calls and emails promptly

17. Be aware of any health issues that their child may have and act accordingly

18. Protect their family’s privacy

19. Make it easy for them to stay in touch with you

20. Stay within the boundaries of your role as teacher

21. Be honest with them

22. Respect the confidentiality of their child’s school records

23. Be willing to listen to their concerns

24. Respect their insights about their child’s needs

25. Talk to them before going to an administrator for help