Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Want to Motivate Students? Make Success Attainable

It only makes sense. If students do not believe that they can be successful, why should they even try? One of the most important actions that we can do as teachers is to make sure that our students know that they can succeed at the tasks we ask them to complete. Sometimes the roadblocks to accomplishments are ones that are easy to manage, while others may require a bit more time and effort on our part.

            No matter what the obstacle is, though, teachers who want the best for their students will make school success something that is achievable for all students. Here are some actions that you can take to help students feel that their success in your class is something that is within their reach.

  • Teach students to pay attention when you are giving directions. Good listening skills and the ability to understand and follow directions will enable students to proceed with confidence because they will have a clear idea of what to do and how to do it correctly.
  • Offer plenty of models, samples, and examples of finished products so that students know what their own work should be. If you also offer examples of incorrectly done work, your students will also be aware of the mistakes that they need to avoid.
  • Offer detailed rubrics when you make assignments so that students are aware of the criteria for success.
  • When you make assignments, be sure to discuss the best study skills and time management tips that will allow students to make good choices when they begin working. Teachers who take the time to help students figure out the most efficient ways to do their work make it easy for students to do well.
  • Even if students are not officially working together on a project, provide opportunities for them to consult each other or periodically check each other’s work. Allowing them to do this often clears up mistakes before they become permanent ones.
  • Make sure students know how to seek help from you while they are in class or even after class. Making yourself available at appropriate times to help students can really make a difference for those students who may be struggling with an assignment.
  • Break down larger projects into smaller increments with specific mini-due dates so that students are not overwhelmed.
  • When you are working with student formative assessments, take the time to offer specific encouragement instead of just praise or error catching.
  • Check to be certain that all of your students have the resources they need to do their work. If a project calls for online research, for example, students will need access to a computer and printer. Even something as insignificant as the lack of a pencil can make it difficult for students to do their work well.
  • Be prepared to allow students who need extra time to complete an assignment to have that time. Be flexible and work together with them to determine an acceptable deadline. Sometimes just a bit of extra time is all that students need to really do a good job on an assignment.
  • Use the electronic resources available to you to share information and notes about class on a classroom blog or Website. Be careful to keep your postings about such important information as homework, classwork, grades, and other requirements updated regularly.
  • Appeal to your students’ learning style preferences whenever you can so that they can access the material as easily as possible.
  • Offer assignments that allow students to present their work in different modalities so that they will be motivated to work well. Vary the types of finished products you require whenever you can, also. Allowing students to have a choice in the type of final product they need to produce will encourage them to work to completion.
  • Show students how to take good notes for your class and how to maintain an organized notebook. Keeping up with notes and papers  is an important skill that can make it easier for students to succeed. Experienced teachers know all too well the frustration of watching students search overstuffed book bags for missing papers.
  • Design assignments so that the difficulty level of the work begins with items that are easy to manage and then progresses in complexity. This encourages student confidence and willingness to persist at completing the assignment.
  • Provide appropriate enrichment and remediation opportunities as often as you can. Both offer students a chance to improve skills and develop knowledge.
  • Make frequent checks of student progress so that students are aware of what they need to do to succeed.
  • Encourage students to reflect on and self-assess their own work. Students who engage in metacognition about their assignments and work habits tend to be more successful than those who do not.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Prior Knowledge and Great Online Lesson Plan Sites

One of the best things about writing about education while still being an active classroom teacher is that the research I do for the book often translates into something practical that I can use in my own teaching practice. In the two excerpts from the manuscript that I am working on right now, the third edition of the First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, I found information that I can use right away. In the first excerpt, "Assess Your Students' Prior Knowledge," I revisited some successful strategies that I used to use but had forgotten.

I hope that some of them may work in combindation with lots of other techniques, to help you figure out what your students already know about what you want to teach so that they can buy in right away and begin learning without delay. In the second excerpt, I wanted to offer the new teachers who are the audience for this book some really good Web sites where they can find lesson plan ideas. Much to my happy surprise, I found several sites that I can use myself and I have been teaching for over thirty-five years. I hope both excerpts can spark your teaching as they have done mine (and as I hope they will the new teachers who will read this book next summer!)


“Your students’ prior knowledge is a gift that they bring to class each day. Before you can make final decisions about what you are going to teach, you first need to determine what your students already know.

            Determining your students’ prior knowledge is crucial because it determines the approach you will take with a unit of study. For example, if most of your students understand a concept, then you may wish to only review it briefly as a springboard to studying the next concept. On the other hand, if most of your students are unfamiliar with information you assumed they would already know, your approach will need to be more comprehensive. Because building on background knowledge is such an important component of successful instruction, determining that background or prior knowledge is essential.

            You can use what you learn about your students’ prior knowledge in many different ways. For instance, if you discover that one student understands a concept and can explain it to the rest of the class, that student’s success will motivate the others to succeed.

            To assess your students’ previous learning, there are many techniques you can use. Try adapting some of these to assess what your students already know about a topic.

        Ask students to write out a quick list of three facts they already know or think they know about a topic. After they have passed their responses to you, read some of them aloud (without revealing the author) and ask the entire class to judge their veracity.

        Ask students to write a brief description of what they have already been taught about the topic you are about to study. You could even ask them to tell you when and how they learned the information.

        Create a brief sampling of some of the questions you plan to include on a quiz or test later in the unit. Ask students to predict the correct answers.

        Divide your students into small groups and ask them to share everything they know about the topic under study. Set a time limit.  After the time limit is up, have a representative from each group share the group’s knowledge with the rest of the class.

        List the main points of the unit you are about to teach, and ask students to write what they already know about each one. Share their answers with the entire group.

        List the key terms that students will study. Have students write what they believe each term means based on what they already know about the topic. They should share their answers with the entire group.

        Ask students work to in pairs, and hand each pair a transparency or a sheet of poster paper. Have each pair brainstorm, listing everything they know about the topic. Share the lists with the class, or display them.

        Offer a puzzling scenario, and ask students to solve it, using what they already know about the topic. Have students keep their responses in order to verify their knowledge as they progress in their study.

        Show students a photograph, cartoon, diagram, quotation, or brief article related to the topic you are about to study. Ask them to share their reactions.

        Ask your students to create a Know/Want to Know/Learned (KWL) chart. The first two sections of the chart will give you a good summary of their previous learning.




Although there are dozens of online sites devoted to lesson plans, the sites in the list below offer a comprehensive assortment of free lesson plans and lesson plan resources for K-12 educators. These sites are not limited in the topics that they cover, but allow teachers to access lesson plans that cover a wide variety of content areas. At some sites, teachers may need to register to be able to fully use all of the resources at the site, but at the time of publication, all of these sites were free resources for educators.


A to Z Teacher Stuff (http://www.atozteacherstuff.com)

A to Z Teacher Stuff is a teacher-created site designed to help teachers find lesson plans, thematic units, teacher tips, discussion forums, printable worksheets as well as many more online resources.


Discovery Education (http://www.discoveryeducation.com)

Discovery Education offers an enormous wealth of resources for teachers—digital media, hundreds of easily adaptable lesson plans, worksheets, clip art, and much more.


Explore (http://explore.org)

Sponsored by the Annenberg foundation, Explore’s library consists of hundreds of brief, original films and more than30,000 photographs from around the world on a  wide range of topics such as animal rights, health, poverty , the environment, education, and spirituality.


Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (http://free.ed.gov)

At Free, teachers can access more than 1,500 federally supported teaching and learning resources submitted from dozens of federal agencies. While these are not actual lesson plans in themselves, these resources  can be invaluable tools in designing instruction.


ForLessonPlans (http://www.forlessonplans.com)

ForLessonPlans is an online directory of free lesson plans for K-12 teachers. Created by teachers, this site offers lesson plans that cover many different subjects as well as links to other resources.


HotChalk (http://lessonplanspage.com)

At HotChalk’s lesson plans page, teachers can access over 3,500 lesson plan. The extensive selection of lesson plans at this helpful resource site were first developed by students and faculty at the University of Missouri in 1996 and later expanded to Website users.


The Independent Television Service (http://www.itvs.org)

The Independent Television Service (ITVS) presents award-winning documentaries and dramas as well as  innovative new media projects on the Web. Teachers can find interactive games and lessons plans that accompany the media presentations.


Lesson Planet (http://www.lessonplanet.com)

Founded in 1999, Lesson Planet enables teachers to search more than 400,000 teacher-reviewed lesson plans, worksheets, and other resources in an online, professional community. A free trial is available.


LessonPlans.com (http://www.lessonplans.com)

Maintained by the Educators Network, LessonPlans.com offers thousands of teacher-created lessons plans in an easy-to-search format organized by topic as well as by grade level.


National Education Association (http://www.nea.org)

The National Education Association Website offers thousands of lesson plans in an easily searchable format. Teachers can also find a variety of lesson planning resources as well as practical tips for classroom use.


Scholastic (http://www.scholastic.com)

Scholastic offers thousands of free lesson plans, unit plans, discussion guides, and extension activities for all grade levels and content areas.


Share My Lesson (http://www.sharemylesson.com)

 Share My Lesson is maintained by the American Federation of Teachers and TES Connect. Developed by teachers for teachers, this free platform provides over 250,000 teaching resources and provides an online collaborative community. Share My Lesson also has a significant resource bank for Common Core State Standards.


Teachers Network (http://teachersnetwork.org)

Teachers Network, a New York City nonprofit organization for educators, offers thousands of lesson plans and lesson plan resources covering a wide assortment of topics in a variety of formats for teachers at all grade levels.


Teaching Channel (https://www.teachingchannel.org)

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Teaching Channel is a video showcase of innovative and effective teaching practices schools. Instead of traditional lesson plans, teachers can watch brief videos of effective teaching ideas that they may want to implement in their own classrooms.


Thinkfinity (http://www.thinkfinity.org)

Thinkfinity is the Verizon Foundation’s online professional learning community, providing free access to over 50,000 educators, thousands of  digital resources aligned to state standards and the common core, as well as blogs and discussion groups."



Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Stay Out of Trouble: The Do's and Don't's of Your School Computer

One of the most exciting moments of any new teacher orientation program is the issuance of  school computers. No matter what type of computer you are issued, it is exciting to be connected with all of the other employees in your district and to have access to the same resources that are available to them. Being issued a school computer also means that new teachers have to adopt a professional approach to the way that they use this ubiquitous tool. After years of working on personally owned computers, many new teachers are not always sure of the behaviors that
are acceptable and which ones are not even though they may have signed a document outlining their district’s acceptable computer use policies. To make sure that your use of your school computer is as professional as possible, be guided by these do’s and don’ts.
School Computer Do’s

  • Do remain aware that the computer is the property of your school district.
  • Do be cautious, conservative, and professional when using your school computer
  • Do transport your computer in the case or bag that was issued with it if you have a mobile devices
  • Do periodically go through your files to keep them organized and up to date.
  • Do back up your work to an external drive on a regular basis.
  • Do follow your school’s protocols for saving to a school network.
  • Do use bookmarks to keep your topics easy to find in a hurry.
  • Do use your computer only for school business.
  • Do create passwords for your various school accounts that are logical, easy to recall, and can be updated periodically.
  • Do respect the intellectual property rights of others.
  • Do make sure to lock portable computers in a secure place  if you don’t take them home each day.
  • Do keep your virus protection updated.
  • Do report problems with your computer as quickly as you can.
  • Do remember to take your computer to school each day.

School Computer Don’ts

  • Don’t download any software program without permission—preferably in writing.
  • Don’t have food or drink near your computer. Spills can be costly.
  • Don’t forget that your email account may be monitored by district personnel.
  • Don’t leave your computer unattended if you have to leave your classroom.
  • Don’t allow students to use your computer.
  • Don’t use other teachers’ accounts without their permission.
  • Don’t visit sites that could indicate that you are not a good school employee such as pornography or extreme political views.
  • Don’t decorate your computer’s case with stickers, images, or anything that has not been approved.
  • Don’t open suspicious attachments that could infect your computer.
  • Don’t share your passwords with others.
  • Don’t conduct personal business on your school computer.