Monday, January 28, 2013

Turning Around Poor Study Habits

Are your students’ study habits causing you headaches? While it’s only half way through the school year for most of us, the bad habits that were only mildly concerning in early September are really beginning to become worrisome. Whether it’s procrastination, not writing down homework assignments, distractions, or “I did it, but I left it at home,” poor study habits consume way too much time and create way too many negative conversations.

               I know. I kept count.

               I decided that for one week, I would carry an index card and make an unobtrusive little hashmark whenever I felt that an interaction with a student was the result of poor study habits. For example, I made a little mark when I asked a student about sloppy work, gave another student with a missing planner a sheet of paper to record the assignment, insisted that everyone clip papers into binders instead of stuffing them in back packs, or held a conference with students who had not studied for a quiz. All the result of not-so-great study habits. All part of what teachers do all the time. All negative.

               On day two of my action research plan, I stopped. My index card was covered with hashmarks. To make matters worse, I only counted the comments that I made when I was face-to-face with students. I didn’t count emails to and from students and to and from their parents and guardians.

                I wasn’t hateful or even stern with my students. But these interactions are not exactly the way I want to talk with students. I like a positive classroom. I like to work with students, not confront them.

               Like every other teacher, I don’t have spare time in class to waste on frivolous matters. I do know, however, that my student’ issues with their study skills are demanding time and energy—either in a negative way or in a more positive, productive, constructive way.

               I keep lists of study skills on hand. I post them electronically for my students and I give them paper copies. Obviously, this tactic was not working. So, instead of a huge list, I narrowed it to the ones that are most crucial for my students at this point the school year. We are taking one study skill a day and weaving it into just about everything we do. Below is the list that I think will work with my students if I am ever going to move them toward taking responsibility for their own work.

               Instead of confrontations, we have conversations. It’s a shared experience instead of another adult imposing tedious and unwelcome rules. While study skills are and will always be a work in progress for my students, at least now we are working together in a positive way. Instead of being exasperated at their weaknesses, I can focus on what my students are doing correctly about managing their study skills.
  1. Make a list of your goals and the reasons you want to do well in school. This will help you stay on track when you are tempted not to give your best effort.
  2. Focus your attention in class and while you are studying. Concentration is an acquired skill; make it yours.
  3. Be an active learner when you study your notes. Don’t just look them over; underline or circle key points.
  4. When you have to read a selection and then answer questions about it, read the questions first so that you can read the selection with purpose.
  5. Use your class time wisely. You won’t have to spend as much time later if you learn the material in class.
  6. Take the time to do your work correctly the first time so that you don’t have to redo it.
  7. Always label your work and your notes with the date, subject, and page number so that you can find information quickly when you need to review.
  8. When you pack up at the end of a class, don’t just shove papers into your book bag or notebook. Spend thirty seconds stowing your work in an organized way so that you can find it quickly.
  9. Pack your book bag at night and leave it by the door so that all you have to do is grab it on your way out in the morning.
  10. When you find that your locker, book bag, or notebooks are getting messy, take a few minutes to clean them out. Staying organized is an important part of being an efficient student.
  11. Homework isn’t something you should do when you have the time. It’s something you must do.
  12. Write down your homework assignments so that you won’t have to waste time phoning around to find out what they are or worrying about whether you did the right ones.
  13. Allow enough time to study. For example, if you have homework in three subjects on the same night, you will need to spend more time than on the nights when you have homework in only one subject.
  14. Review your class notes before you start your homework. A quick review will refresh your memory and make doing homework much easier.
  15. Set aside a set amount of time each night to study. If you don’t have any written assignments, read or review your notes for an upcoming test.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Julia G. Thompson: Verbal Immediacy Creates Positive Classroom Relati...

Julia G. Thompson: Verbal Immediacy Creates Positive Classroom Relati...: Here's an excerpt from the book I've been working on lately--a third edition of The First-Year Teacher's Survivial Guide . I wrote this ...

Verbal Immediacy Creates Positive Classroom Relationships

Here's an excerpt from the book I've been working on lately--a third edition of The First-Year Teacher's Survivial Guide. I wrote this because I am struck over and over by the knack that excellent teachers have for using verbal immediacy to connect with their students. What we say to our students has more power than we can possibly imagine. It's not always easy to remember that when a student is defiant or silly or determined to hinder others from learning, but well worth the effort
"The words you use when you speak with your students are one of the most important ways you have of creating a strong bond with them. 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. Using language to create verbal immediacy is one of the best tools that you can have to create a positive relationship with students.

            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.

            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
  • Age
  • Appearance

            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."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Thirteen Resolutions

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”
~Abraham Lincoln

It’s a natural combination at this time of year—New Year’s resolutions and a reflective teaching practice. While Winter Break gives us a few days away from school, we have an opportunity to gain perspective. No matter how busy our holidays are, most of us can’t resist the impulse to think about school and our students and the work that we need to do as soon as our break ends.

            Now is a good time to use that impulse to create resolutions that can bring your dreams for a well-run classroom filled with successful, high-achieving students closer to reality. In honor of 2013, here are thirteen productive resolutions that you may want to consider adopting as part of your own teaching practice in the year ahead. Pick and choose what will work for you. If you would like to share your own resolutions, feel free to make comments. Learning from our colleagues is a great way to begin a new year.

Resolution 1: Respect your students. I know this seems simple, but too often we overlook what our students are capable of achieving because we are focused on what they don’t know or can’t do. Instead of seeing them as competent learners, we see them in terms of what they lack instead of what they are.

Resolution 2: Manage your stress. The last day of school is a long way away. Start employing as many simple strategies as you can to keep your work life and your personal life in balance. Using brief, purposeful actions to ward off the ill effects of chronic stress every day will make a huge difference in your fatigue levels.

Resolution 3: Plan as far ahead as you possibly can. For example, if you know that you are going to be giving a test in two weeks, you have time to create and photocopy it well in advance of the long line of frustrated teachers waiting their time at the copier on the day you want to give it. Knowing what your students are going to be doing for the rest of the year is a positive step that will make it easier for you to use class time wisely.

Resolution 4: Shake it up. No one says that lessons have to be dull to be effective. Use as many different strategies as you can to reach your students. Let them be creative and messy and loud if they are still learning at the same time. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Resolution 5: Explore different ways to increase your own productivity. If, for example, you have a tall stack of papers to grade, instead of plowing through it with a red pen, investigate other ways to use those papers to help your students learn. Ask your colleagues. Use your imagination. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment.

Resolution 6: Use the resources available to you. Create a PLN, open a Twitter account, explore Tumblr, check out the images on Pinterest, invite community members to speak to your students…the list is endless.

Resolution 7: See your students as partners in learning, not little vessels waiting to be filled with your expert knowledge. Involve them in planning, listen to their ideas, and ask important questions. Encourage your students to assume more responsibility for their own learning and then watch the positive results that can happen.

Resolution 8: Make every minute count. Use those tiny blocks of time that can go to waste in any classroom to keep students engaged and learning. Think door to door when it comes to instruction.

Resolution 9: Make a deliberate effort to try a new strategy or technique each week. Some will be fantastic, some will be okay, and some will stink, but you will expand your repertoire of teaching skills and that’s always a good thing.

Resolution 10: Use your students’ strengths. When you expand on what your students already do well, you will find it easier to remediate their weaknesses. Don’t just focus on the strengths of individual students; capitalize on the strengths of the entire class, too.

Resolution 11: Keep moving forward. At this time of year, it’s easy to get mired in the muck of undone tasks and a seemingly endless curriculum. Take a deep breath. Plan ahead. Look ahead. Bit by bit you can build your students’ skills and knowledge.

Resolution 12: Solve problems. If you wanted to, you could spend your entire planning period complaining about your students and trying to fix blame for what goes wrong in your class. Instead of wasting that time, look at the setbacks in your school day as problems that you need to solve. With this attitude, you can move forward.

Resolution 13: Be the role model your students want you to be. For some of your students, you are the only one who will take the time to show them how to be successful, how to read, how to write, how to speak well, how to behave. Whether you want to be or not, you are a role model and far, far more important than you can imagine. Rise to that challenge.