Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Redirecting Off-Task Students: Ten Tried and True Suggestions

Redirecting students skillfully is not an easy task. There is often a delicate balance between trying to gently redirect a student whose attention has wandered and disturbing the entire class. Many of us wonder just when to redirect—at the start of a problem when it is confined to just one person or when a group of students seem to be off task? As a rule of thumb, most experienced educators will agree that it is best to act fairly early and with the least intrusive methods.
 When you notice students off task, try these tried and true suggestions for gently redirecting without raising your voice or embarrassing students.
  1. Matter-of-factly remind all students of the behavior you would like to see from them. The key idea here is that you have already made the expectations clear for every student. All you need to do most of the time is just to calmly remind students of what the expectations are.
  2. Praise students who are on task. Be explicit and direct so that any student who is off task knows what is expected and, even more importantly, how to accomplish the expected behavior.
  3. Put reminders on students’ desks. You could use one color of sticky note with a smiley face on it for students who are behaving well and another color with a frownie face for those students who are not on task. Another reminder that some teachers have found useful is to walk around placing stickers on the papers of students who are on task. If you announced that you only had five stickers and were going to give them to the first five on-task students that you see, then you can expect that your students will generally rush to earn them.
  4. Count 1, 2, 3 and then wait for everyone to pay attention to your directions.  Calm wait time is crucial to getting every student to pay attention to your directions and then to attend to them. Instead of a flurry of directions, count slowly and wait expectantly.
  5. Often students need redirection when their attention spans have reached their outer limits. Set a timer and give everyone a two minute wiggle break. When the timer buzzes, students can go back to work refreshed.
  6. Ask students if they would like help from a classmate or if they would like to help a classmate. This will often give students confidence as well as a shift in the lesson delivery that just might be effective at keeping them focused.
  7. Use your “teacher look” to remind students to keep working. Often just an inquisitive glance is all that it takes to remind a student to focus on learning instead of misbehavior.
  8. Ask students to restate the directions. If you notice a student off task, first move near that student. Then quietly ask for a restatement of the directions. If you then see that there is a larger issue, you could remind the whole class of the directions. If the problem is confined to one student, then it is easy just to clarify the directions and move on.  
  9. Ask students who are struggling with an assignment if they could use a little help. Often all it takes is a brief moment or two and students are able to go right back to work.
  10. Proximity is effective. Move to stand near the students who are off task. While you are near, smilingly glance at misbehaving students. This will almost always serve to keep them settle to work and stay engaged in the lesson.


Monday, April 20, 2015

If Kids 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 ( 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. 

               At this point in the school year, though, we probably know our students well enough to be able to predict what they would do if they were given the plan book for a day. Here are some of the essentials that many students would probably like to see included in a great lesson plan.

  1. 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 exercise, for example.
  2. Silly videos related to the topic are always a plus. Even better are student-made videos.
  3. Games of just about any sort—low or high tech. Board games are always good no matter what. Student made board games are the best.  
  4. Any game that requires players to roll dice is immediately a huge (and noisy) success.
  5. The perfect student lesson plan will certainly include sharing, collaboration, or teamwork in every possible permutation.
  6. Students like questions that they can answer. 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.
  7. Beating the clock is always fun. So is setting a personal best goal and working towards it. Being able to work for a good short-term purpose is always a popular activity.
  8. One unusual 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.
  9. Music. Music. Music. Background music. Headphones. Music is always good.
  10. A countdown to something is always fun. Not a frantic, frenzied race, but a countdown that focuses an activity—like an online countdown clock to an activity.
  11. 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.
  12. Students enjoy an opportunity to write on something besides notebook paper. The more outrageous the surface the better.
  13. If students were to design a lesson, there would be lots of gaudy coloring. Students would be writing on the board more, too.
  14. If there is a lesson with a reading component, students would design it in such a way that classmates read it together—and not in that embarrassing popcorn style either. With friends or friendly teammates to share the reading load.
  15. 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 (, or just helping out classmates, students like to feel that their contributions to the world matter.
  16. Having several choices of meaningful and interesting activities to do in a reasonable amount of time would also be part of a kid-designed lesson plan. Having a free choice among the choices is even more interesting for some students.
  17. 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.
  18. Finally, in the ideal lesson designed by students, the 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.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Thirty-three Simple Ways to Be a More Compassionate Teacher

One of the things they don’t teach us in education courses is how important it is to treat your students with compassion. Yet, this is one of the most significant hallmarks of a great teacher—someone who is able to see the spark of goodness and capability in even the most challenging student. Here is a quick list of thirty-three simple ways that we can treat our students with the compassion and care that will make a positive difference in their lives.

1. Smile at your students. Make a point of being glad to see them.

2. At the end of class, take the time to speak to them as they leave. Quickly tell them what they did well during class as they leave to guarantee a positive attitude about class and about themselves.

3. Show that you value and celebrate the diversity in your classroom and encourage your students to do the same.

4. Arrange a plan for students who are missing work to turn it in late. Being generous with accepting late work is one of the most positive actions a teacher can choose to take.

5. Make it easy for students who have missed class to get caught up. Have their handouts ready for a quick pick up and assign a classmate to fill them in on what happened while they were out.

6. Pay attention when your students talk to you. Really listen to all of your students without interrupting. Encourage them to share their ideas and opinions.

7. Maintain a birthday calendar for your students. Celebrate birthdays with birthday messages on the board. You don’t have to throw parties, but an acknowledgement of a special day goes a long way to making a child feel important.

8. If your students play a sport, participate in an after-school event, or perform in a concert, go and watch them to show your appreciation for their hard work.

9. Use good manners when you deal with your students and insist that they do the same.

10. When students confide in you, follow up. For example, if students have told you that they were worried about a test in another class, take the time to ask about how they did.

11. Make it very clear to your students that their dreams are important that you want to help them achieve those dreams.

12. Differentiate instruction whenever you can so that students can learn in a way that best fits their learning styles.

13. Have extra textbooks on hand or create a shared materials area where students who need pencils or paper can quickly borrow some without embarrassment or a hassle.

14. Ask about students’ families or others who play a significant role in their lives. If you know someone is ill, show your concern.

15. Speak to every student each day. Leave no one out of class discussions.

16. Teach students to be courteous to each other.

17. Write notes to your students. Use plenty of stickers and write positive comments on their papers.

18. Write more positive comments on your students’ papers than negative ones. If nothing else, change the color of ink that you use for the positive comments so that they are easy for students to find and read.

19. Pay attention to your students’ health. If students need to go to the clinic, send them. When students have to miss several days because of illness, call to see how they are doing, or send a get-well card. Be prompt in sending work to the student’s home if appropriate.

20. Be sensitive to the economic problems that your students and their families may face. Don’t embarrass a student by publicly asking about free or reduced lunch, for example.

21. Use this sentence to convey your concern: “What can I do to help you?”

22. Offer frequent progress reports so that students don’t need to feel uncertain about their grades.

23. Encourage kindness among your students. Notice and reinforce those acts of kindness that students show each other.

24. Talk with students when you notice a change in their behavior. For example, if a normally serious student is neglecting his or her work, find out why.

25. Pay attention to the needs that your students may be ashamed of such as a lack of food at home, no warm winter clothing, or a lack of school supplies. Contact the personnel at your school who can best help your students with these needs.

26. Help students connect to each other so that they can have a support system to help them navigate school life.

27. When a new student appears, help that student by assigning school buddies or class partners. You can also ask students to write quick bits of advice or welcome notes.

28. Educate yourself about the agencies that can offer assistance and support to the various student populations in your school. Refer students who need help when it’s appropriate.

29. Ask your students for feedback whenever you can. It makes anyone feel valued and included when their opinions are sought.

30. Spend time encouraging your students to succeed. Praise and encouragement are effective antidotes to some of the biggest problems that many students face.

31. Help your students save face when they have made an embarrassing mistake. Helping a student avoid embarrassment in front of peers is one of the kindest acts any teacher can perform.

32. Assign the groups and arrange the seats in your class so that the students who may be left out can be comfortably included.

33. Treat your students as you would have wanted to be treated as a student.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Quick and Easy-to-Implement Activities to Prevent Student Boredom

One of the chief characteristics of great teachers is that they pay constant and careful attention to the engagement levels in their classrooms. They work to capture and then to maintain a high level of student interest throughout a lesson. Great teachers know that students who are bored are students who are just not learning.
They also know that students who are bored are likely to be students who are on the way to disrupting class in a misguided attempt to make things more interesting for themselves and their classmates.
And who could blame them? Hours of sitting and working on dull assignments is enough to make anyone into a serious clock watcher longing for a long day of tedium to just be over. Or to daydream about making things more lively by tossing a pencil at a classmate or asking to use the restroom or sharpening a pencil until there is nothing left or…
If you find yourself in a lesson rut or if you just want to add to your repertoire of activities to help students engage in a lesson, try some of these simple, low-tech techniques that are easy to implement.
  • Have students brainstorm as many items as possible in specific categories related to the day’s lesson. They can do this as individuals, pairs, or teams competing with other students. Because students enjoy writing on anything other than ordinary paper, consider giving them strips of paper or note cards or small white boards or posters or colored paper.
  • Draw a triangle on the board and place one concept or vocabulary word related to the material under study in each corner. Ask students to relate the three items to each other. You could also ask students to do this at their desks in mini-brainstorming sessions with partners.
  • Call out a fact from the lesson and ask a student to repeat it and then add another one to it. That student indicates a classmate who then has to repeat the two facts and add a third. This continues until every student has had a turn.
  • Ask students to create three quiz questions from the lesson and then move around the room to mingle with classmates while quizzing each other.
  • Have students play bingo using facts, concepts, or definitions from the subject of the lesson. There are numerous blank templates are available online. Search for them using “bingo template” as a search term.
  • Ask students to write a summary of the day’s material in twenty-five words or ten words or five words. They can then share their summaries with partners and then with the whole group.
  • Call out unusual words related to the subject matter and have students predict their meaning and how it could relate to the lesson. 
  • Call out definitions and have students write the words being defined. Giving students a word bank in advance or having them work with teams will make this more suitable if you intend to use it to introduce a unit of study instead of as a review.
  • Arrange for students to play games of tic tac toe. When students give correct answers to questions about the subject, they can select squares. You could make up the questions in advance or you could have students generate questions and answers to be shared with the entire class. 
  • Pass out three sticky notes to each student. Have them write a fact from the lesson on each sticky note and then trade notes with each other until every student has had the opportunity to trade several times. 
  • Have a mystery box filled with several objects. Ask students to relate the objects to the material they are studying.
  • Ask students jot down five things that they have learned about the subject and then share their new knowledge in a whole class round robin by passing their papers around the room. Each student can add information that is missing from a paper that is passed to them.