Grading Time: The Wakeup Call

 

wakeup1Many students can self-correct. That is to say, they receive a bad grade on a test and know they need to “study harder.” Let’s put aside for a minute the fact that many students have no idea how to study. Let’s focus on the fact that somehow, these students seem to improve.

Then, there are students who don’t improve. They don’t turn in work, they score poorly on quizzes, they score poorly on tests. You fill in progress reports, you write home, you give them their semester grade, and there’s no improvement.

Once in a while, you will have a student who truly does not care. But this is rare. Most do care. They care a great deal, but they are paralyzed by their own failure, and by a deficit of hope for anything can change.

You say, “If you try, you will succeed.”

They think, “If I try and fail, then truly I am a loser.”

What tool do you have to work with a student who is going down the drain?wakeup2


 

The Wakeup Call.

  • Schedule a “check in” at your desk. A “wakeup call” shouldn’t happen in front of the class or in the hallway.
  • Ask the student how she or he is, and how life is. Don’t expect much in response, but give space for a response, anyhow. This is setting the table for showing you care. And you might be surprised by what you learn.
  • Ask questions: “Tell me how class is going for you. At times it seems like it’s a bit rough, based on scores, but I’d love to hear what your experience is.”
  • Ask permission: “Would you be open to hearing some of my thoughts?”
  • “Lock-in” – meaning, let the student know that the relationship is more important than the grade: “I want you to know that I’m not here to judge you. Even when you struggle. Especially when it’s difficult. I’m here to support your learning.”
  • Ask permission to be frank: “Can I tell you what I see happening down the road? If we keep using the strategy you’ve been using, it’s not going to go well in terms of the grade or your learning. It’ll be more of the same type of grades. Or worse. And I’m not sure you’re getting much for all this time you’re spending in class without completing the work necessary to help the skills sink in.”
  • Clarify: “I’m assuming you’re not happy with that. I don’t know, maybe you’re fine with it. I’m not here to judge you, like a said. I’d love to know where you’re at on all this”
  • Make plan: “So, let’s try this. This is the roadmap to success.”
  • Thank in advance and make a deal: “If you stumble on the next quiz, I thank you in advance that you will not disappear – you’ll come to the very next review session. And I will be so happy to see you, I will give you 5 Starburst. I’m not bribing you. It’ll be an expression of how happy I am you’re coming in for help!”
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Polling and Voting in Class: 5 Great Ways to Increase Student Participation

voting cat

This post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


In a survey of technology for newcomers, I mentioned Poll Everywhere for beginning-of-class polls. Here are 5 ways you may want to try using polls in class.

Note 1: Poll Everywhere is free and for students answering, anonymous. They can answer from laptops, tablets, or even cell phones! And their reactions to the polls, in my experience, are surprisingly energized and energizing. It’s fun for them to see their vote counted on the shifting bars, and it gives you a “meta-text” to discuss – not only the student’s reaction to a text or an event, and also, students’ reactions to the reactions!

Note 2: I suggest using Polls as the final step in a FTW (First Thing Work). I’ll spare you the details of each question. Read them for approach, rather than for specific content.

Note 3: In every case, you can:

A: Ask for students to explain their own answer, in discussion or partners.

B: Ask for students to speculate about why the class as a whole answered with whatever trends they answered.


Example 1: “In the video you watched as homework, Darren Brown did some pretty amazing things in a small town in England. Which of these most closely matches your reaction?”

  1. It was inspiring.

  2. It was appalling.

  3. It was somewhere in between.

  4. Something else.

Then, for 5 minutes, students explain their answer in writing. Then, discuss why students wrote what they wrote.


Example 2: I found today’s review session games:

1. Helpful, fun, and worth doing.

2. Helpful but not fun. Try a different approach.

3. Fun but not helpful. Try a different approach.

4. Hated it.

5. Something else.

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.


Example 3:  I found today’s all school assembly:

  1. Interesting and relevant to my life.
  2. Interesting but not relevant to my life.
  3. Relevant to my life but not interesting.
  4. Neither interesting nor relevant.
  5. Wasn’t there.
  6. Slept the whole time.
  7. Offensive.

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.


Example 4: Is your relationship with your parents:

  1. Almost always harmonious.

  2. Mostly harmonious with periods of conflict.

  3. Mostly conflict with periods of harmony.

  4. Almost always full of conflict.

  5. Something else.

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.


Example 5:  Did you find the narrator in the story:

1. Mostly sympathetic?

2. Mostly unsympathetic?

3. Right down the middle?

4. Didn’t read it. Life is busy, yo!

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.

Music in the classroom? Yes. When? Now.

astrocatThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


What’s the first thing you do when you come home at the end of the day?

Turn on the TV? Take a shower? Pet the cat? Untangle your children from a roll of duct tape?

Many people put music on. It sets the tone, creates a certain kind of space: relaxing or energized, comforting or upbeat.

Each class period is a “space.” One class is fun, one is silly, one is energized, one is noisy. Sometimes this is due to the lesson plan, sometimes it’s related to what the students bring into the room. Students can bring an exhausted mood into a room or a chattery, distracted mood. They can bring frustration from whatever happened the block before, or anxiety. The mood students bring into the room can support student learning, or it can undermine it.

I use music to set the tone in the room. I use upbeat (but not frenetic) music — picking tracks that many students might not know but which they may enjoy.

Students know that when the music is playing, it’s not a good time to come ask me questions or distract me with questions about my weekend. All this must wait until “housekeeping.” While the music is playing, it’s time for students to find their seats, to look at the lesson plan (posted online or on the board), to see who their work partner will be, and to begin working on First Thing Work.

While the music plays, I take attendance, prepare my notes, check in with students with emergencies, and so on.

When it’s time for quiet, I begin counting down from ten and drop the music. When I hit zero, the music is silent…and so are the students. No shushing, no noise.

The mood is positive, and if I choose good music, the classroom feels like a great place to be.


audiophileAdditional ideas:

  • Have a playlist ready on your iPod or laptop, so if a song ends, another, appropriate song will begin, and so you don’t have to think about what to play.
  • Avoid ultrapopular (or worse, waning-in-popularity) music that might provoke a distracting reaction.
  • mini x

    For 25 bucks, you can find a speaker small enough to fit in your backpack or briefcase, loud enough to fill a room with music. Try my current favorite, the x mini II.

    Consider playing quiet music during quiet work or partner-work time. I find that some classrooms enjoy mellow jazz or classical music in the background. It’s not necessarily distracting, as long as it’s quiet, and in some cases, it actually helps maintain focus, especially if, for example, two students are working together out loud while others work silently; the music will help the quiet workers not to be distracted by the students working aloud.

  • When you finish class, consider playing music as the students leave! Why not send them on their way with something upbeat?
  • Invest in a 25 dollar micro-speaker which lives in your briefcase, backpack, etc. When you walk into class, turn it on, plug it into your iPod, hit play, and the beat is on! (I suggest a “Curve” by Cambridge Sound Works, an X Mini ii, or an iHome mini speaker.(The former is a little pricier and sounds better, but is a bit bigger. The latter two are cheaper and smaller and, for me, plenty loud for their purpose.
  • Once in a while, I like to slip a song onto the mix that I know a certain student likes (I look at what T-shirts the students wear or which concerts they talk about). This gives you a chance to bond over music; what better way to build rapport? But don’t fake it. Students know when you’re being phony.
  • Sometimes, the student will make a positive comment about your choice of song. After class, ask the student for more suggestions, ask about the concert, or, if you are already a fan, yourself, start a conversation on music. Many of these informal chats have built rapport with a student who I previously had trouble connecting with.

Where to Begin? Music/Musician/Genre Suggestions:

  • Anything by Dave Brubeck (Jazz) or Modern Jazz Quartet
  • Pandora stations: Rocksteady, Salsa, Frank Sinatra
  • Graceland – by Paul Simon
  • Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
  • Andrew Bird
  • Sufjan Stevens
  • Thomas Mapfumo (If you haven’t listened to him, do it now. Seriously.)
  • The Shins
  • Vampire Weekend

Just is just for starters. If you find a “magic album,” comment below and tell us about it!

Getting Down Off Your “High Camel” : Where should a teacher stand/sit in class?

No.

No.

The following piece sits at the intersection of two loves: Torah and Education. I welcome those unfamiliar with the Jewish world of Bible Exegesis to enjoy an unusual spin on an ancient text.


A long time ago, I had a prescient image of my future self. I’d seen some movie where the teacher was sitting on the edge of his desk, facing the class, waxing poetic about whatever.

donnie d

Sometimes.

Years later, yes, I do that sometimes. But only sometimes.

Class begins, frequently, with story-telling on a plot. The topic is posted on the class online-calendar. Students write, and then we share. Sometimes, if I think the story is edutaining, I might sit on the edge of the desk and summon my story-telling skills. I might look a little like that teacher I’d imagined, a long time ago.

Most of the time, however, I walk around the room. Sometimes I stand on a chair. Sometimes I sit on the floor. Often, since I am using a wireless laptop projector, I break the fourth wall, plop down in the middle of the classroom, at an empty desk, and conduct class from wherever. From everywhere.


Sometimes.

No.

In this week’s Torah Portion, a critical encounter takes place. Isaac, forefather of the Jewish People, meets his wife, Rebecca, matriarch of the Jewish people. The text describes their encounter in oddly physical terms:

Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, camels were coming. Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel (Ex 24:63).

Why does the text tell us about Rebekah’s dismount from the camel? Why include that detail at all?

Is body position, perhaps, a key ingredient in authentic encounter?


When I set up my class, I try to create a circle. A circle symbolizes equality and democracy. Like Rivka in the text above, in order to meet my students in true encounter, I need to get down off my high-camel, and meet my students where they are.

I sit on one side of the room one week, and the other side of the class the following week.

No.

No.

And when students work in groups, I try not to hover over them like a threatening presence – I sit down, at their level, and listen. I try not to interrupt. I enter the group quietly and respectfully, and I leave the same way.

When students sit on the ground, I sit on the ground.

And when I must take a place at the front of the room, there is no desk between me and my students. I push the desk to the side and leave open space.

Learning, like all encounters, take place best when there is space created for feeling safe and seen. Sometimes, my classroom is a seminar hall, but often, it is a salon in a comfy living room. Sometimes it’s a cafe. Sometimes it’s a design studio. Sometimes, it’s like a 70’s-style rap session, with everyone in a circle.

But always, I want my students to see me, not by looking up at me.

I want them to open their eyes, and see me, as often as possible, wherever they need me.

The Calendar and the Template: The Batman and Robin of Lesson Planning and Presenting

batmanThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners,a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


The hardest thing about lesson planning is the blank page.

And the hardest thing about starting class: when students enter the room, unless you make it so, your classroom is a blank page. Sure, you have posters on the wall, and you’re midway through a unit.

But unless your posters and unit are as interesting as whatever the students were talking and thinking about in the hallway on the way to class (and let’s face it, to most students, it’s not), the students walk in the room with their own agenda. Their agenda is: try not to do anything.

The good news is that most students, being social beings, will step into line as class begins, even if you’re not playing your A game. The better news is that if you’ve set up class effectively, the span of time between “blank page” and “being productive” can be shortened.

How do you get students to get into gear? How do you reduce the behaviors that make it hard to start class? How do you get students thinking, quiet, and productive — reviewing the themes of the class —while you take attendance? How do you organize your lesson planning workflow so you never forget to include essential components?

The answer is the same for all these: lesson plan with a template, and make the lesson plan available to students upon entering class.

There are low-tech and hi-tech ways to do this; allow me to share a few, and their pros and cons.


Hi-Tech — Editor’s Choice: Google Calendar

By far, my favorite way to present the days work, including the vital “first thing work” that gets students quiet and engaged for 5-10 minutes is a shared Google Calendar. While many schools have a Learning Management System that allows teachers to post their lesson plan for the day, I often find that these LMS calendars similar to, well, the free email that comes with your Cable Internet – you know: lmaluddite@Glopast.com. It works. But the tool doesn’t get updated or improved or work well across the most common devices like Google Calendar does.

I begin the year, during the first week of orientation, teaching students how to bookmark the shared class Google Calendar from a laptop, and even a smartphone/tablet.

Each day, as students enter the room, they open their tablets, phones, or laptops and see the entire day’s lesson plan. It always begins with First Thing Work, and ends with Homework and students I need to meet with. For a detailed description of the various elements built into each day’s template, I invite you to check out A Template For Change – And Workflow.

Additional Benefits:

  • Unlike some other class calendars, a student can open the class Google Calendar integrated with their own Google Calendar. As a result, if they have already begun using Google Calendar for their own lives, they can easily keep track of classes they missed and the lesson plan, homework, and announcements for that day – on the same calendar they check which day they have Disney Musical Club, their Jai Alai tournament, and their family trip to Walla Walla.
  • If you make a mistake that needs correcting in class – the link to an assignment is broken, say, or you decide you want to change the homework assignment — once you change it in the Google Calendar, it’s changed for everyone, instantly.
  • You have the same access to the class calendar from excellent smartphone apps that you do from your work laptop. This means you can COMPOSE YOUR LESSON PLAN ON GOOGLE CALENDAR! I suggest you combine the calendar with a Template – to keep your thinking organized. For more on lesson planning with Templates, I invite you to read: How Not To Cook From Scratch.
  • Referencing how you did something last year: I used to use Word for lesson planning, and by the end of the year, I had dozens and dozens of files – one for each day. I could never find anything. Now, when I want to see what I did last year, I can browse the classes on the calendar – or search for a word or phrase I know I used in my lesson planning.
  • Fast and Portable Lesson Plan Fixing and Peeking: You’re in class, moving around the students, keeping an eye on the playing field. Are you going to bring your laptop with you? No. What do you do when you need to check what’s next? You look at your smartphone, where the same Google Calendar is ready for you to look at. Or, on the way to class, you can adjust a prompt, fix a page number, or jot a note under: assignments. From your smartphone! While walking!

Cons:

Students need regular access to a device: school provided or “BYOD.”


Low-Tech — Editor’s Choice: Overhead Projector

Ah, the lowly overhead projector. It’s actually not so lowly. It has major benefits over the whiteboard (the other place you might write a Low-Tech lesson plan)

Mainly: with a teeny bit of planning and the flick of a switch, your lesson plan is ready. You can write your plans in advance, file them in a filing system, and refer to them as needed.

Benefits:

Besides being low tech and inexpensive, it’s easier to browse your lesson plans written this way, just as it’s easier to browse through a book than to click and click and click.

Rewarding students for checking the calendar: how do you reward students for coming to class, checking the calendar, and getting to work? ClassDojo! The first three students quietly working get a badge! The last two also get a badge!

FTWs are your BFF: Using “First Thing Work” to Get Off to a Good Start

party dont startThis post was originally featured on Thought Partners,a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


“All beginnings are difficult.”

  • I remember the horrendous, red track-suit I wore on the the first day of sixth grade – and discovering that it did very little for my social cache.
  • I remember the anxiety of the first day of fifth grade; I was terrified I’d be assigned to the homeroom of the witchy-looking lady I’d seen in the hallways and I prayed I’d get the the tall, gangly guy. I got my wish, but it turned out that the tall, gangly guy was sort of mean. The witchy-looking lady, I later learned, only looked witchy.
  • I remember the first day of fourth grade, where our teacher introduced us to an octopus, pickled in a jar of formaldehyde. It lived in his supply closet. If he caught anyone messing with his supplies, he said, he’d lock us in there with “Octy.”

All beginnings are difficult.

This sentence, written in the Talmud, and which I learned on the first day of my Educator’s Program, helps us to anticipate difficulty – and to grasp that the emotional challenges that accompany new chapters are normative.

Indeed, every class, four years of study, and 12 years of teaching later, features difficulty — I am both nervous and excited. I am prepared but I never feel utterly prepared from my head to my toes: there is unknown in every class.

The first 10 minutes of class is the time when students are most unruly, you are most vulnerable, and where getting down to business is most challenging.

The solution is First Thing Work. It is posted in the class agenda, it’s ready the moment students walk in, and their job is to do it first. My job is to avoid distraction, set up my computer, take attendance, and check in quietly with students who have emergencies.


Here are a few models for FTW:

Model One: Looking Forward

  • Offer one or two prompts on a theme related to class. For example, in a class on Hamlet, the prompt may be: “Write about a time when you wrestled with a difficult choice, where the stakes were high. What happened? How did it turn out?”
  • Carefully compose prompts that the vast majority of students could answer.
  • Offer a second, more general prompt: “How do you deal with making a difficult choice?”
  • A third, more general prompt, might be, “What advice do you have for people facing a difficult choice?”
  • After writing on their choice of prompts, students then work on “Anchorwork.” Anchorwork is, as it sounds, work designed to keep students focused — and not to drift away from the environment for learning you and they have created for the last five minutes.
  • Anchorwork can be a drill, a fascinating article, a creative project they have been working on for a few weeks, or even a headstart on the homework.
  • After five to seven minutes of quiet writing, ask students to share their stories, ideas, and conclusions. Offer a few summary remarks, and move on to your lesson plan.
  • Additional benefits: many students have reported in my classes that these sharing sessions help them learn about their classmates’ lives – people they see and interact with every day but don’t always really know. This bonding contributes to a warm class atmosphere and to better learning.
  • Alternate model: use an online service like Polleverywhere.com (or jerry-rig a low-tech silent poll with dry-erase markers on the board – each student leaves a check next to their choice) to poll students about something in their lives.
  • Offer a second prompt where they assess or speculate about the results of the poll. For example: why did 75% of the class feel that Kale is the new broccoli? What factors might have contributed to this? What might lead to a shift in these results?

Model Two: Looking Back

  • Use FTW as a time for summative assessment. (For those watching at home, “summative assessment” refers to mini-quizzes you do during a unit to see how students are coming along, evaluate your strategy, plan interventions, etc.)
  • For example, use an online service like exittix.com or socrative.com to have students answer some simple questions about the homework and, through the miracle of the internet, see their scores immediately. Students who struggle meet in a seminar with you for clarification. Students who “pass” move on to the next step.
  • (If you need a low tech version, prepare answer keys students can grab when they are ready – or have them grade each others’ work).

Summary

No matter what you do with your FTW, the following principles apply:

  1. Students must be able to access it immediately upon entering the room, whether it’s online, in a binder on your desk, or rested in stacks in the students’ work area.
  2. It should be work students can do with minimal questions or clarification, since you’ll need that time to check attendance, set up your computer, launch ClassDojo, etc.
  3. It should not be work that needs grading. You have enough to grade as it is. That said, I do have colleagues who collect and grade them and, well, I trust their rationale.
  4. Teach students, at the beginning of the year, that FTW factors into their Student Ethic Modifier. If a student is slow on the draw one day – misses a class – or misses FTW due to tardiness, s/he doesn’t need to make it up, necessarily – as long as it is not a pattern. For more on Class Ethic Modifier, I invite you to my blog, “The Most Helpful 3% In the Class.”
  5. While bell work can, without much planning, make beginnings of class “less difficult,” with practice and effort, it can become an effective way to introduce ideas and materials for a powerful class experience.

“My name is Evan and I’m addicted to Koosh Balls.” — Using Speakers’ Lists and Koosh Balls for Discussion Facilitation.

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My name is Evan and I’m addicted to Koosh Balls.

This post was originally featured on Thought Partners, a blog for educators, hosted by the excellent classroom behavior management app, Class Dojo.


It all started with a peanut.

The teacher was offering salty, shelled peanuts to students who answered questions correctly. It was my turn and she asked me the question, something about verbs. Or adverbs. I blurted out the answer, and hands shot up; I watched in horror as the teacher called on another student to answer and gave him the peanut. My peanut.

The worst part was that the second I said the wrong answer, I realized my error…but I could do nothing about it. My peanut was gone.

Solution 1: The Speakers’ List

Years later, as an adult, I joined a housing cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin. The co-op system had meetings to decide everything: whether to invite an applicant to live in the house, how to invest our $10,000 budget windfall, whether to stop buying cheese.

Those meetings might have been nightmares (and indeed, sometimes they were), but one thing kept meetings orderly: when it was your turn to speak, one thing made sure your peanut was not given to someone else.

The speaker’s list.

If you wanted to speak, your name went on a list. When it was your turn, it was your turn. And you were not done speaking when someone else said you were done; you were done when you said, “pass.”

Was this abused? Sometimes. Rarely.

Mostly, it made people feel heard and seen and in control of their own words.

As a teacher, I quickly adopted this technique. I would ask a question, and instead of hands popping up and competing for my attention, I would simply assign numbers. No more than 7. The next student didn’t get to speak until the previous student said “pass.”

While this method isn’t not good for debate, per se, it’s very good for exploring ideas, which is most of what my class is about.

Solution 2: The Koosh Ball

Still, something was not complete. I was still serving as the speakers’ list keeper and calling on the next speaker, and sometimes, the list felt a little heavy handed. Furthermore, sometimes, I would ask a question and find that getting even one or two speakers was a challenge.

In a groovy book on leading “Rap Sessions,” written by somebody in the 70s with incredible, spherical hair, I encountered the idea of a talking stick. The person with the stick speaks. Everyone else listens.

But what if the next person to speak is 15 feet away? Could a talking stick be easy to catch, easy to throw, and soft, in case someone got hit in the eye? The answer is yes. If the stick is a Koosh Ball.

A tennis ball will bounce and roll, creating havoc. A hackysack is easy to throw but hard to catch. A bowling ball is too heavy. The perfect catchable, tossable, safe “talking stick” is a Koosh Ball.

They used to be made by , but you can buy them here for a few dollars each. I have one in my backpack at all times. And I only go through one or two a year.

Here are some additional benefits to using speakers’ lists and Koosh Balls:

  1. The Koosh serves as a visual reminder of who is speaking. This is one piece in the classroom-management-without-raising-your-voice puzzle.
  2. The Koosh gives you a way of correcting out of turn speakers in a concrete, non-judgmental way: “Make sure you’re only speaking when you have the Koosh” is much more clear than, “Stop talking out of turn.”
  3. Some students like to fidget with the Koosh while they speak, and while I also teach articulate speaking in appropriate contexts, the kind of dreamy rhapsodizing that comes with having something to fiddle with while speaking can actually allow for freer, more creative expression.
  4. While you can create a hybrid speaker’s list / koosh conversation, where the next person on the list gets the koosh, the koosh can also allow the currect speaker to choose who speaks next.
  5. Facilitation through speakers’ list and/or Koosh Balls allows you to step out of actively facilitating the discussion, allowing you to listen more deeply to the individual students and the class “gestaldt” — after six or seven students speak, then, offer your observations and conclusions. I call this “curation,” you can read more about “Curation As Discussion” here.
  6. Using a speakers’ list and Koosh Ball helps you focus on the quality of your questions. Fewer, clearer, open-ended questions are far more effective than many, guided, leading questions. When you get accustomed to asking questions that seven students can answer seven different ways, you’re developing your skills as a master teacher.

Conclusion: These two techniques are part of creating a class atmosphere that is lively without being frenetic, and where students feel seen and heard. Please share your tips and ideas for discussion facilitation below.

Q: You know what I’d pay you for a good idea?

A: Peanuts.