Sunday, August 12, 2018

What should the focus of school be

Tests, tests, and more tests.  Do you sometimes feel like all we do is test.  Between quizzes, unit assessments, quarterly tests, semester finals, and state testing it seems like students spend one third of their school time testing.  They are told that they need to make sure that they are meeting their A-G requirements so that they can get into college.  They are told to take more AP classes. They are told that they need to get A's in order to be competitive and get into the college they want.  All this just leads to kids feeling more pressure, more anxiety, and more feelings of being failures.  I have had students that have gotten upset because they had an A- and didn't think that was good enough.  I have had students miss school because the anxiety of being the top in the class was to overwhelming.  I have known students who have given up after getting a C on a major test because they would loose their 4.0 GPA and felt they would not get into the school of their choice after that.

As teachers we are told that our students need to be at a certain level by the time they leave our class.  It doesn't matter what level they start, they all need to be mastering all of our subjects standards by the time they leave.  Some states put so much emphasis on this that amazing teachers that can raise students by three grade levels are told that they are poor and ineffective teachers because raising the students three grade levels is not enough when those students need to jump four or five grade levels just to be at standard.

Is this what the focus of school should be?   Should it really only be about teaching the standards, preparing the students for the high stake tests, and focusing solely on the academics.  In my opinion No.  In fact its a loud NO!

School should be a place where students can develop their creativity.  It should be a place where students are allowed to take risks and fail and learn from those failures.  It is a place where they learn how to socialize both in person and online.  It is a place where they build their problem solving skills.  It should be less about testing and more about growing.  So many times the focus is on sending students to college.  Not every student needs to or wants to go to college.   Students should not feel that they have to go to college in order to be successful.  

So what can we do to change this test focused, college is the only path, culture we are creating?  Here are some steps we can take.

#1. Give less tests.  Look at how many tests you are giving your students and try to eliminate 25% of them.   That doesn't mean you aren't assessing them.  You can still assess them and give your students feedback.  I'm talking about the weekly tests that some teachers give.  The small quizzes in a unit before the unit test.  If you feel you still need them so that the students know how they are doing then consider not assigning a grade for them.  Just have them take it as a formative to lead your instruction.

#2. Allow students to fix mistakes.  Let students know that mistakes are a part of learning.  Allow them to improve their projects, to make test corrections, and then retake tests.  I would even take it another step forward by allowing their grade to change completely, not just giving them partial credit for retakes.  Consider the amount of learning that must take place in order for a student to change a D project into an A project.  Or to change their grade from a 45% on a test to an 85%.  That amount of self-motivation, self-determination, and self-guided learning should be rewarded.  

#3. Offer student choice.   Let them choose their own way to demonstrate that they know the topic.  They will put more effort into a project that they want to do and are interested in than something that a teacher assigns.   Consider the possibilities if you let them write their own children's book about the topic, create a video about the topic, make a podcast, draw an infographic, or create and sing a song.  The students will be creating what they like and in the process will be learning more about the topic.

What are some of your suggestions?  Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

How to Build a Positive Relationship with your Students

At every school there is at least one teacher that the students love.  The one class they all want to take.  Surprisingly it is usually not because the class is unchallenging or easy to get an A in but the opposite.  The class is usually challenging and getting an A is difficult.  However, the students all want to take it and that is because of the teacher.  So what does that teacher have?  Why do students petition to get into their class?  

That teacher has learned that one of the most important ingredients to a successful class is having a positive relationship with their students.  This teacher can turn a passive student that turns in no assignments for other teachers into an attentive student that participates in their class.  They know how to work with a student that has behavior issues in other classes so that they are minimal in their class.  What is their secret?  How do they create these positive relationships?  What can we learn from them?  

I am lucky enough to work at a school where we don't have just one of these teachers but many and at least one in every subject area.  Below are some of the strategies these teachers do to help build and maintain positive relationships with their students so that their students want to push themselves and work as hard as possible for these teachers.

Strategy #1: Know the Names of Your Students

There is power in a name.  Imagine how important you make someone feel when you can call them by name without having to look at a seating chart or list.  That you can just look at them and know their name.  This becomes very important when you have 180 plus students.  I know some teachers who seem to know all their students names within a few days. For me its more challenging trying to remember all 180 students.  Here are some techniques I have found that have made it easier.  
1. create a seating chart with their name and picture.  While they are in class working on assignments walk around and use the seating chart to try and memorize their name as you ask them questions or comment on their work.
2. When you call on a student use their name to first call on them and then to thank them for their answer.
3. work on memorizing at least 5 students names from each class every night until you have every student from all your classes memorized.

Strategy #2: Greet Your Students at the Door

One way to start your students day off right is to greet them at the door with a smile and shake their hands as they enter.   This is not only an opportunity to teach them how to properly greet people but also a way to brighten the day of a student who might have had a difficult morning or night at home.

Strategy #3: Get to Know Your Students Outside of the Classroom

Find out what your students likes and passions are outside of school.  If they play school sports take time out of your day to cheer them on.  If they watch sports on tv than get the latest news and updates so you can have a brief one to two minute conversation with them.  If they are into video games do some research on the game and ask them questions about it.  If they are into music have a conversation about their favorite band or singer and why they like them.  For my students its all about YouTube.  They want to be the next big YouTube sensation.  Taking an interest in their life outside of school shows them that they care.

Strategy #4: Ask for Feedback

As a teacher we know the importance of providing our students with timely, relevant feedback to help them improve and grow.  This is also important for us teachers.   Allowing our students to give us feedback on how we are doing lets them know that we respect and honor their opinions and thoughts.  It also lets us know what is working, what is not, and helps us adjust our teaching strategies.

Strategy #5: Focus on the Positives and Be Specific

Unfortunately, for most students, they only hear negative feedback from a teacher in the form of corrections for doing something incorrect. This could be either behaviorally or on an assignment.  While constructive negative feedback is important, positive feedback is just as if not more so important.  When providing positive feedback make sure it is specific and praise the action.  For example, instead of saying "great job" say "I really like how you used evidence from the investigations data to support your claim". Another example is, instead of simply saying "thank you" when a student is doing what they are supposed to be doing say "thank you for coming in quietly and getting out your agenda to write down tonights homework". This specific and positive feedback lets them know exactly what you liked and why so they can continue doing a great job. 

Strategy #6: Don't Let a Discipline Issue Become Center Stage in Your Classroom

I had a student once that was so desperate for attention that when he entered the room he was always late and made a big production.  He made sure everyone knew he arrived and during the class time if he needed to get something he would take the longest path to get it.  He was kicked out of most teachers classrooms and had detention with at least one teacher or administrator every lunch and afternoon.  So I used his need for attention to my advantage.  I privately talked to him and gave him some jobs that I knew he would want to do because it would make him feel special, however, they were on conditions that he followed the classes procedures.  He ended up coming early to class so that he could pass out the papers to all the students.  If I needed something passed out during class, he was the one to do it.  At the end of class he was in charge of making sure everyone put their Chromebooks back in the right spot.  I also got to know about his likes outside of the classroom.  Having him do these simple tasks meant that he was no longer the behavior issue in my class as he was in other teachers classes. This is just one example of not allowing a student to take center stage.  Most discipline issue can be handled quietly and without the audience of others.   I also allow students to email me about possible problems with other students so that I am aware and together we can develop a solution.

Strategy #7: Allow Student Choice

Giving students a voice can be very powerful.  I allow my students to choose where they are going to sit in my classroom.  They are given three days to try out three different areas and then on the fourth day it is first come, first serve for picking their permanent spot for the next 5 weeks.   This allows them to get a feel for the layout of the classroom so they can determine what is the best location for them to succeed.  I also have veto power for those students that are having difficulty making good decisions so that they don't become a problem for the rest of the class.  Using this method has helped cut down on a lot of discipline issues based on seating arrangements.  I have found that for the most part students make great decisions for what works best for them.  Also, allowing student choice in how they are going to learn the information or do their performance assessment creates more engagement from the students because they are doing what they choose. Listening to the students about what they want helps build that positive relationship.

These are just some strategies that teachers do to build positive relationships with their students.  I would love to hear about more strategies that you use.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Flipped Learning leads to more opportunities and student success

      I hate giving notes in class.  I've never like it.  It seemed that some students went really fast and then waited around or started distracting others around them because they were board.  Other students took forever to write the notes because they either had a learning disability, they were a language learner, or they liked everything to be perfect and so they kept erasing and writing over again.  It just didn't seem like an efficient way to get the information to my students.  By the time the notes were done we had little time to practice the information and had to finish for homework.  This resulted in some of the students practicing it wrong or not doing it because they were still confused.   I struggled to find time to get beyond the basics and into the higher level of thinking within our pacing guides.  There had to be a better way.  

      This is where the flipped classroom model comes in.  I 
discovered this model a few years back.  It was exactly what I was looking for.  Students could watch a video on the topic at home and take notes at their own pace.  Then we could discuss what they learned in class the next day and practice the information with the help and guidance of me, the teacher, and their peers.  Using this model I was able to cover the basics faster and spend more time having my students engaged in higher level thinking about the topic.     It took only a few lesson using this new model with my students for them to get used to it and they ended up preferring it over the traditional model in class.   Here are some of their comments about the flipped lessons they left for me when I gave them an end of the year survey.

 - G. Martinez writes: I enjoyed how you introduced us to flipped lessons, because this allowed us as students to learn at our own speeds and review the material if we needed it.

- N. Andrade writes: I enjoyed the flipped lessons because they helped me understand the topic due to the questions asked and notes.

- V. Reyna writes: I really like how the videos explain everything thoroughly and we get to answer questions throughout to see if we understand. Additionally, i can take my time.

- S. Camacho writes: I like flipped lessons because they can be done online, practically anywhere.

So what is flipped learning?

The flipped learning model rearranges where students take notes and practice their information. In a traditional classroom the notes are given by the teacher in class. The students then practice a couple of problems before doing most of the practicing at home on their own. The flipped classroom changes things. The students take notes at home and then spend in time in class practicing the information with the teacher. Reversing the location of these two decreases the level of frustration and misunderstanding in students. It also allows you to make corrections at the first sign of confusion before bad habits are made.

Why is flipped learning becoming more popular?

In the last few years we are seeing an increase of technology in the classroom and and increase in access to technology at home. With this access to technology teachers are looking for new ways to use it in their class. Teachers are finding many benefits of using the flipped model not only for their students but for them as well.

Benefits for students:
- Students are able to practice the information in class and get the help they need when they are stuck or loss from the teacher or other students.
- Students become less frustrated when they learn new material and they have less of a chance of practicing the information incorrectly.
- Students learn the skill of note taking and improve their ability to take notes on their own.
- When students are absent they can quickly get caught up.
- Students can watch the videos over and over again.

Benefits for teachers:
- Once the video is created it is there to use year after year.
- When students are going to be gone the teacher can just assign the video for them so that they don't get too far behind.
- Teachers can choose how long they need to focus on each student and can better meet the needs of each one.
- It helps students understand the information quicker leaving more time for higher level projects and activities.
- If a teacher is going to be absent they can assign the video to be done in class with the substitute making sure that the lesson is taught the way they want it to be taught.
- Parents can watch the videos along with their students which helps them become more involved with their students learning.

In 2014, the Flipped Learning Network and conducted a study about the flipped classroom, surveying over 2,300 flipped educators about their experience. The following infographic shows what they discovered.

Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

Are you ready to Learn the basic steps for flipping your class?

A flipped class has four main parts to it. I created the acronym FIRE to help explain these four parts. F: Format, I: Interact, R: Review, E: Expand.

The format identifies how you are going to give the information to your students.

Interact is about what students are going to do with the information.

Review goes over how the students will reflect on their understanding of the topic before coming into class.

Expand is what I feel is the most important part. Its about what the students will do in class the next day.

For more detailed information on how to do each part, check out my blog post about flipping your class in four easy steps by clicking HERE.

Get started with this FREE guide to flipped learning

Flipped learning book cover.001
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