Quote of the Week

Never say you are "just" a teacher. That's like saying Clark Kent is "just" Superman.

Monday, February 29, 2016

What to Do When Students Make Mistakes, by Amber Cowan, 6th grade math teacher at Southside Elementary School

We all know the importance of giving feedback and correcting student errors, but have you ever been properly trained on how to do so?  I can honestly say that after 16 years of teaching, I am still working on how to properly correct students when they make mistakes.  I recently read a great article with many strategies in how to properly correct students when they aren’t getting the correct answers, give incomplete answers, or are not able to respond at all.
Students learn by doing, I think we all understand that.  However, if we constantly let our students repeat errors, they may be learning how to perform skills incorrectly. Students will learn better by “doing with feedback.”  Feedback should be qualitative, focusing on the accuracy of the student’s response, and should occur within a few seconds or minutes of a student’s response.  If this does not occur, students will waste valuable time practicing errors.  Practicing errors will lead to the need for reteaching and relearning.  You the teacher can ensure students receive feedback after each response by using the following instructional strategies:

·       Collaborative learning-use a peer tutoring system or small group activities in which peers provide feedback to one another after each response.  I use this method quite often.  My students are in groups of either 3 or 4, and are grouped according to their ability level.  I have one high, one average, and one low student per group.
·       Learning centers-use instructional materials and computer software that provides feedback after each response.
·       Self-correction-Teach students to self-score their work and self-correct any errors before proceeding to the next problem or item.
·       Homework-Avoid assigning homework or independent seatwork activities that do not contain self-scoring and self-correcting components until the student can perform the target skill with some accuracy.

Too many times, error correction is carried out ineffectively.  This most often is due to lack of time available to make ample corrections. Errors can provide good opportunities for teaching and learning, however. Research shows that error correction will be more effective and efficient when it includes these four characteristics.

·       Now instead of later-Errors should be corrected before going to the next item or problem.
·       Direct-Error correction is direct when the feedback focuses on the target skill. Instead of offering incomplete or indirect feedback, tell, show, and/or guide the student through the correct response or problem.
·       Brief-The teacher should rapidly tell, show, and/or demonstrate the correct response.
·       Ends with the Student Making the Correct Response-Results show that feedback is more effective when the student who erred is given the opportunity to give a corrected response.

In closing, I think it’s definitely important for teachers to evaluate their error correction procedures.  What procedures are you using, and will they help students respond correctly in the future?  How efficient are your error correction procedures? Ultimately, the question of how error correction should be conducted lies in your students’ performance.  You have to decide which strategies work best for you and your students.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Math and Those “Other Subjects”…How to Collaborate Across the Curriculum, by Jennifer Wallace, Math Teacher at Mt. Juliet High School

          I will begin with a confession:  I am probably the worst person to be writing a blog article about cross-curricular ideas.  I collaborate lots…with my fellow high-school math teachers.  After all, we are passionate about “our” subject.  At our school, math and science teachers share the same floor…the top one.  There are some days that once I enter our domain, I don’t step foot in another area of the school until I exit in the afternoon.  I have limited opportunity to mingle with teachers of other subjects during the day unless the copiers on our floor are both jammed, and I have to hunt for a working copier.  So, I accepted this blog topic as a challenge to myself.  How can I become better at collaborating across the curriculum?  Perhaps someone else can learn from my (in)experience.
            First, I had to answer the question for myself:  Why should I care about cross-curricular collaboration?  I found one answer sitting right in front of me:  my students.  Surprisingly, most of them are not as passionate about the subject of mathematics as I am.  In fact, they sometimes ask pesky questions like “Why do we have to learn this?” and “When am I ever going to use this?”.  For some topics, I have my responses ready before they ask the questions.  For other topics, there are always, “It’s on the ACT” or “It will help you become a more logical thinker,” but those sound empty even as they leave my mouth.  In addition to my students, I found a second answer around me:  my colleagues.  Our principal is very good at motivating us to be team players.  We are, in fact, on the same team when it comes to educating students, so it follows that we can benefit from each other’s areas of expertise and help each other. 
            So, if cross-curricular collaboration can benefit me, my colleagues, and ultimately my students, how can I make it happen in my classroom?  Since I have already confessed to being deficient in this area, I will admit that I googled it.  If you are an elementary or middle-school teacher, let me tell you that there are loads of resources out there ready for the teaching!  For high-school math teachers, there are…some.  I found a couple of pretty neat lessons/units, but they unfortunately did not tie into the standards that I’m supposed to be teaching this year.  Some of the most exciting information I found involved schoolwide efforts with grade-level teams of teachers writing interdisciplinary units of study.  Of course, this also included giving these teachers days to plan together, as well as massive feats of common scheduling, not realistic for my current teaching situation.  HELP!  Is this impossible at the high-school level?  What advice can I give?  Here’s what I took away from my research efforts:

1.  Begin with those closest to you.  For me, that would be our science teachers, and math and science are a natural pairing.  I found that science teachers already teach a lot of math.  In fact, it’s the same math I teach!  I need to talk to these teachers to better understand how they apply mathematical concepts.  “When will you use this?  Tomorrow in chemistry class!”

2.  Get to know those “other subjects.”  How many of you have read the ELA and Social Studies standards?  Okay, me neither, but I will, because I have come to understand that it is a necessity for interdisciplinary efforts.  I may never have the opportunity to team-teach with an English teacher, but I can find ways to reinforce the standards they teach, if I know what they are, without adding to my workload.  Math journals, research projects, reading articles related to math, lives of famous mathematicians…these are just a few ways to get started.

3.  CTE!!!  This was an eye-opening suggestion for me.  I do not have to go far to find rigorous, real-life, motivating topics to incorporate in my classroom.  I just need to find out what CTE teachers are teaching as they prepare students for various careers.  We have wonderful CTE programs at our high schools in Wilson County, and they have access to additional resources we may not have as classroom teachers.

4.  Explore community resources.  I am sure I have sometimes been a pest when discussing careers with friends, family, or a new acquaintance.  A casual “What do you do?” can become a grilling session, followed by “Oh? How interesting!  What kind of training did that take?  How do you use math in your job?  What kind of math?”, etc. You get the picture.  However, I have gained a lot of insight that I can take back to my classroom so that I am ready for “When will I ever use this?”

5.  Explore digital resources.  I love not having to re-invent the wheel!  There are lots of tested and tried cross-curricular lessons out there (admittedly, more for elementary and middle school).  In fact, it can be overwhelming to sift through it all, so I would suggest beginning with a specific topic in mind.  The biggest challenge here is the time involved, so I sometimes give myself a goal of implementing one new concept per unit/month/year.

6.  Talk to other teachers!  This doesn’t just have to be at your own school.  I have learned a lot by participating in workshops and forums that involve teachers from other schools and counties.  However, I am probably going to be more likely to implement a cross-curricular effort with someone I am in contact with on a regular basis.  Try asking another teacher about what they are currently teaching.  Who knows?  It could be the beginning of a great collaboration!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Engaging Students, by Becky Bryant, Health Science Teacher at Mt. Juliet High School

     We have all seen that look and probably had a few times too.  You know the one, the glazed eyes, loss of focus, and the expression of tuning out.  I got that look more than I wanted to last year.  I liked my lectures and power points.  Who wouldn't?
     That is when I realized that lecturing alone is not enough.  I knew I needed to do something.  I polled the students in my Rehab class and asked them how I could keep them engaged in my lessons.
     Here are the top four ways the students said they would be more engaged.
1.     Activities.  More hands on learning.
2.    Relate our lessons to real world experiences.
3.    Play music while we are doing labs, packets, ect.
4.    Give students choices to pick the labs that are related to the lessons.

     Let me give an example of a couple.  Hands on activities would include more rehab labs of taping extremities, gait correction, and total rehab of injured extremity.  Relating lessons to real world.  This is my favorite.  I get to tell them stories about patients When  they relate to my lesson. 

    These have worked for me and my students and is a great starting point to keep students engaged. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

From Theory to Practice: Teaching Today's Students, by E.J. Wood, Science Teacher at Watertown High School

     After 30 years in education (10 as an educator the rest growing up in an educator’s household) I have seen quite a bit.  Movements in education have changed as often as the weather.  Regardless where you stand on these issues (Phonics or whole language, portfolio vs alternative vs formative assessment, or NCLB vs common core) if you don’t stand for something it is very likely that you will fall for anything.  The Council of Chief State School Officers and Scholastic Inc., polled the 2015 Teachers of the Year on a range of issues affecting public education.  They were asked to identify the greatest barriers to student academic success and didn’t come up with any policy or movement or other educational fad that has made its way back around the block.  This small but elite group of educators, considered among the country’s best, ranked family stress highest, followed by poverty, and learning and psychological problems“Those three factors in many ways are the white elephant in the living room for us in education,” said Jennifer Dorman, Maine’s 2015 Teacher of the Year.  This group was also asked to rank the top funding priorities; they didn’t mention technology or research, and funding for testing and accountability ranked at the bottom.  The top funding needs were “anti-poverty initiatives” and “reducing barriers to learning” such as providing health care and other services to poor children.  The survey comes at a time when studies show a large percentage (51%) of U.S. public school students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced lunches. So, while we are dragged into the “race to the top” don’t grow weary educator!  You make a difference daily in the things that really matter to our students.  Every student is one caring adult away from being a success story.  

“Be the Change”

Monday, February 1, 2016

Whoville…..Not Confusing the Who with the Do, by Patti Huffman, Counselor at Wilson County's Adult High School

Have you had that student who won’t do what you need them to do? Or the student who does what you need them not to do? Well, the secret is not to confuse the “Who” with the “Do”!

Why might they do what they do? Or….don’t?!

Yes, students must take responsibility for their own actions. And yes, there are times that life is so overwhelming that school does not matter to them because they are just trying to survive.

She had a baby last year, her mom is on disability, her brother is on drugs, and her dad just found out that his cancer is back. And the teacher complains, “She never comes to school! ….. And she NEVER has her work completed when she does!”

Mom is bipolar, and the student is afraid he is too. Dad is in jail and mom can’t hold a job. Mom sends him to get her drugs from the local drug dealer, and he gets busted by the cops. He is so hungry because mom sells their EBT card for drug money. And the teachers chides, “You never have paper and pencil when you come to class!”

As she walks down the hallway, she endures a barrage of slurs. She tries to not be noticed, but somehow they see her and attack. She battles depression and has started cutting herself. Mom says she only wants attention. Could part of it be related to the fact Mom is never home except when she moves a boyfriend in?  And all the guys beat her mom. Regardless, the student has to help care for, feed, and prepare her younger brothers for the next day of school. And feeding them is tricky. When there is not enough food, she doesn’t eat so that they can have more. So, she gets made fun of because of her clothes and being so skinny.  Mom tells her that she will never graduate….she is too stupid. And the teachers barks, “What is wrong with you? Sit up and pay attention!”

This is the reality that some of your students are dealing with every day. These are real scenarios. Your students are facing them even if you don’t realize it.

Here are a few ideas to reach those darling little whos!

 1.  Get to know that special “Who” in your classroom
  • Find out what is going on in his/her life, where his/her talents and interests lie, and/or what you have in common. With that knowledge, it is easier to slip a comment about these into lessons or simple greetings when they enter your room.

2.  Separate the “Who” from the “Do”
  • Address the behavior in such a way as to make clear that behavior is unacceptable, not the person.  They need to know that no matter what they do or do not do, you will care about them as a person. Remember, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

 3.  Call his/her parent, guardian, grandparent early in the semester
  • Calling the authority figure in that student’s life might make all the difference. Sometimes it can be difficult to reach someone, but when you do, they may provide the correction or incentive at home, or they may provide insight that changes your approach to their behavior. At some point, we have all said, “If I had known that, I would’ve handled that totally different!
4.  Set S.M.A.R.T.  Goals with your Who
     For example:
    • I will read an on-grade level book with 85% mastery by Oct. 22
    • I will learn 60 sight words by next Friday
    • I will label the parts of a cell with 80% mastery by Sept. 5th
  • Set a goal to keep in mind to speak positives to that student. Be sure to celebrate/reward the student for achieving the goals and then set new goals

This requires you invest some time, but that student is going to demand your time anyway. Why not invest time so it is more productive and less combative? If it works, you both win. You just might change that child’s life…and transform a family tree forever!

As an educator, I have been told, “You can’t save them all.” My response is, “Well, I’m going to try!” 

Having a Responsive Classroom, by Paige Humes, 3rd grade teacher at Southside Elementary

            With all the changes in education and the continual testing and revising of standards, it is easy to forget what really matters in the classroom- relationships. Relationships are built through daily actions in the classroom and giving students a voice in their learning. The responsive classroom is a way of teaching that involves all aspects of learning including social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community. The Responsive Classroom approach incorporates the students’ social and emotional growth into their academic learning, with the idea that children learn best through social interaction and when they are explicitly taught social and emotional skills incorporated into their academic lessons. This approach offers many strategies to engage students in your classroom and will promote a positive classroom environment. I have listed 10 strategies below that are easily implemented in a responsive classroom.
1. Morning Meeting—gathering as a whole class each morning to greet one another, share news, and warm up for the day ahead.
2. Rule Creation—helping students create classroom rules to ensure an environment that allows all class members to meet their learning goals.
3. Interactive Modeling—teaching children to notice and internalize expected behaviors through a unique modeling technique.
4. Positive Teacher Language—using words and tone as a tool to promote children's active learning, sense of community, and self-discipline.
5. Logical Consequences—responding to misbehavior in a way that allows children to fix and learn from their mistakes while preserving their dignity.
6. Guided Discovery—introducing classroom materials using a format that encourages independence, creativity, and responsibility.
7. Academic Choice—increasing student learning by allowing students teacher-structured choices in their work.
8. Classroom Organization—setting up the physical room in ways that encourage students’ independence, cooperation, and productivity.
9. Working with Families—creating avenues for hearing parents' insights and helping them understand the school's teaching approaches.
10. Collaborative Problem Solving—using conferencing, role playing, and other strategies to resolve problems with students.

With these strategies in place, students are able to take more responsibility of their own learning, which in turn allows them to feel like an important part of the classroom community. Teachers become facilitators and guide students in working collaboratively in their learning. The responsive classroom has been researched and studied by many universities and high achieving people. Their findings all point to the idea that children in classrooms where teachers were using the approach had higher test scores in reading and math, better social skills, and a more positive outlook on school. It is important to remember that your relationships with your students is one of the most important aspects of your classroom. In 20 years they will remember you not by how high you made their test scores, but by the impact you had on them everyday they walked into your classroom.