THWACK! Keep those kids in line!

June 7, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Posted in behavior, best practices, culturally relevant teaching, inner city, learning modality, strategies | Leave a comment

It’s the end of the school year.  The students are tired.  You are tired.  The kids act more like caged monkeys than students.  And by golly, three weeks can last an eternity.Students act more like caged monkeys.

At this point, I don’t know who’s behavior is worse, the students or the teachers!

Now is not the time to slack off.  For the last few weeks, I noticed a definite pattern.  When I feel tired and plan for “fun” activities so that kids are “enthusiastic” about school is when I have the most behavior problems.  When I plan and execute rigorous lesson plans, my kids revert back to their pleasant, well-behaved student mode.

Here’s a link to a Responsive Classroom strategy, Interactive Modeling, that I’ve been using to remind my students of proper behavior.  I’ve noticed a significant difference in my students behavior after I’ve started using this strategy.  At the very least, my students don’t act as if I’ve never taught them rules and routines before.

Interactive Modeling uses several forms of modeling to teach rules and routines.  The teacher models, the students model, and then the students practice.  The interactive and physical modeling is far more successful at teaching rules and routines than simply telling students what to do.  This is particularly true of inner city kids, many of whom are English Language Learners and Standard English Learners and need the scaffolding that Interactive Modeling provides.

I’ve only discovered this strategy in April when this article came out, but I have added it to my repertoire of teaching skills.  I definitely intend on using this strategy repeatedly at the beginning, middle, and end of the next school year.

Culturally Relevant Teaching Part 2 – High Expectations

November 13, 2007 at 9:08 pm | Posted in best practices, culturally relevant teaching, education, elementary, graphic organizers, strategies, teachers, thinking maps, writing | 3 Comments

My previous post explores some of the philosophy behind Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT), or the whys.  This post, I want to explore some of the hows.  That really is what we need.

If you are reading Part 2 of my posts, then I assume that I am preaching to the choir.  You already intuitively know why CRT is a good thing and you want to do it.  So how do we go about integrating CRT into our daily instruction to maximize student learning?

High Expectation – from Can’t to the Absolutely Can

Do you have high expectation of your diverse students?  Do you really believe that everyone can learn and succeed?  OR Do you answer, “Yes, but ______.”  If you qualify your answer with “but” then you do NOT have high expectations for your diverse students.  You can stop reading this post right now and go pick up some books with researches that prove again and again that ALL students can learn, regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background, parental involvement, whatever.  Until you believe absolutely that all of your students can learn, can be the A student, then nothing that you read or try will help your students any.  I don’t know how else to put it.  The anonymity of the internet blog allows me to write this, “If you don’t have high expectations for all your students, then you SUCK as a teacher compared to what you can truly do.”  (I just know I’m about to get another slew of e-mails attacking me. *ducks*)

What does high expectation look like in the classroom setting?  Here is another real life example from my school.

All teachers are trained to use Thinking Maps, targeted graphic organizers.  In particular, all teachers are trained to use these graphic organizers along with sentence frames to help students communicate orally and in writing.  All teachers.  I took a walk with many other teachers, just to see examples of writing in the classrooms, as part of our professional development.  With one exception, all first grade teachers had their students copy teacher created writing samples from the board.  By this I mean in all subject areas, in all topics, just all writing samples were teacher created, student copied.  These teachers expected that their students can not write and so do not even give them the opportunity to try.  The one exception is a first year teacher who doesn’t have that low expectation.  In fact, she has high expectation.  She expects her students to write coherently and she gave them the support they need to do so.  She gave them the sentence frames, without filling it in for them.  She gave them Thinking Maps from which they can pull words and ideas.  She lets them go at it.  Some students made mistakes and she helped correct the mistakes without taking over the students’ writings.  High expectation.

Having high expectation is probably the most difficult part of being culturally responsive, because it’s just so easy to blame the students for failure, and so hard to say, maybe I’m not teaching very well.

If you answer with an unqualified yes, then let’s move on to other, easier strategies for integrating culturally relevant teaching.

Part 3 – We Communicate Differently – Coming soon to a blog near you!

Our dominant, white culture communicates very differently from the cultures of our diverse students.  Visit my post on how we organize our communication differently.  Next post will go more in depth into this and how to utilize this difference in the classroom.

We’re still teaching like this?!

October 29, 2007 at 5:52 pm | Posted in best practices, education, history, strategies, teachers | 3 Comments

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a high school American History class and what I saw shocked me.

On the board was listed 10 weeks worth of homework assignments by due dates:

  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Q&A, pg blah blah
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • The Constitution
  • etc.

Well, at least there was clear expectations…for the materials that the students need to cover.  What exactly are the students supposed to learn of American History?  I don’t know, but I do know they need to read a chapter a week, who cares what the chapter’s about. 

Perhaps I’m alone in looking at the list and feeling outraged.

Somehow, I thought History class should be more interesting, more involved, more though provocative given the state of our country today.

Now, keeping in mind that I’m a second grade teacher and that MY American History teacher taught in the EXACT same manner as above and I don’t remember a THING about American History, here’s a proposed list of assignments that I would have liked to have seen on the board.

  • Who lived in pre-colonial America?  Choose one people to read up on, create an artifact relevant to these people and be prepared for show-and-tell.
  • What happened to indigenous population once European settlement of the Americas began?  Choose a side, pro or con, and be prepared for a debate on the benefits of European settlement.
  • Could colonial America be built without the use of slavery?  Be prepared for a debate on the pros and cons of slavery.  You will be assigned a side at the time of the debate.
  • Was it ethical for colonial America to declare independence from Great Britain?  Write a Declaration of Independence to secede California from the U.S.  You may work with partners or alone.

And so on.

It’s not as if as a teacher you would need to create new materials.  The mandated textbook could be used to find all this information.  Of course, some students might decide it’s worth their time to look up the information on the Internet, maybe even a library search, or a discussion with their parents…

I don’t know.  I’m not a History teacher.  Maybe you History teachers can weigh in on this.  What do you think?

Organizing Ideas in Discourse and Writing

October 28, 2007 at 12:18 pm | Posted in best practices, culturally relevant teaching, elementary, graphic organizers, inner city, learning modality, second grade, strategies, thinking maps, writing | Leave a comment

One of the tenets of Culturally Responsive Teaching is that students from different cultural background would have different communication styles which may clash with the communication style of the teacher.  So, how do we teach students who communicate differently from us?

Topic-Centered

In America, the dominant way to organize communication is “topic-centered”.  We focus on one topic at a time and logically follow through to a conclusion in an orderly manner.  It’s very linear.  If we are part of the dominant culture, we automatically think this is the correct way of organizing our thinking, our speech, and our writing.

Topic-Associative

Research have shown that Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans and Hawaiians are inclined toward topic-associative style of organizing communication.  This style is thematic, associative, and integrative.  A topic-centered communicator would view this form of communication as rambling, straying off topic, and not organized, when in fact, the topic-associative communicator is giving you ALL the information, ALL the associations, EVERYTHING relevant to the topic.

In the Classroom

Be honest, in the classroom, particularly in a culturally diverse classroom, how many of you teachers think that your ethnic students are ramblers and don’t communicate well and that their writing is awful and disorganized?  I can point to each child and give an illustration of how the child is a topic-associative communicator in my classroom, and if I didn’t know about the difference in communication style, I would have immediately said my students are disorganized thinkers.  In actuality, they are organized in an associative manner, not topic-centered. 

Here’s an anecdote.  My grandmother would try to tell these stories about her past.  However, for us young grandkids, she never quite got to the “point” of the stories.  She never gave us a plot with a problem and a solution or a punchline.  We never got to hear the ending of the stories because we got impatient and walked away.  Why?  She would spend all her time talking about the people and places related to the stories.  “Once, your grandfather took me to visit Uncle so and so.  Remember Uncle so and so?  He had that daughter who married so and so.  What was her name?  I think her name was so and so.  He gave her a pig for her wedding day.  That was a great day.  Your aunt so and so was there…”  We missed the entire point of why grandmother was talking with us..she was talking about people, not plotlines.  Grandmother was very much a topic-associative communicator.

How to Bridge the Styles in Writing – An Example

As a culturally responsive teacher who wants to use the students’ strengths to build a bridge to academic success in a dominant culture that IS topic-centered, what do you do?

Well, I’ve been thinking about why the way I’ve been teaching writing has been such a success with my inner city students.  I build in all sorts of scaffold.  I give them all sorts of graphic organizers.  I expect and receive successful writings.  All this and more.

But, looking at it through the lens of communication styles, I can clearly see now that I have created a bridge from one style to the other for my students, using the strength of one and carefully teaching my students how to do the other.  Or, to be more precise, “Write from the Beginning”, the writing program, has built this bridge.  I merely strengthen it.

Looking carefully at how I teach writing using Thinking Maps, we can see that we start with my students’ strength, topic-association, by using a Circle Map.  First in conversation, then in the graphic organizers, my students are encouraged to think about and write down everything that is associated with and related to the writing topic.  Because we are using a circle to organize our thinking, everything is related and nothing is more important than the other.  We honor all associations.

Next, we start making decisions about what we need to focus on, beginning the bridge to a topic-centered piece of writing.  We do this through a Tree Map, picking out three main ideas.  We then move to a Flow Map and piece, by piece, organizing our ideas in a topic-centered sequence, moving from one completed idea to the next and coming to a conclusion.

Our final writing is very much topic-centered and would please any topic-centered communicator.

When I remove this bridge, my second graders immediately produce writing that is topic-associative because that is their communication style.  That bridge is clearly not solid yet and my students still need scaffolding, but as we continue working together throughout the year, my students will become more adept at crossing that bridge independently. 

My goal of course is for my students to be able to use two styles of communication and be able to make decisions about when is appropriate to use one or the other.  Already, I see two students who are able to do this by themselves, with minimal guidance.

Physical and Psychical Space in the Classroom

October 27, 2007 at 11:47 am | Posted in best practices, collaborative groups, education, learning modality, strategies, teachers | Leave a comment

Lately, this topic has been on my mind.  I would like to examine a “case study” to illustrate how physical space and what I jokingly call psychical space must align in order to produce real learning.

Physical Structure

In this real classroom at my school, a teacher arranges the tables and chairs into groups of six students.  The students face each other.  The table groups are arranged throughout the overall classroom.  The teacher explains that this fosters collaborative group learning.

On the surface, this sounds like a good idea.

Psychical Space

The table groups are arranged in such a way that there is no “carpet space”, a place for the students to come together on the carpet throughout the day to interact as a whole class.  The students are expected to remain at their tables and not interact with students at the neighboring tables.  The teacher has a desk at the front of the class and stays there.  He does not rotate or walk among the students.  Students in the “collaborative” groups are expected to work quietly at their individual work, with very little small group work assigned.  In reality, the students are isolated from each other and from the teacher.  There is no real collaborative learning going on.  (Also, because I’m nitpicky, a third of the students face the back of the class, a third face the sides, and only a third face the front where the teacher is and where instruction takes place.)

Alignment

Almost any physical arrangements in the classroom can work to enhance learning, so long as teacher thinks through what the goals are in the classroom.

This teacher wanted a physical space that fosters collaborative group learning.  To make it work, he needs to arrange his teaching to foster collaborative group learning as well.  He needs to teach students how to work in groups in a focused manner and then have students actually work in groups in a focused manner, not just do quiet individual work sitting in a group.  He needs to collaborate with the students as well by interacting with them, moving among them, having conversations with each group and each student.  To further enhance collaborative group learning, he can change the groups for different activities, have students present to each other, have different groups converse with each other.  While not necessary, I prefer a carpet space where all students can come together and discuss as a whole group in close proximity to each other and with the class.  If the arrangement of the tables don’t have all students facing the “front” of the class, then have instruction take place all over the classroom. 

So, what’s your physical space and psychical space like?

Please leave comments with your reflection or link back from your blog.

Friendly Letter – Oral Rehearsal Using a Flow Map

October 3, 2007 at 6:22 pm | Posted in best practices, ELD, elementary, graphic organizers, learning modality, second grade, strategies, thinking maps, writing | 4 Comments

This video was taken by a friend during our writing process about two weeks ago.

This student was absent during the days when we worked on our Flow Map so he had to use the class created Flow Map for his writing.  The other students use their own Flow Map.  In the video, the student is orally rehearsing his writing prior to writing.  He is doing what we call “Pull Out and Talk”.  For a more detailed explanation of our writing process, please visit this previous post.

This was our second major piece of writing in the second grade Open Court unit, Kindness.  The prompt was:  Please write a thank you letter to the elves as if you were the shoemaker.

Why Oral Rehearsal?

Why do I insist that my students orally rehearse before writing?  Almost all of my students are stronger in the oral language than they are in the written language.  I found that they were intimidated by writing and could sit for hours staring at a blank sheet of paper before writing or would write everything in three or four incomplete sentences.  Allowing my students to talk and think aloud reduces the affective filter.  Also, allowing my students to make plenty of mistakes while talking and then fixing their mistakes orally ensures that less mistakes show up on paper.  With oral rehearsal, my students’ writing is stronger and more detailed.

Addition – Two students use Manipulatives and Spiderman Math

October 3, 2007 at 7:37 am | Posted in education, elementary, games, learning modality, math, second grade, strategies | 1 Comment

This video was taken in my class two weeks ago by a friend.  The video shows two students playing a math “game” while independently practicing two digit addition.  Using two dice (or die, I could never tell), one student rolls the “tens” while another student rolls the “ones”.  They do this twice, writing down the two digit addition problem they have created.  Then, they add using manipulatives.  Listen carefully to the boy’s think-aloud.  He actually says he “expands” the number using manipulatives.  Then, the two students add using “Spiderman” math.  Spiderman math is just a fun way of calling addition using expanded form.

Spiderman math is the scaffolding step between using manipulatives and the standard algorithm.  These two students are not quite ready for the standard algorithm yet, but they are more than proficient with manipulatives…they are in the in-between stage, thus they use both manipulatives and Spiderman math.

These students are not ready to regroup, which is the old fashion carry and borrow concept.  The next problem they do which involves regrouping, they become totally confused.  They are able to do the problem using manipulatives, but don’t know what to do even in Spiderman math.  Imagine forcing these students to use the standard algorithm immediately.  They will spend the next two to three years of their lives randomly putting a “1” on top of their addition problems.  Ask third and fourth grade teachers if this is not true.  Allowing them to first explore addition using manipulatives, then Spiderman before the standard algorithm will help them understand when and why regrouping is necessary.

Other students in the class are at various stages.  Six students can only use manipulatives, and even then, two or three are having difficulty counting.  Two students are able to add two and three digit numbers using mental math quickly and accurately because they can visualize expanding the numbers, mentally grouping the tens and ones together.  And yes, I teach them this because if they can do this, they are truly understanding addition.  They are definitely NOT adding one column of number, then moving to the next to add that column of number, which is what many teachers demonstrate to students, thinking that the shortcut will help the students get the right sum.  Yes, the shortcut will get the students to the correct sum, but it will not help them understand addition and learning how to regroup will become even more difficult.  How do I know that these two students are not simply adding one column, then the next?  I listen to their think alouds.

Our class have not started learning to regroup yet, though most of my students are already able to do it using manipulatives.

I like teaching math like this.  I use games rather than an impersonally generated sheet of problems because the students are more motivated and they have fun.  Given a choice between a sheet of problems and generating your own problems using dice, which would you have more fun with?  Here, I am also tapping into many different modalities.  My tactile students have the dice and manipulatives.  My social students have partners.  Obviously, my verbal student is talking himself through his problems.  My visual students can see the numbers using manipulatives.  What other modalities can I tap into?

Friendly Thank You Letter – Using Thinking Maps

September 25, 2007 at 6:10 pm | Posted in elementary, graphic organizers, Open Court, second grade, strategies, thinking maps, writing | 4 Comments

This is a piece of writing my second grade students work on for two weeks. It helps prepare my students for the Open Court Unit 2 writing assessment. This is the first major writing assignment in Unit 2 for us. I used the writing process that I learned from Write From the Beginning because it explicitly teaches many skills and makes clear the writing process.

You can also read more about writing using Thinking Maps at my previous posts.

The prompt

Please write a thank you letter to Ms. R using the friendly letter format.

Second grade Open Court teachers in LAUSD would recognize the prompt as the unit assessment prompt, modified.

The Rubric

The class rubric is charted and hangs in front of the class through out the entire writing process. I refer to it again and again daily as well as whenever I teach a particular skill that is mentioned in the rubric. Every student knows exactly what needs to be done to get a good grade.

friendly_letter_rubric

The Context

While working in the computer lab one day, the fire drill alarm went off and drove us out of the computer lab. Ms. R invited the students to return after recess to complete the presentations that they were working on. The students felt grateful and excited at the opportunity, and I immediately grabbed at the chance to do a major piece of writing using a shared experience. Also, I couldn’t resist the urge to do some relevant writing with a real-world purpose. Ms. R was very happy to receive these letters.

Pre-write: The Circle Map

We started by brainstorming some things we want to write about using a Circle Map. We did this as a whole group using Think-Pair-Share and small group discussion strategies. Then, the students created their individual Circle Maps. Students were encouraged to “pull out” from the class circle map and to add their own ideas.

studentwriting0007

Continue Reading Friendly Thank You Letter – Using Thinking Maps…

Using Triangles to Teach Fact Family

September 9, 2007 at 4:01 pm | Posted in best practices, elementary, graphic organizers, math, strategies | 2 Comments

For the past 7 weeks, I have used this modified triangle as a graphics organizer, originally developed by Andrew, to teach my second grade students math fact families. Fact family is part of our daily math activities. For about five minutes every day, we look at one new fact family and explore relationships between the members of the fact family. Here’s a picture of the latest fact family that we are working on.

100_1111

As you can see, it’s just a laminated piece of paper that I reuse every day.

Success

Our math assessment, which we took just last week, showed me how incredibly successful using the triangle is in teaching fact family and many relationships that are embedded in fact family. I’ll give you the hard numbers when the scores come back from the district, but a teacher look-see showed me that almost all of the students got all of the related fact family questions correct.

Daily Math

My students and I do what we call “Daily Math”. We break up our one hour of math time into two parts. We spend 20 minutes a day on daily math and 40 minutes on a new lesson. Currently, daily math contains counting time, which I will blog about later, “Today’s Fact Family”, patterns, and one word problem. We do daily math as a whole group on the carpet. Daily math is where I build number sense and practice key concepts.

Continue Reading Using Triangles to Teach Fact Family…

Effective Teacher Praises

September 4, 2007 at 3:39 pm | Posted in behavior, best practices, education, strategies | Leave a comment

Mr. Pullen brought up an extremely important topic in teacher talk: effective praises.  Simply telling a child that he/she is smart may end up being detrimental to that child.  Read the in-depth article for more information on the research.

For teachers, we know that teacher talk is important and teacher praise is critical in determining a child’s behavior and motivation.  Here is my quick list of Ineffective Praises and Effective Praises.

Ineffective Praises

  • Good job!
  • Excellent!
  • I like it.
  • You are so smart.
  • I like what you are doing.
  • You got a perfect score!

These praises are quick, easy, and meaningless.  They are generic and gives a quick burst of good feelings, but don’t really help the child learn or acquire effective work habits or learning skills.  Contrast those with:

Effective Praises

  • I like the way your writing is neat and your letters are in between the guidelines.
  • Your writing has improved so much!  I see detail sentences here and here.
  • You are so polite when you apologized to so and so.
  •  I like the way you circled your spelling mistake and tried your best to sound it out.
  • You started to work immediately.  You are an independent learner!

These praises are specific to the student and the situation.  Students immediately learn what “good job” means and can repeat it.  Guaranteed, your other students will also be joining in in exhibiting these specific behavior so that they too can earn praises.  More importantly, you are guiding the students toward appropriate behavior, work ethics, and learning with praises.  Combine effective praises with clear expectations and students know exactly what they need to do to be successful in the classroom.

The Adult World

Do people use praises in the adult world?  Of course!  Do we need these praises to be targeted and specific in order to improve our performance?  Absolutely.  I’ve had administrators come in and leave a lovely note on my desk that read “Good job!  I really enjoyed visiting your classroom.”  My first thought of course was: did you even bother to watch?  What was good?  I want feedback, not pats on the head!  I’ve also had occassions when my admin left a note saying “Good use of ___ to ____.”  Hey, now that’s different!

The Praising Game 

Since these were just short lists, let’s play a blog game.  Bloggers, create your own list of effective praises and ineffective praises.  Then, pop me an e-mail or a comment so I can add you to our list of effective/ineffective praises.

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