Tips for Teaching Students of Poverty from Dr. Karen Allmond

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Dr. Karen Allmond is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at UTA. She is also faculty in the UTeach program at UTA. 


I worked for 18 years in Elementary Education as a math and, at times, a science teacher. Throughout those years, my time was spent in Title One Schools. This experience provided me with great insight on how to work with students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds and how to meet the needs of these students.

Children of poverty have unique skills developed by the stresses and home lives they lead. Many students come to school each day with a full day already put in. And it is not always a pleasant one. Bill collectors have called, beginning at 6 in the morning, and Mom and Dad (if they are fortunate to have both) are angry and frustrated. There are fights, loud voices, and non-positive ways to start the day.

The students may have fought and argued with their siblings, as they share a small bedroom in a ‘not-so-nice’ apartment complex. They then get ready by themselves, may have to help siblings get dressed, and then ride the bus to school. These students may not eat breakfast at home and have to eat at the school. If they are late, through no fault of their own, they miss breakfast. One school I was at would not allow the students to eat if they arrived past 8 O’clock am. Most of these students had not eaten since dinner the night before. One time a student told me that all she and her sister had eaten the night before were crackers and bread. Mom was passed out on the couch and Dad didn’t feel like cooking.

Teaching this unique group of students is rewarding, but can be frustrating at times. Many feel that you ‘owe’ them since so many receive gifts at Christmas from the Angel Tree, free school supplies, coats, and other necessities. I was fortunate enough to begin my teaching career at a Title One School that was 95% Free or Reduced Lunch. This opened my eyes to the hardships these children go through and their parents’ struggles and strives. I learned the first year that many times the happiest place for these children was school and my job and responsibility was to make it a home for them that welcomed them each day.

Often, I have student and preservice teachers talk about making a warm environment for their students when completing their Educational Philosophy. While I always appreciate their sentiments, it is more than a warm environment; it is ensuring that the students feel safe to be themselves. They need to know on their bad days it is all right, someone really cares about them, and creating a classroom that is one they want to come to.

 

Mid-Course Adjustment Is a Part of Classroom Management by Dr. Harrison McCoy

 

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Dr. Harrison McCoy is in his 18th year of teaching. He is certified ELA 5-8, ESL, Tech Apps K-12, and Business Ed 9-12.

Every one of us knows that one teacher who has a file cabinet filled  with folders containing worksheets and detailed outlines of lessons taught in previous years. The files are numbered and dated, and every year he or she checks the scope and sequence and the calendar, then goes to the cabinet to remove that week’s lesson plan. It’s complete and ready to go at a moment’s notice because it never changes. Students may come and go, as do trends, fads, and new concepts in teaching, but these lessons never change. After all, algebra (or whatever the course may be) hasn’t changed in a really long time, right? Why change the way we teach it?

Each year, for as long as I can remember, I have planned and documented my lessons as though I were going to be that teacher next year. Then, something remarkable happens during the summer. I read a new book, attend a new training, have a fresh conversation with a colleague, or sometimes I might even have what feels like a truly original thought. Then, I throw my previous year’s lesson plans out and start planning all over again with new strategies and concepts to guide the way.

A lot of work? You better believe it. Most of the time, it’s worth the effort, though.

What happens, however, when it becomes clear six or 12 weeks into the year that what I planned in July isn’t working? Is it “damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead!“? When the students I thought I was getting aren’t the students who actually arrived on my doorstep at all?  Does it matter what I had planned?  What are my options when the way I am teaching it doesn’t engage the students, and they aren’t being as successful as they could be?  My curriculum guides haven’t changed, and I still have to teach computer applications. The “how” becomes dramatically important, and I had better be prepared to adjust course.

Classroom management. The APA defines classroom management as “the process by which teachers and schools create and maintain appropriate behavior of students in classroom settings.” As important as student behavior is, for me, management is much broader than mere behavior.

Sometimes these kinds of adjustments are driven by curriculum. For example, last year, I taught my students and assessed them using what I will call Standardized Test 1.0. This year, without changing textbooks or scope and sequence, I was handed Standardized Test 3.0 — a much more difficult assessment with significant content alterations. The plan that seemed so logical in July and August no longer worked. It would take different teaching methodologies and learning strategies to drill down as deeply as “Version 3.0” demanded.

At other times, these adjustments are student-driven. This, by the way, is where I have a problem using data from previous years to make too many teaching decisions about a current year. (For example, I know a teacher whose goals for STAAR testing performance this year are based on student performance data from 2-3 years ago when TAKS was the testing instrument. Different students. Much different assessment tool. It may not be apples to oranges, but it is at least oranges to tangerines.) My data from student performance in my class during the first six weeks is part of the reason that I began to change my strategies during the second six weeks grading period.

One of my hobbies is sailing. To successfully navigate a body of water, I must become a student of the wind and it’s effects on my sails. If I fail to adjust the sails in response to the wind, I will sit dead in the water and go nowhere. I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I am absolutely in charge of the sails. Making those adjustments — however small – is sail management. It’s just not that different in the classroom. H. Jackson Browne, Jr. is credited with having written,

“When you can’t change the direction of the wind — adjust your sails.”

I cannot change the students I have been given to teach, but I can change my methodologies. To me, that also is classroom management.

What are your thoughts on Dr. McCoy’s analogy of being a student of the wind to adjust the sails and alter course? -Peggy Semingson 

The Importance of Developing Relationships with Students

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Bradley Leake, 8th Grade Honors Algebra, 8th Grade Mathematics, Girls Basketball Coach and Boys’/Girls’ Track Coach. McLean Middle School, Fort Worth ISD

This topic is very personal to me. I often hear other teachers talk about students’ behaviors and wonder: “Who are they talking about? They don’t act that way in my class.” Many kids come to school without knowing they are loved or cared about. They live in climates that I can never imagine. It is not my place to judge them or feel sorry for them. It is my place to provide a safe environment and a love of learning.

I have had several student teachers and for the first week, I only allow them to sit and talk to the students about their personal lives. Kids will not want to learn from someone they do not like! Period! If they feel connected they will jump through hoops for you. Do I have to do extra work- YES! I attend games, concerts, quinceaneras, and many other events. I have kept a calendar on my wall called a Caring Calendar. Students place special events on the calendar and I try to make it to as many of these events as possible. When they see that I care, they care! Many teachers do their planning, teach their lessons, and then head home- Not me!

My students see me all the time. Also, I do not feel ashamed to act stupid and crazy. Is there a costume I can wear to set the tone? Can I do a crazy dance and make jokes- SURE- ALL THE TIME. I always ask the students what their interests are. I create musical playlists based on their likes. I play music all the time! I am known for having strong relationships with many of the toughest students. I don’t judge them. I just let them know that I am there for them if they need me.

Building relationships is crucial in middle school. I have a saying at the end of my class: “If no one has told you they love you today, I love you!” Remember: It may be the only time they hear it!

Bradley is a graduate of the UT Arlington mid-level certification program. To learn more about this program, click here.

Technology Advice for Student Teachers from Allison Barkman

This post is from Allison Barkman, UTA Graduate and science coach, who believes that technology is a great way to engage students. 

image2However, preparing a lesson involving technology has different aspects to consider than other lessons such as the amount of hardware, ensuring the program is aligned, and other administrative goals such as becoming a Google Campus. Here are 5 things to consider before you deliver that amazing lesson with technology.

Glowing lights with bright colors, games, hands-on applications; it’s no wonder why students love technology. It’s also not a surprise that teachers want to take advantage of this engaging tool to get students involved in the lesson. When you’re a student teacher you may be very excited to get to use technology in your lessons, which is great, but there are things to consider before you start planning your next big tech lesson. See below for my 5 tips to integrating technology while you are student teaching.

  1. See what technology/programs/apps your cooperating teacher is already using.

It may seem obvious to ask your cooperating teacher (CT) regarding what apps, but it has to be stated. Your CT may already be using a program that is similar to one that you want to use. For example, if your school is integrating the Google Platform of apps, you may be better off learning Google Classroom instead of getting students to sign up for Edmodo which performs similar functions. This will not only save you time, but it will be aligned to what the school is already doing.

  1. Keep it aligned to the TEKS.

Even if your best friend told you about this amazing app where students are engaged and having fun, keep in mind your state standards. Even if it is aligned keep in mind the level of rigor the app has and how that relates to your standard. Many math apps, for example, can be glorified flash cards for calculations, which has its place, but it may be an inefficient use of time and energy if the TEKS say to model.

  1. Remember, using technology usually requires front-loading.

Edmodo, Google Classroom, KahootIt!, and even QR codes can be a great tool in the classroom, especially if you start using some of these early on in the school year. Using technology is usually an investment. By that I mean you put some extra time and effort regarding what the program is and how it is used at the beginning of the year, and if you and your CT use it continuously (another reason for Tip #1) then it will make it much easier later in the year when you don’t have to re-explain everything.

Pro Tip: Find something you want to use in the summer, test it, find all the ways you can use it, and THEN try using it all year in the classroom before you judge it.

  1. Technology can make reviewing more engaging.

Whether it’s a test review or just to practice skills, there are MANY  different resources you can use to review.

If you want to see some extreme competition try KahootIt! All you need is to come up with some questions and type them in. Once that is done you can launch the program and students can work in teams if there isn’t a lot of hardware or individually if you have access. Between the music and point system, it the competition creates a lot of engagement. Remember to slow it down if the kids are more focused on winning than reviewing.

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For vocabulary, try QR codes. Word on top, definition on the bottom, and a QR code in the middle and CUT! Use multiple words and have students match the top and bottom with a QR scanner. When it scans, that means it’s correct. Use this with a guide for assessment and it can be a useful way to review vocabulary.

  1. Think of ways to blend technology into everyday lessons.

While as beneficial as reviewing can be, using technology doesn’t have to begin and end there.

  • Google Classroom or Edmodo can act as a great way to have an online classroom. Use it for bell ringers, online discussion, and posting notes for absent students.
  • Using centers in your class can be good for engagement and differentiating. Have a tech center where students can listen and follow along to a story, or an online scavenger hut where students are reading different articles to find key points.
  • Try using technology for assessment and differentiation. Whether it is a Google Form or Grade Cam, having a quick way to assess students will make your job easier.

What I have done in the past is I had 3-5 questions to give students at the beginning of class in the middle of a unit. Students fill out their answers on Grade Cam and then they come up to me with their assignment and they can instantly see their score. Depending on their score would determine the activity they did. I’d have students complete an online scavenger hunt for more in depth details on the content to help those who were excelling and the other group would complete a review game, vocabulary exercises, or online simulations to help reinforce material that was taught in class.

Hopefully some of these tools and pieces of advice help you as you are planning your lessons. The last piece of advice I’ll give is to always monitor what students are doing on their computer. Best case scenario they are following your directions, however students who are not on task could be doing anything. Off task behavior, cyber bullying, and inappropriate websites are all things that students could go to if they think you aren’t watching them. If you set your expectations high, make sure all students understand what to do, and monitor you can have a successful lesson with technology.

What pieces of advice do you have to give regarding technology? Are there any programs you like to use in the classroom? Share them in the comments below!

*Alison is a graduate of the UT Arlington mid-level certification program. To learn more about this program, click here.

Feature Blog: Aubrey Steinbrink

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Teacher Aubrey Steinbrink reads aloud to students.

Aubrey Steinbrink is a graduate Student in Literacy Studies at The University of Texas at Arlington and an Instructional Coach in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford School District in the DFW Metroplex. We feature her blog to showcase one of her recent posts on “4 Steps to Continuous Improvement in the Classroom“. Aubrey writes:

Continuous Improvement is a systematic approach to reflection and getting know what strategies help our students learn best. 

Aubrey’s main blog is mrssteinbrink6. Thanks for sharing your teaching reflections, Aubrey!

We encourage others to develop a teacher blog! One of our recent webinars focused on getting started with teacher blogs. It is shared below.

For more information on our Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Literacy Studies online, click here

 

Respect as a Student Teacher by Allison Barkman, Science Coach and UTA Graduate

 

Respect is something that is cultivated over time and is not always given right away. If you are a new teacher, becoming accustomed to students who don’t respect you can throw you off. Here are 3 pieces of advice that may help you if you feel like you are not getting respect just because you are a student teacher.

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Allison Barkman shares tips on student teaching!

I was a senior and completing a segment of my student teaching in an 8th grade science class. Despite feeling at home regarding the age group and content matter, I couldn’t reach all of the students I had been assigned. Most of the students saw me as a fresh face who, like my cooperating teacher, was fun and excited about what they were learning. There was one student in the 5th period class, right after lunch, who worked well with my cooperating teacher, but when I taught or assigned something, he completely ignored me.

On one particular day I was teaching, the student was slumped over and had no interest in my lesson over selective breeding. I tried to follow the best practices I had been taught and once the class had been assigned their work for that class period, I pulled him aside to talk to him. My cooperating teacher stood nearby to see how I handled the situation. I asked him, “Why aren’t you participating in class?” Then I heard the most troubling words during my student teaching, “I don’t respect you. You are not my teacher.”

I had not been prepared to hear a statement like that. I knew that I would have more student buy-in when I had my own classroom, but for a student to call out probably one of my biggest insecurities as a student teacher, I stood there speechless.

I don’t know what I would have done if my cooperating teacher hadn’t been there. She nicely told him that he had no business saying something like that to an adult, any adult. While she was talking to him, I had to step into her office (science teachers in middle school can have an office in the storage area) to collect my thoughts and regain my footing. After a few tears were shed, my cooperating teacher came to check on me. She had told me what she had told him, and eluded to that if he chose to do poorly to prove a point that was his choice, but he is not to disrespect anyone in the process. She also filled me in on the fact that his mom was VERY INVOLVED in his academic career, so he’d have to deal with the consequences from his mother with him not wanting to do his work.

What I should have done is give that conversation myself. Had I have known what to say, had a thicker skin, or wouldn’t have been the introverted individual I was at the time, I would have given the conversation my cooperating teacher did myself. It probably would have solidified myself as the authority figure I was supposed to be.

With that in mind here are three things I’d suggest if you think you may be dealing with a similar situation.

  1. Let your cooperating teacher know. Your cooperating teacher should be your strongest support system in the classroom. Ask his/her advice on how to handle the situation. What happened in my situation may not be applicable in yours. I was/am incredibly fortunate to have worked with my cooperating teacher, and I am still lucky because I continue to work with her. She is one of my closest friends and it is nice that we are still able to help each other.
  2. Talk to the student. While talking to the student in my case gave me an answer I didn’t want to hear, it cleared the air. I knew that I wasn’t a bad teacher for not engaging the class, it was a product of my circumstances. I tried not to dwell on what he said and told myself that when I do get my own classroom it would be better. When it comes to students, especially hormonal adolescents, it could be any number of reasons why they are not doing their work. Talking to them and making the effort shows you care about them and what is going on. The relationships you build will be the most important part of teaching.
  3. Don’t let students take your confidence. It takes a good amount of charisma to be an authority in a classroom and keep students engaged. If one student has a problem with you, don’t let that spook you out of an amazing profession. Start each day fresh and new, and as difficult as it may be to hold a grudge against that student, try not to. You are their role model of how adults act like and sound like and you can’t expect kids to always act like adults. Show them how we act.

I can also vouch that if you need help, talk to your professors or field evaluator. The team at UTA is beyond anything I could have asked for. They are here to help you and guide you to success.

Have you ever had a situation like this happen to you before? Do you think you might be experiencing something like this now? Have advice for other teachers? Share your stories in the comments below.

*Alison is a graduate of the UT Arlington mid-level certification program. To learn more about this program, click here.

T-TESS: A Challenge for Teachers and Administrators, but Maybe Worth It by Dr. Harrison McCoy

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Dr. Harrison, McCoy, UT Arlington graduate and Arlington ISD teacher at Arlington Collegiate High School shares ideas on the new T-TESS *(Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System).

Across Texas, educators and administrators are learning a new way to dance together. It’s called the T-TESS, or the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System. Educators have responded in a variety of ways over the past few months, but it would be fair to say that a prevailing sense of fear, concern, and even dread has dominated most of the conversations I have been part of over the summer. Teachers are worried about T-TESS.

Six weeks into the school year, and with several hours of training under my belt, I think I better understand a few things about T-TESS. I am much less worried, and maybe even a little excited about the change that this will bring to the teacher appraisal system in Texas. If I were a new or pre-service teacher, I would probably be very optimistic about how my career might be affected by T-TESS.

Here are some of my impressions, so far:

  • Many school districts do a woeful job of mentoring new teachers and helping them begin new careers in a way that will serve them well for a long run as an educator. There are aspects to T-TESS that will help resolve that problem. In the former appraisal system – PDAS – teachers who were determined to be low performing in PDAS evaluations were designated “Teachers In Need of Assistance” or TINAs. This was a step of remediation that could be very harmful for the career and reputation of a teacher regardless of the outcome of the remediation. Many teachers were bounced to other campuses as administrative transfers, and too many ended up selling insurance instead of teaching. In T-TESS, there are no more TINAs because all teachers are considered to be in various stages of professional growth and development. All teachers will be expected to be continuously improving. All teachers – regardless of their years of experience – will be on “growth plans”. I personally think that is a good thing – especially for younger, less experienced teachers.
  • There has often been a disconnect between professional development and a teacher’s goals for professional improvement. Of course, it has always been my prerogative to set a PD goal and then go find training that would help me achieve that goal, and I have done that quite often. T-TESS ensures that there is a direct link between the professional goals that I set for myself (for which there must also be a direct link to what happens in my classroom) and the training that I receive. Put it simply, if a principal approves a professional goal for me and my classroom performance, there is an obligation for that principal to facilitate my obtaining the PD needed to support that goal and ensure its success. As one administrator put it, districts will have to provide a new kind of training opportunity, and principals will have to make time available for teachers to pursue that training – even if it means providing “clock time” and a substitute to cover classes.

So, I have submitted my goals for my classroom, and they have been approved according to T-TESS guidelines. I am looking for the professional development opportunities to support my goals. Interestingly enough, I had already set goals for myelf some some months ago that have been approved for T-TESS, and I spent the summer supporting those with PD opportunities. Next spring, I will submit goals for the new year some 4-5 months before that new year begins, and I will have the summer to seek training opportunities. I am fortunate that I have extremely effective and innovative administrators on my campus who are working with me to find creative, individualized PD possibilities to finish out my T-TESS strategies.

My impression so far is that T-TESS is a well packaged systematic approach to teacher appraisal that has a strong level of continuity for its individual parts. Yes, it is new, and that will take some getting used to for most of us. Yes, it is different, and yes, I believe it just might be a lot better than what I experienced with PDAS. But, as Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, said in his TEDTalk, “The New Rules of Innovation”, “Innovation is the process by which we change the world…It’s the practical application of ideas and technologies to make new and better things.” (George Couros’ book, The Innovator’s Mindset, p. 20).

Comments: Please feel free to add your own comments on the T-TESS and this blog post in the comments section below. 

Podcasting is as Easy as Talking on the Phone! Teaching with New Media

Podcasting is as Easy as Talking on the Phone! Teaching with New Mediaprofile pic

Are you using podcasting in your classroom? It’s as easy to create a podcast as it is to talk on the phone! A podcast is an audio recording of variying length. You can record one alone, with others (in a “talk show/radio” format), or your students can create a podcast! The length can vary from 30 seconds up to an hour or anywhere in between, depending on the topic and purpose of the podcast. For more on the “what”, “why”, and “how” podcasting, see this fabulous blog post on podcasting from Ian O’Byrne.

Reasons to use Podcasting as part of your teaching:

1. Teach with a “flipped classroom”. UTA Alumni and Arlington ISD teacher, Dr. Harrison McCoy wrote earlier about the flipped classroom. Podcasting is one way to create lecture-style audio recordings to either teach content, provide directions, or to create a tutorial for students to listen to either at home or in the classroom (or both).

2. Model new literacy practices for your students (and colleagues!). Some people are not as familiar with sharing content via podcasting. But if you think about it, we have been learning by multimedia since the advent of television and radio! Podcasting is actually a familiar way to learn. Additionally, some podcasting tools also provide opportunities to add visual content or images such as VoiceThread.

3. Create content that can be reused every time you teach the same unit/module/content/task. The beauty of creating your own multimodal content such as podcasting is you can re-use your own content!

How to Get Started: Easy (and Free!) Starting Places with your Mobile Devices

Get started by downloading one or more of the following apps and then try them out. The advantage of mobile-based podcasting tools is that you can record using the app! 

Tips for Podcasting:

1. Step 1 [Pre-Production] Planning What to Say on a Podcast

As all writers do, have a plan for what you will say during the recording! A few tips for doing this are below. It does NOT have to be the scripted. At the very least, I recommend having a few key talking points written down on a piece of paper or index card or even a sticky note! Rehearse what you will say a few times. Speak a bit slower than you normally would (especially if you are a fast talker). I also like to script my podcasts and I do this on my smartphone with the “notes” feature and I use the microphone to get my ideas down. Then I email that note to myself and it becomes the script. Another FREE speech-to-text app is available here and it is web-based: https://dictation.io/. Another free tool is VoiceNote2: https://voicenote.in/

HINTS FOR PLANNING IN A NUTSHELL

  1. Plan what you will say. What are your “big ideas”?
  2. Jump right in. You don’t need to say “Hello”. Just take the plunge into your ideas.
  3. Do a rehearsal to get your timing and pacing down! Practice it with a willing colleague or friend, partner, etc.

2. Step 2 [Production] Tips for Recording your Podcast (Non-Technical Tips)

Here are tips for doing the actual recording of your podcast. First, as we do in writing, find some good examples of podcasts and good broadcasting voices. Find one to imitate. I personally like NPR for how their speakers use clear diction and pacing. They also get the point across without sounding overwhelming! Here is a directory of some NPR podcasts: http://www.npr.org/podcasts/

1. Decide on a recording tool. If you have a smartphone, it will be easiest to use any of the Voice Memo features (or other voice recording tool) built into the phone. If you have an Android try TapeMachine Recorder (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.samalyse.tapemachine). If you do not have a smartphone, try using Audacity http://web.audacityteam.org/

2. Find a quiet space to do the recording. Plan to do your recording in a quiet room. It doesn’t have to be a closet–you can record it in the living room or classroom if there isn’t a lot of noise.

3. Practice your podcast a few times. You can even do this in your head or outloud!

4. If you don’t like your recording, you can redo it! Keep it longer than two minutes but no longer than three or four minutes (2-4 minutes total talking time).

5. Add enunciation and emphasis to words; don’t speak too fast. If you listen to NPR, pay attention to how they are speaking.

Step 3 [Post-Production and Uploading]

You need to find a way to store your podcast file. You can do this within Blackboard by simply uploading your audio file to the Assignment area! If you wish, you can upload your audio file to a cloud-based streaming tool. However, please note that if you upload your audio file to a cloud-based streaming tool (such as SoundCloud, MixCloud, or VoiceThread), it may be made public and everyone can see it and hear it! Only upload your audio file to a cloud-based streaming service if you are ok with it being made public!

Once your audio file is made, you will likely have it as an mp3 or M4A file. I like to use SoundCloud (the first three hours of content are free). I upload my file to SoundCloud, give it a title, and then I can share the link. VoiceThread is used in schools so it would be a good one to try out if you have not yet done so.

Recommended cloud-based streaming tools

1) MixCloud. MixCloud is free and has unlimited storage. https://www.mixcloud.com/

2) SoundCloud. The first three hours of SoundCloud are free. https://soundcloud.com/stream. My own SoundCloud channel is here: https://soundcloud.com/peggy-semingson

3) VoiceThread. This has a mobile app that can be used for recording and it’s very easy to use once you get the hang of it! http://voicethread.com/ How to create a new VoiceThread: https://docs.voicethread.com/web-application/creating-web-application/creating-a-new-voicethread-2/

Desktop based audio recording (free) with Audacity: http://web.audacityteam.org/

Good luck with exploring podcasting as a teaching tool!

-Dr. Peggy Semingson, Associate Professor,
Department of Curriculum and Instruction, The University of Texas at Arlington

 

Discovering the Illusion of Understanding: Reflections from Dr. Marc Schwartz

In this blog post, Dr. Marc Schwartz, Professor of Mind, Brain and Education draws on his experience as a former science teacher to pose questions about learning and not learning. 

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Dr. Marc Schwartz is Professor of Mind, Brain and Education at The University of Texas at Arlington.

Many of you have taken physical science in middle school, and some of you likely took science again in high school.  How often do you look back on your experience and find opportunities where you can draw some knowledge from those courses to answer a question.  For example: is it possible to light a flashlight bulb with one battery and only one wire?  If all the ice at the North Pole melted would the sea level rise?  Would a cruise liner float in a bathtub just big enough to hold it?

As a former middle and high school science teacher I look back on my experience with questions of my own. What exactly did my students learn?  How useful was the experience to them then and now? I didn’t get any sense of an answer until four after I had started teaching when one day I happen to looked into a drawer full of standardized tests that I had collected during my first four years.

During this period I had earned a masters degree in science education, attended all the workshops and professional development opportunities the district offered me. I had taken courses during the summer, participated in NSF projects on teaching and learning, and integrated the latest technology in my classes to conduct experiments, collect and analyze data with students.  The superintendent had even asked a visiting professor of education to visit my classroom.

Later I found out that the professor told the superintendent that my lesson was a model lesson.  So as I looked at the collection of tests I recognized my first educational research question and hypothesis: As I felt confident that my teaching had improved, shouldn’t I see an improvement in student scores over those four years?

You might be thinking what I was thinking, of course. As my school used Scantron forms for standardized tests, it was easy to calculate average scores for every test over every year.  The numbers were stunning, so much so that I had to run the calculations again.  The overall average scores had not changed by more than one or two percent in four years on the same tests, which included increases and decreases.  I didn’t need a background in statistics to realize that in my very best classes students were not benefiting from what I had learned.  In fact, it appeared that I was the only one learning science in my classroom.

More dramatically, we all appeared to have been participating in a complicated play called, School Life. While I was pretending to teach, my students were pretending to learn.  Of course, none of us realized we were part of a play. We were simply performing in the roles that we had learned to play as students first and teachers later.  We all wanted to do our very best, and eventually our acting had become real to us.

Although I was very disappointed with the findings, I also became very interested in understanding how this natural experiment went awry.  It took many years to figure out the answer, and you can get a glimpse of that answer in an article I recently wrote.  Follow the link here to read the article, “Khan Academy: The illusion of understanding” and then scroll down to access the PDF (2013):

http://olj.onlinelearningconsortium.org/index.php/olj/article/view/364/60

Note: Dr. Schwarz’s related ideas to the above article can also be found in the following video where he discusses “Online Education: Can MBE Meaningfully Inform the Conversation

What are your thoughts? We welcome your comments below.

Seven Habits That Create Great Teachers and Students: Advice from Aubrey Steinbrink

AubreyIn the last year, I have found myself searching for something new.  Something that will allow me to share my teaching wins to help other teachers and students to be more successful, satisfied, and efficient in their work.  One of the things I came across was Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Effective People.  After reading this book, I realized that to become the teacher I have always wanted to be, I must harness these habits, teach these habits and overcome the obstacles that keep me from fully being these habits.

As teachers, I know we are already doing these things, I just wanted to share what I believe it looks like through a teacher’s eyes and how we help students capture these habits.  Here are some of my discoveries and reflections.

#1 Be Proactive: Make things happen. 

As a teacher: The craft of teaching has changed dramatically since my college years (which was not that long ago).  I stalk the aisles of Barnes and Noble to find the latest book with the new promise of great teaching strategies.  We are very lucky right now to be in such a social media frenzy that I find new ideas from Twitter Professional Learning Networks, blog posts, and innovative colleagues.  This is being proactive.  The idea that if it works, don’t fix it- doesn’t really pertain to a proactive person.  I believe that it is important to try something new, make it fresh for you- It might end up being better.

As a student:  It is important for a teacher to help students become proactive and learn how to analyze their data or their writing to find out what they can do to make things better.  Asking the right questions will end up getting a student to problem solve on their own and lead them towards making things happen. reach goal

 

#2 Begin with the end in mind

As a teacher: The systems approach in my school district has allowed me to embrace this idea whole heartedly.  At the beginning of the year, we set our SMART goal, write our mission, and create our personal goals based on the school’s Continuous Improvement Plan. The state tests and TEKS lay out exactly what the end is.  Keeping that end in mind, helps me plan strategies, short cycle assessments and push my students toward the end expectation way before that expectation arrives.

As a student: At the beginning of the year, students write their very own SMART goal, and in my classroom they also create Action Plans that list the steps toward their end goal.  To be a successful teacher, in my eyes, we must teach our students to become goal setters. If the students know what their end goal is and have a plan, we are teaching them life skills to thrive.

#3 Put first things first

As a teacher: This year, I started posting our daily objectives in the room.  We have a weekly goal or plan that the students see, but it is this daily objective board that allows them to visualize the end.  Each day is broken down into the parts that they will need to be able to do to reach the overall plan.  This is also something that I use to keep my daily plans visual for me- I get ahead of myself sometimes, but this is a great way to keep me on task and focused.

As a student:  The action plans that I had my students create after our district benchmark helped them put first things first.  They were able to list their most important areas of concern based on their percentages on their test.  Their step by step action plan, makes this a concrete and reachable goal.

#4 Think Win-Win

As a teacher:  This habit does not mean that everyone deserves a ribbon.  This simply means find a way to make sure everyone benefits.  As teachers, we do this every day by differentiating in the classroom, accommodating, and modifying lesson plans so every student wins in the learning process.  This also means, that teachers need to collaborate and have a dialogue about the amazing things occurring in the classroom.  Sharing your successes allows all teachers to win because of a strategy or an idea they didn’t think of.  We are all on the same team (our students’).

As a student: We are teaching our students to learn how to collaborate with each other every day through think-pair-share, reciprocal teaching, team-pair-solo, and group/partner work. If we don’t teach students how to negotiate, collaborate and come up with beneficial solutions we are doing them a disservice. They are allowed to fail in our classroom, they are not allowed too many failures in the real world.covey

#5 Seek first to understand then to be understood- being mindful in a conversation

As a teacher- A teacher-leader must be approachable if they plan on being a successful one.  Teachers build relationships with their students when they listen and take what they heard and use it.  My students share their obstacles, their triumphs, and their concerns with me throughout the year.  This is the same idea that we need to bring to each other/colleagues.  I think it is very important that teachers start a dialogue, but the dialogue needs to be a safe environment without judgments. The type of dialogue I am talking about is one that is filled with encouragement, problem solving and collaboration.

As a student- Even in 6th grade, students want to be heard.  They want to share what they got for their birthday, what they did over the weekend, and even their hopes and dreams.  It is important to give students this time in class to share.  They can do this during their team-pair-solo strategies, reciprocal teaching conversations, group assignments, partner work, and the opportunities that build connections to text. Teaching students how to listen first is going to be such a magical ingredient in their futures. Some of the greatest strategies is teaching them to be mindful.

#6 Synergize- Work Together

As a teacher- For some reason, this habit is by far one of my most important habits.  As I look at the last few years, the times I learned the most about myself, my classroom, and my teaching was during these opportunities to synergize.  Working together allows collaboration to occur.  I am grateful for the professional learning communities I have become a part of through Twitter, school, and my masters’ courses.  I have learned a lot about teaching and about myself.

As a student- Some of the most challenging times has been when my students were asked to collaborate and work together.  This is when I see their mindsets either become fixed or grow.  It is important that students get the opportunity to build together and become unified.  Some of the greatest teambuilding activities are on my Pinterest board. quote

#7 Sharpen the Saw- Renewal and continuous improvement

As a teacher- After the day is done, this is the time to reflect and renew.  Without the weekend, the evening or our summer to do this, I believe teachers would be hamsters on a wheel- just turning.  We all need this time to walk away.  My Friday plans never look like my actual Monday plans.  I feel sorry for my interventionist because I have an idea of how the next week will go, but over the weekend everything changes.  Because I have time to renew and reflect, instead of just going through the motions.

As a student- This year, I started giving my students 30-40 minutes of reading in class.  Some days they start their class with reading or they end their class time with reading.  I never ask anything from them- just read, get comfortable, and read.  This is their renewal and reflection time.  I have more readers this year than ever before.  I think they genuinely love to read again.  I have also taught them how to meditate in a mindful way to help their minds prepare for the long testing day.

Every one of these habits alone can create excellence, but all 7 together make an effective leader.  1-3 are habits meant for only the leader, 4-7 are meant to be interacted with someone else.  That says a lot.  There is no I in TEAM or SUCCESS.

I don’t have a handle on all of these habits yet, but I am working towards that goal.

If you have become a leader on your campus or in your school district, what has worked for you?