Creating Excitement about the Language Arts in Your Classroom: Advice from Ali Capasso

Ali Capaso
UTA Alumni (Master’s of Education, Literacy Studies, 2015) and elementary teacher Ali Capsso shares ideas on creating excitement with language arts.

The classroom is the place that great readers, writers, listeners, and speakers are born.  In my own primary classroom, I have seen the miracle of struggling readers making almost two years of progress in a single school year.  I have also seen the tragedy of a student falling behind in language arts.  In both cases, the student was getting extra support in the classroom and at home.  They were reading independent and instructional texts, writing, and being read to daily.  The difference was in the motivation of the student.  The successful student wanted desperately to be on level with their peers and put in the work.  The other student had admitted to hating the language arts and despite every effort to find something to make this a priority for them, it kept getting more difficult.  Eric Jensen (1998) talks about this powerful effect in his book Teaching With the Brain in Mind.  In order to learn, a student needs to have motivation.  They need to have an understanding of the purpose for the lesson and promise of a meaningful application.  As a language arts educator, I have not yet found the answer to motivating all of my students.  However, the majority of my students love reading and writing!  Where there’s a majority, the rest often buy in.  In this article, I offer 4 tips for motivating your students to become masters of the language arts.

#1 – Be a Great Role Model   Whether it is obvious or not, your students really look up to you and value your personal practices.   Visibly being a lover of the language arts is an important component in student motivation.  In my own 2nd grade classroom, I make a point of talking to my students about my personal reading and writing practices.  I tell them about the books I am reading for fun in simple terms.  A month ago I was reading a realistic fiction book about a man’s adventures in space (The Martian by Andy Weir) and currently I am reading a fantasy fiction book about the way a man and his son work together to overcome great danger (The Road by Cormac McCarthy).  I tell them about how I choose books and understand myself as a reader.  I talk about the way I read to learn for my college courses.  I tell them about how much I love writing for pleasure daily and how I go about writing for a new purpose or audience.  These short talks about your personal practices a few times a week, integrated into your lessons, can really help students to begin thinking of themselves.  Shortly they will begin learning about their own interests and work.

“All of these celebrations remind students that the language arts are a valuable form of communication and the rituals around new materials and products create a certain kind of magic behind our work.”

#2 – Make Language Arts Practice Sacred  When my students and I read, write, put on a reader’s theater, listen to the reading of a poem, or anything else language arts related, we commit that time to the practice.  We take the time to review expectations for the activity, we talk about why it is important, and we don’t let anything interrupt us.  We create rituals around our practice, such as utilizing the workshop model.  We recognize each of these times as fun chances to become better communicators and thinkers.  Making your work time seem like more than just another grind can really help your students to enjoy language arts more.  In this same spirit, I would encourage you to try to minimize any drills or worksheets when you can.  Set aside a few times to share books together and really explore them without a looming worksheet or test alongside it.  Likewise, allow your students time and choices for exploring themselves as writers without an assigned topic or any concern for impending grading.  Giving students the chance to enjoy literacy in a stress-free way can help them to appreciate the language arts the way that you do – as a connoisseur and an artist!

#3 – Welcome New Materials and Finished Products in New Ways  When we get new books in our classroom, special students stamp them with a special class stamp and label them according to genre or reading level.  We set aside a minute or two to talk about new materials that we receive.  We might read them first before putting them in a special book basket.  Likewise, when we finish writing pieces, we often set aside some special time to share and publish what we’ve created.  There are many ways to publish finished work.  I have a special basket in my library reserved for bound anthologies of stories and essays we’ve written.  Students love seeing that their work has been chosen for another student’s book bag!  This also helps them to take pride in their work.  When my students have practiced the reading of a poem or reader’s theater, we film it and put it on our grade level Facebook page.  All of these celebrations remind students that the language arts are a valuable form of communication and the rituals around new materials and products create a certain kind of magic behind our work.

#4 – Create “Safe” Incentives and Celebrations for Students If students are to challenge themselves as thinkers and creators, they must know that their work is valued.  It may also help them to know that they are working toward an incentive.  Though I try not to make it mandatory, Scholastic Reading Counts has been the driving force behind reading for some of the more reluctant readers in my class.  They love the idea of earning points and gaining levels in the program.  For other students, the simple act of sharing reading and writing successes during share time is enough.  Students also often work on reading “challenges” through the school library that ask them to read for 15 minutes at a time from a certain genre, in a certain place, or to a certain type of friend like a little brother or their parents.  Other students in my class like to rack up reading minutes to earn the coveted award of reading a book to students in a lower grade level.  In writing as well we work toward sharing our finished work with other classes and adults.  The list goes on!  No matter what kinds of celebrations you decide on, remember that celebrations based on test scores and reading levels may not be the best choice because they don’t focus on progress that students are making that doesn’t always show up on the test.  Keep this in mind as you find ways to motivate your learners.

Hopefully this list has given you some ideas for helping your students to share your own love of the language arts.  With excitement and passion behind their work, students will not be able to help becoming master readers, writers, listeners, and speakers!

From Dr. Semingson: We welcome comments and dialogue. Click on this post to access the comment box. What are ways you make language arts engaging in your teaching practice? 

Managing Classroom Routines: It’s Like the Superbowl

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UTA’s Department Chair of Curriculum and Instruction and Associate Dean in the College of Education, Dr. John Smith, shares a football analogy for helping to streamline behavior routines and transitions in the classroom.

What are your thoughts on Dr. Smith’s football analogy? What works in terms of setting expectations and establishing routines for transitions and management in your classroom? If you are not yet teaching, what have you heard about “what works”? -Dr. Peggy Semingson, Blog Admin.

A teacher managing students in a classroom is much like a quarterback managing the players on a football team.  One of my favorite quarterbacks is Peyton Manning, the superbowl-winning quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts.  Before he says Hike, he looks to see where each player on his team is positioned and on most plays he directs one or two of them to move into a better position.  Watch him, and other quarterbacks, moving players around before the ball is snapped.  It’s only when he is convinced that each player is in the right place and knows exactly what to do that he says hike and begins the play.

Classroom management is much the same.  Before I transition into a new activity, I always say to my students, “When I say the word Go, here is what I want you to do.” That statement freezes them.  Then I give 2-3 procedural directions for the transition and the next activity.  After giving the directions, I’ll ask, “Does everybody know what to do?  Are there any questions?”  When I’m convinced that all of the students know what to do, then I’ll say the word Go, much like a quarterback says Hike.  Often I change the word Go to something else, just for variety.

It’s being totally clear that the students know what to do and starting together that makes all the difference. When I don’t say the statement my students will often start into the activity as soon as they think they know what to do, and then it disintegrates. 

I have used this strategy with elementary school students, college undergraduates, and even graduate students. I hope it works for you.

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Creative Commons Texas Longhorns vs Florida Atlantic University by Randall Chancellor is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The brief podcast that connects to this topic, also by Dr. John Smith, is below! Have a listen!

What Can Football Teach Us About Classroom Routines? Advice From Dr. John Smith by Uta New Teachers on Mixcloud

UTA Grad and Sixth-Year Teacher Ali Capasso Shares Advice for New Teachers

Ali Capaso
Ali Capasso is almost done with a Master’s in Literacy Studies from UTA (Fall, ’15)! She focuses in her blog post on the importance of the classroom environment.

“An effective teacher manages a classroom.  An ineffective teacher disciplines a classroom.” -Harry Wong

As you begin your journey as a teacher, you have no doubt encountered a countless number of things to plan for and keep track of.  There are lessons to plan, walls to decorate, tools to buy, and anchor charts to make.  Among the endless amount of things you will be thinking of during your first year, I would like to emphasize one important point: Without a well-managed classroom, none of the other things will matter.

Indeed, the way your students navigate your classroom and expect to behave there will have an incredible impact on both student performance and teacher morale.  A study done in three inner-city schools showed that well managed classrooms had a significant positive effect on student achievement in the areas of math and reading (Freiberg et al., 2009).  According to a 2010 study, (Brackett, et al., 2010) disruptive behavior of students was one of the main reasons that new teachers leave our noble profession behind.  To put it simply, your classroom management can make or break your year!

Whether you are looking forward to your first year or have already begun, it is never too late to put a great classroom management system in place.  Here are some ways to begin building this system today by using time tested advice and valuable online resources.

  • Decide How You Want Your Classroom to Look (Build Routines)

Every teacher is different!  Before your year begins, think about your level of comfort with noise, movement, and different levels of organization.  Check this against what is appropriate for your age group.  Next, develop routines for absolutely EVERYTHING!  These are important things to go over on the first day.  How do students begin the day?  How will they ask to go to the restroom?  Can they sharpen their own pencil?  How should they line up for transitions?  Plan on devoting a little time to each procedure so that students know exactly what you expect them to do at all times of the day.

  • Develop Meaningful Rules/Norms

The rules in your classroom should be a guide for general behavior in your classroom.  In my opinion, the best way to develop this set of standards is to consult your class.  Bring your class together and remind them that the main goal of the group is to create a safe, supportive environment where learning can happen.  Ask for some suggestions and brainstorm a small set of rules to follow.  Have your students sign it in agreement and post it in a high traffic area.  In my lower grades classroom, we recite them at the beginning of each day.

  • Offer Praise and Incentives

There are many different ways to show your class how much you value their hard work.  One of these ways is to offer immediate feedback to students about what you see them doing.  My students know that if they are doing a good job, they receive a special type of post it note on their desk and can expect a positive note home at the end of the day.  There are lots of fun ways to keep track of class behavior.  Class Dojo is an app/website that allows every student to earn points throughout the day.  Points can also be taken away if necessary.  The website offers lots of ways to share progress with parents as well.  Students can always work for a whole class or individual reward using any points system you put into place!

  • Offer Logical Consequences

When students do misbehave, think about an appropriate way to have students make amends.  For instance, a student who runs down the halls instead of walking might need to spend a short amount of time practicing the correct behavior.  Having students understand the problem they had that day and how to fix it is the main goal of any consequence.  Teaching with Love and Logic is a marvelous book to read on this subject!

  • Develop Great Relationships

Students who love you will do just about anything for the good of the classroom.  Take the time to get to know each member of your class.  Talk to them about their interests and hobbies.  Greet your kids at the door every day with these things in mind.  Relationships are especially important in the case of kids with chronic misbehavior.  Often, these are the young people who need a good listener the most.  I am also a strong believer in bringing character lessons into the language arts classroom.  Many quality texts can be used to start discussions about having good character and making good choices.

Above all, remind your students that learning trumps all other things.  Create motivating lessons and excitement for the work ahead so that your students will forget to misbehave altogether.  Each day that work feels like play is a good day!

References:

Freiberg, Huzinec, C. A., &Templeton, S. M. (2009). Classroom management – A pathway to student achievement: A study of fourteen inner-city elementary schools. Elementary School Journal, 110(1), 63-80.

Brackett, M. A., Palomera, R., Mojsa-Kaja, J., Reyes, M., & Salovey, P. (2010). Emotion-regulation ability, burnout, and job satisfaction among British secondary-school teachers. Psychology in the Schools, 47(4), 406-417.

Connecting with Students: Advice from Fifth Year Teacher Rafael Huerta

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Rafael Huerta, ESL specialist, UTA Teacher Certification Graduate, and fifth year teacher shares advice about connecting with students, goal setting, and more!

“Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.”-Rita Pierson

Here we go! Are you ready? You chose this job or like me this job chose you. I am going to give you 5 tips to help you not only survive your first year as a teacher but to excel and be a champion!

Tip #1- Build positive relationships.

Establish a professional and positive relationship with your students. Rita Pierson said, “If a student doesn’t like you, they won’t work for you.” I believe this to be very true. Would you work for someone you don’t like? Chances are you wouldn’t. You will more than likely be on a teaching team so you should also work on building a positive and professional relationship with your coworkers. These are the people you will be working with for 8 or more hours Monday through Friday. Also, your coworkers will be your biggest sources of help, knowledge, and wisdom on your first year of teaching. It is important that you get to know them. Treat all your coworkers with tons of respect this includes custodians and cafeteria workers.

Tip #2- Set small goals.

Sun Tzu stated, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” Start the school year setting small goals, these small goals should be your own personal and professional goals. Accomplishing these small and attainable goals will help build your confidence and momentum throughout the school year.

Tip #3- Keep it simple.

Basically don’t try to do super cool artsy things you see on Pinterest. Trust me, this is your first year you will not have enough time to do all that. Know what you need to teach and teach it using what you got.

Tip #4- You have personal days and sick days, use them as needed.

A former leader/administrator once told me that her biggest regret was not using her personal days and sick days like she should have. If you are feeling sick do not be afraid to call in. Do not be that teacher that looks like a zombie at school. Take the sick day, your body will thank you for it. Use your personal days to take care of your personal business. There will be times when you will want to take off for a special event, a family emergency, or just for your own mental health. Do not hesitate to use your personal days as needed.

Tip #5 Weekends are made for fun and/or relaxation.

Whatever you do, do not take your work home with you on the weekends! This will become a habit and ruin the little free time you have for yourself, family, and friends. Make it a point to finish all your work like grading papers and lesson plans, at work! You have Monday through Friday to do what you have to do, so make sure you do it so you can enjoy your weekends. This might mean you have to stay late after school during the weekdays but trust me it will be worth it. Enjoy your weekends you deserve to, so do something that you makes you happy.

This is my 5th year as teacher and these tips help me excel every year as a teacher because they keep me focused, centered, and motivated. I hope these tips help you and inspire you during your first year of teaching! Good luck!

What advice from Rafael resonates with you? What are some of your teaching goals? Feel free to leave comments below! ~Dr. Peggy Semingson, UTA New Teacher Blog Facilitator