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Posts Tagged ‘Teaching’

The Difficulty of Going Back to School for Bullied Students

August 12, 2015

 

bullying-the-disabled

It’s time to commence with another school year. Spare a thought for the trepidation faced by students harassed for having disabilities.

The following is a great piece on this very issue written by Chester Goad courtesy of The Huffington Post:

 

Typically going back to school means seeing old friends and making new connections, and while most kids are nervous about going back to school, some kids are actually terrified.

Research suggests that between 150,000-200,000 students are bullied in our schools every day. Many school systems have even added hotlines and “Student Resource Officers” (SRO’s) who can help identify and prevent bullying. Still bullying happens, and statistics show that students with disabilities are more at risk. In fact, anyone who looks different, acts different, or believes something different from whatever is the local cultural norm is a target.

Not only do students with disabilities sometimes look different from non-disabled peers, but students with certain disabilities like dyslexia or dysgraphia also learn differently, and students who learn differently often receive additional resources or extra help which can bring unwanted attention from potential bullies.

Growing up is hard but growing up with a disability brings a different set of challenges. Social stigma, misunderstandings, or lack of awareness affect the learning environment when educators, parents, and other students aren’t paying attention. What does all this mean?

It means families should talk more. It means we must be more intentional in our efforts to address the problem without causing more trouble for the kids who are prone to be bullied, and without arming bullies with information that makes them wise enough to avoid intervention. Yes, it’s that complicated.

In 2013, the increasing number of students with disabilities being bullied prompted the U.S. Department of Education to release a “Dear Colleague Letter” reminding schools of their responsibility to provide a bully-free education, and to implement specific strategies to effectively prevent or stop bullying of all students, but especially those with disabilities.

Parents of students with disabilities or any sort of difference should be vigilant and listen to their kids when they’re discussing school. Pay attention to changes in behavior, especially aggression and meltdowns. If your instinct tells you there may be an issue with bullying, talk with teachers or other adults and ask about changes in behavior or attitude. It’s a challenge for us as parents not to want to handle things completely on our own, but parents should avoid confronting others about bullying until they have all the information, and it’s best to leave the confrontation part to the school. Discuss the issues with teachers or administration. They may be able to give you valuable insight before you talk with the other parents or take your concerns to a different level.

Some adults are inclined to let bullying go assuming that kids will just “work it out,” and some students do work out one-time incidences, but sadly, true bullying involves a pattern of inappropriate behavior and when left alone can worsen circumstances for everyone involved. In some instances, students may truly not understand that their actions are being perceived as bullying. They may simply be seeking attention. However, in other situations they know exactly what they’re doing. Parents should never just “let it go” or trust the situation to work itself out.

Talk to your kids, and listen. Listen to what they’re saying, and to what they’re not saying.

Student suicide rates are on the rise. Quick, proactive communication and education is key, and could save lives.

The best way to prevent students from becoming bullying statistics is to know your students and their disabilities, understand the law, encourage peer intervention (because intervention by peers is considered the most powerful deterrent to bullying), and to foster open positive relationships between parents and schools.

Going back to school is always going to be a little nerve wracking. Kids will always worry about classes, friendships, and keeping up with the latest fads. But they should never have to worry for their safety.

 

 

 

Click on the link to read my post on What This Teacher is Accused of Doing to an Autistic Boy

Click on the link to read my post on School is the Place to Make Better Connections with Our Disabled

Click on the link to read my post on Dreams Come True When People Show they Care

Click on the link to read my post on Hitchens: Dyslexia is NOT a Disease. It is an Excuse For Bad Teachers!

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Try Sitting Still as Much as the Average Student Has To

January 19, 2015

chair

If you want to improve the behaviour of the classroom you could do worse than treat your students the same way as you wish to be treated. Just like I find sitting on the mat utterly uncomfortable I try to minimise the amount of time they are on the mat. Just like I can’t sit still for too long before feeling under duress, so too I allow my students to experience active lessons that mixes learning with some movement.

The truth of the matter is that kids are bound to their seats or the mat for way too long. It is unhealthy and bad for the brain. Don’t take my word for it. Read this wonderful piece by pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom:

 

Except for brief periods of getting up and switching classrooms, I’ve been sitting for the past 90 excruciating minutes. I look down at my leg and notice it is bouncing. Great, I think to myself, now I’m fidgeting! I’m doing anything I can to pay attention – even contorting my body into awkward positions to keep from daydreaming. It is useless, I checked out about forty-five minutes ago. I’m no longer registering anything the teacher is saying. I look around the room to see how the children a few decades younger than me are doing.

I’m immersed in a local middle-school classroom environment. I quickly realize I’m not the only one having a hard time paying attention. About 50 percent of the children are fidgeting and most of the remaining children are either slouched in the most unnatural positions imaginable or slumped over their desks. A child suddenly gets up to sharpen their pencil. A few minutes later, another child raises their hand and asks to go to the bathroom. In fact, at least three children have asked to go to the bathroom in the past twenty minutes. I’m mentally exhausted and the day has just begun. I was planning on observing the whole day. I just can’t do it. I decide to leave right after lunch.

There is no way I could tolerate six hours of sitting even just one day, never mind every day – day after day. How on Earth do these children tolerate sitting this long? Well, the short answer is they don’t. Their bodies aren’t designed for extended periods of sitting. In fact, none of our bodies are made to stay sedentary for lengths of time. This lack of movement and unrelenting sitting routine, are wreaking havoc on their bodies and minds. Bodies start to succumb to these unnatural positions and sedentary lifestyle through atrophy of the muscles, tightness of ligaments (where there shouldn’t be tightness), and underdeveloped sensory systems – setting them up for weak bodies, poor posturing, and inefficient sensory processing of the world around them.

If most of the classroom is fidgeting and struggling to even hold their bodies upright, in desperation to stay engaged – this is a really good indicator that they need to move more. In fact, it doesn’t matter how great of a teacher you are. If children have to learn by staying in their seats most of the day, their brains will naturally tune out after a while – wasting the time of everyone.

Are these teachers clueless to the benefits of movement? No. Most teachers know that movement is important. And many would report that they are downright and overwhelmingly frustrated by their inability to let children move more throughout the day. “We are expected to cram more and more information down their throats,” gripes one middle school teacher. “It is insane! We can no longer teach according to what we feel is developmentally appropriate.” Another teacher explains, “due to the high-stakes testing, even project-based learning opportunities are no longer feasible. Too many regulations, not enough time.”

They go on to explain that recess has been lost due to lack of space and time as well as fear that children will get injured. “Too many children were getting hurt,” says a teacher. “Parents were calling and complaining about scrapped knees and elbows – the rest was history.” Even their brief break from instruction during snack time is no longer a reality. These few minutes of freedom are now replaced with a “working snack” in order to pack in a quick vocabulary lesson. Physical education is held only every sixth day, so technically this isn’t even a weekly affair.

The children line up for lunchtime. “Come watch this,” a teacher yells over to me. The children line up in pairs and are told to be quiet. Once everyone is quiet, two teachers (one in front of the line and one in back) escort the children down to the cafeteria. The thought of prison inmates quickly comes to mind, as I watch the children walk silently, side by side down the corridors of the school hallway. I’m told they are to remain quiet and seated throughout the lunch period. “I feel so bad for them,” exclaims the teacher. “They are so ready for down time during lunch, but are still required to sit and be silent!”

Many parents are also becoming increasingly unsatisfied with the lack of recess and movement their children are getting in middle school. One mother states, “Middle school kids in particular are just coming out of the elementary school environment, consisting of multiple breaks throughout the day. These kids are still young, and depending on the district, could be just 10-years-old going into middle school. They are experiencing a great change already in the transition alone. A break during the day is what they need to re-group.”

This same parent contacted the district’s school board members who ultimately make many of the decisions regarding school policies. She also met with the principal and deans and created an online petition consisting of a strong parent community advocating for more movement in school. The results? A brief five to ten-minute walk outdoors after lunch, which the teachers explain is really half a lap around the building and back indoors they go. “It may not be recess–but it’s a good start,” this mother states. “However, I still believe it’s necessary to make it school policy that all kids get a longer break.”

I ask the teachers what kids do when they get home from school. “About 60 percent of them are over-scheduled. The other 40 percent have no one home, so they do what they want – which often relates to playing video games,” a teacher complains. “I’d say we have only a handful of children that go home and find time to play.” Both teachers try to keep homework meaningful and under an hour, knowing kids need time to release after a long day of school.

Even middle-school children need opportunities to play. This past summer, a teacher at one of our TimberNook camps brought along his 12-year-old daughter, Sarah as a “co-counselor.” Sarah was excited about being a counselor alongside a college student for their small group of five children. In the past, she had simply been a camper. However, as soon as the group set out into the deep woods, dispersed, and started to play,  she quickly switched roles. She instantly forgot about her new status and jumped wholeheartedly into the pretend world, alongside the younger children. What took place next, was quite remarkable.

Sarah climbed high onto a fallen log that ascended to the very top of their newly designed teepee, donned with fresh ferns to camouflage their rustic “living quarters.” She wore a brightly colored feathered mask on top of her forehead. “Listen,” she said to the group of children gathered around her. “We need to get ready for the opposing team’s attack.” She took the time to look each of the children in the eye. “You,” she said to one of the bigger kids in the group. “You are now appointed as top commander.” “Julie,” she said to a girl that is known to be one of the fastest runners in the group. “You are going to be our top spy.” She proceeded to roles for each of the children to play.

Her age, strength, and intelligence made her their natural chosen leader and the children respected her decisions. She played just as hard as the other children. She forgot about her new role as co-counselor for the rest of the week, except to occasionally lead a group song or chant during morning meeting. The fun of being a camper and free play trumped all responsibility. She was still a child. She was not ready to give up her right to free play. Who could blame her?

Why do we assume that children don’t need time to move or play once they reach sixth grade, or even fifth grade? They are only children! In fact, I would argue that we all could benefit from opportunities to play, even up through adulthood. Everyone needs downtime. Time to move our bodies. Time to get creative and escape the rigors of reality.

What can we do for our middle-school children? I asked Jessica Lahey, a middle school teacher, contributing writer at The Atlantic, and author of the upcoming book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” to give her opinion on the matter.

“Teachers are often afraid that if they let children move, it will be hard to get them to settle back down again. This shouldn’t stop us from providing them with the necessary movement children need in order to learn. Middle-school children can always benefit from recess! Also, when I taught for Crossroads Academy, we had some great nature trails behind our school through the woods. I would often take my whole English class for walks. I’d give them a topic to ponder and then we’d walk for ten minutes to think about the question. We’d huddle and discuss the topic. Then, I’d throw out another question and we’d start to walk again.”

Jessica explains that this is also true for schools in urban regions. Children can walk to museums or local parks to explore and learn. They can bring along their writing journals and assess the world and culture around them. Learning doesn’t have to be done in a chair. Jessica goes on to tell me that one time, she had her middle-school children practice public speaking by taking turns standing on a small bridge over a rumbling brook. They had to learn to project their voice over the babbling brook in order to be heard by the rest of class. “It was a good practical lesson and there is something about nature that grounds the child, taking away the anxiety that typically comes with public-speaking,” Jessica reports.

All people in decision-making positions for school policies should be required to sit through at least one school day and experience first-hand what is required of children today. Then they will have a better idea of what is appropriate and what isn’t. Then they will start to think about what their decisions mean for real children in real schools. Maybe then, they will begin to value children’s need to move, need to play, and the need to be respected as the human beings that they are.

Middle school-age children need to move – just like everyone else!

 

Tips for Making a Parent-Teacher Relationship Work

January 5, 2015

parent-teacher-cartoonThe strength of the parent-teacher relationship is absolutely pivotal to achieving in the classroom. Below are some insightful tips by teacher Toby Sorge:

 

* Think of what the end goal is. Teachers can tell when the focus is on a specific grade or assessment, whether the communication is by email, phone call or in person. Giving authentic feedback and grading assessments is not an easy task, but remember that the grade that was earned is now in the past.

* Work with the teacher to create a plan. This plan should focus on student engagement and growth. This may take time, so it’s important to trust the process. Maintain open lines of communication, so if you have questions about your role, you can ask and have them answered.

* Trust is one of the core values when it comes to fostering a successful relationship. Trust that the teacher knows what’s best for each student and how to get there.

* Trusting the process of learning is also important. True learning and deep engagement do not happen with one quiz, test or writing assignment. They take time.

* Make sure you work with teachers and not against them. Instead of coming in with an agenda, work on creating a plan with the teacher. The plan should focus on the development, practice and reinforcement of skills.

* Offer suggestions but also take advice. Discussing with teachers ways for students to succeed will help everyone fully understand children and what their capabilities are.

 

Click on the link to read Sometimes It’s Worth Risking a Fight With a Parent

Click on the link to read 10 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Parents

Click on the link to read 5 Helpful Tips for a Better Parent-Teacher Conference

Click on the link to read The Cafeteria Controversy

Click on the link to read Insensitive ‘Parent Bashers’ Take Aim at Grieving Colorado Parents

My Personal Resolutions for 2015

January 4, 2015

2015

As some of you might be aware, I have been out of teaching for two long but enormously satisfying years. I have been taking on the privilege of being a stay-at-home dad to my baby son and his older sister whilst my wife continues on her quest to becoming an obstetrician.  This has included taking over all aspects of home and child rearing whilst my wife completed her rural rotation and endless night shifts. Although I was already a “hands on” father, two years making my children the sole focus of my life has proved extremely rewarding and quite useful as I prepare to go back to recommence teaching at the end of the month.

I have always loved my job and even though I’ve had a great time being a stay-at-home father, returning to the classroom has me bursting with excitement. I know there will be cobwebs to negotiate and things have changed in the last 2 years (since when did everyone have to have an iPad?), but I have an urge to come back as a better teacher than the one I was when I took leave.

These are some of my initiatives in the lead up to day 1 and throughout the calender year:

 

1. If they Wont Buy it For Me, I’ll Get it Myself – Every teacher buys stuff for their classroom. You just can’t avoid it. But, there are times after proposing a valuable resource and you get turned down by your school that you give up the idea altogether. There is no way my school would invest in hand held whiteboards for each student. I love them and will find so many great uses for them along the way. I can’t really afford a class set, but that’s not going to stop me this year.

 

2. Lose Weight – Two years of sandwiches has taken its toll. I’ve got 5 kilos to lose in a month. I’m not sure that’s possible, but it can’t hurt to try. Many people think that teaching is not a physical job. Boy are they wrong! To be at my best, I must be able to withstand the stress, exertion and sleep deprivation that this job demands. For me, it means I can’t get away with starting off the school year looking like the Duff blimp.

 

3. No More Worksheets! – I don’t like worksheets and have made an effort to avoid them at all costs, but the lazy voice in my head sometimes prevails. It also doesn’t help that the teacher resources handed to you at the beginning of the year features nothing but worksheet laden books. Where are the dice, playing cards, tokens and imitation money? I don’t want to subject my students to worksheets unless I simply have no choice.

 

4. No Yelling – I never yell at individuals and my students will tell their parents that I never yell at all. I wish they were right. I have on more than enough occasions yelled at the class as a whole for reasons such as disrespect towards each other or for treating a substitute or specialist teacher in an unbecoming manner. I have to try to get my messages across without screaming at them.

 

5. Develop My Students as People, Not Simply as Learners – Up until now I have approached teaching with 2 main objectives. Firstly to increase the self esteem of each individual by instilling a sense of cohesion in the group and empowering every individual. And secondly, to foster a love of learning by making my lessons engaging and relevant to the learner. This year I want to add a third plank. I want to help prepare my students for the real world by helping them to develop “real world” skills such as working within a budget, developing a stronger work ethic and having better organisation skills. I think I’ve dropped the ball a bit in that area and I sincerely wish to improve.

I’m sure that along the way I will have more to add to the list, but it’s a good start. Now to get those pounds off. Oh well, quinoa can’t be that bad, can it?

The Skills They Think We Don’t Teach, But Actually Do

December 30, 2014

skills

I have attached an article listing 15 life skills that teachers apparently don’t teach.  I certainly cover most of these and I would be surprised if many teachers do as well:

 

1. Basic financial management

I’m not talking about stocks and portfolios (but, okay, those too), I just mean the very simple, very necessary art of budgeting and making household finance decisions. This is one area that kids could use some expert guidance, considering most parents weren’t taught properly themselves.

2. Understanding credit and student loans

A class on interest rates alone would have saved me from a few mega financial blunders.

3. Relationship counseling

We take classes and a test before getting a driver’s license. We take lord knows how many exams before getting into college. We’re even offered a variety of parenting/birthing/breastfeeding classes before having a baby. And yet I could walk into a courthouse with a simple registration and some makeshift rings and call it a marriage. How can something so complicated and important — something that affects everything from our money to our health to our happiness — have next-to-no training or instructions?

This is another thing that should be learned at home in theory, except many kids have really crappy relationship role models because their parents had crappy role models because THERE’S NO EDUCATION ON MAINTAINING RELATIONSHIPS.

4. Personal communication skills

Children are being born into a world of silent communication (texting, emailing, messengering, etc.), and so their personal communication skills — how to engage and connect with other people — might need a boost. Considering our ability to effectively communicate will affect every single aspect of life, it’s astounding how little attention it’s given in school.

5. The power of negotiation

Unless we had the insight to join a debate team, we probably never learned the art of negotiation — something all adults will need at some point, whether negotiating with a boss, a bank, or a spouse.

6. Emotional awareness/intelligence

We learn plenty about our physical health, but what about our emotional and mental health? What about our inner worlds? Could there be any topic more relevant to students and young adults than understanding and managing their stress, anxiety, and emotions? If mindfulness and emotional awareness was as essential to the public school curriculum as Common Core math strategies, we just might raise a healthier generation of humans.

7. Digital etiquette

‘Tis the time to teach selfie regulation, Internet kindness, and social oversharing. Our kids are inheriting a digital world, and so they’ll need to know how to exist in it.

8. Coding

You know what? Take the cursive out of my kid’s curriculum, whatever. I’d much rather him learn modern skills like coding, computer science, and search engine techniques. If we want our kids to have solid life skills, they’ll need to understand their digital environment. THIS is their life.

According to LifeHack, “Not knowing how to program will soon become synonymous to being illiterate … If you don’t know how to program, you’re merely consuming the whole world around you, which is programmed.” Yet 9 out of 10 schools aren’t teaching coding classes, and computer science doesn’t count toward high school graduation requirements in 25 out of 50 states.

9. Focus

Scientists are now realizing that the newest crop of humans have an unprecedented ability to multitask, probably due to neuroplasticity (our brains ability to adapt and change to the environment). New York magazine reported that kids can “[conduct] 34 conversations simultaneously across six different media, or pay attention to switching between attentional targets in a way that’s been considered impossible.”

But with the give comes the take, and studies show that these kids have less of an attention span than ever before. Perhaps the best thing we can teach these kids is to single-task, and to really listen and focus, rather than succumb to every distraction like a dog in a field of squirrels.

10. Identifying our passions

Marc Mason’s “7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose” should be required reading.

11. The art of failing

Students are chronically rewarded for succeeding and punished for failing — but what kind of lesson does that send? Some of our most important lessons in life come from the biggest failures.

12. Time management

Learning how to stay organized, on task, and productive is something that virtually every human, in every career, will need.

13. The basics of cooking

No student should be allowed to graduate college without mastering at least one dish beyond microwavable dinners and instant oatmeal.

14. Household repairs and maintenance

I’ve been alive for almost 30 years now, and I have no idea how to fix a leaky pipe or why my car makes that rattling sound.

15. Survival skills/basic first aid

Our kids can take a test and memorize facts, but would they know how to find water if they were stranded? Can they fish? Stop a bleed? Perform CPR? Correctly lift heavy objects? Follow a map sans GPS? I understand that these are skills learned over a lifetime, but shouldn’t we have at least one class on the basics of human survival?

Click on the link to read Things Middle School Students Wish We Knew

Click on the link to read Watch a Classic Argument in Action (Video)

Click on the link to read 7 Things a Quiet Student Wishes Their Teacher Knew

Click on the link to read Skills That Aren’t Taught But Should Be: #1 People Skills

Click on the link to read Top 10 Most Unusual School Bans

Things Middle School Students Wish We Knew

December 15, 2014

middle

Courtesy of weareteachers.com via  :

 

1. I was not trying to get attention by falling off the chair. I am approximately infinity inches bigger than I was yesterday and I just lost track of how to balance. I felt like an idiot so I made falling into a joke. Crying was the other choice. And I’d rather cut off my arm than cry in school.

2. I did that homework. I am almost positive I did it. Getting it from done to folder to backpack to school to you is like seven extra homeworks. That is too many. It’s also possible I forgot to do the homework. I honestly have no idea where my planner is. Or maybe the homework was completely confusing and if I asked for help people might think I am stupid now when that used to be my best subject.

3. That time I called you Mom was the most humiliating moment of my life. It’s one thing in second grade but middle school? Ugh. How does this stuff still happen to me?

4. When you force us to get up—do stuff, act it out, test our ideas—it wakes us up and makes the lesson so much more fun and easy to remember.

5. Sometimes I just can’t focus. I’m buzzy, jumpy, pumped with electricity. Somebody suddenly looks distractingly attractive, across the room, which is fully that other person’s fault, not mine. Or I don’t get what we’re discussing and the pain of not understanding is so excruciating I just have to take a break from paying attention.

6. It feels awesome when you notice something special about me. When you value a skill or interest of mine, you give me a route in to subjects I didn’t think I’d like—and make me feel like I have something worth sharing.

7. What you tell me about myself matters way more than I hope you know. When you tell me I am something—smart, brave, kind, stupid, a trouble-maker, creative, a writer, a mathematician, funny, hard-working—I believe you.

8. I like it when you’re sarcastic but not when you’re harsh. When you say something ironically and I get it, I feel smart and mature. But when you’re mocking in a sharper way, it feels mean and a little scary.

9. Respect me. There are lots of things I already know about myself. Some I want to talk about, A LOT, and it means so much to me when you find time to include me (and it) in class. But lots of other things about me, I’m not ready to discuss, and especially not in class.

10. If you call on me and I am flat-out wrong, please don’t humiliate me. I’m already praying for a hole to open up in the floor and swallow me. It’s hard for me to believe that not knowing isn’t shameful but is instead a good starting point for learning. Help me.

And one bonus extra thing: You are suddenly one of the most important adults in my whole world. How you respond to me affects everything. Please be tough. Please be gentle. Especially when I am neither.

 

Click on the link to read Watch a Classic Argument in Action (Video)

Click on the link to read 7 Things a Quiet Student Wishes Their Teacher Knew

Click on the link to read Skills That Aren’t Taught But Should Be: #1 People Skills

Click on the link to read Top 10 Most Unusual School Bans

Click on the link to read Rules that Restrict the Teacher and Enslave the Student

The Questions that Great Teachers Ask Every Day

December 11, 2014

question

Courtesy of the wonderful Mark Barnes. I particularly like question 3:

 

1-What if my homework assignments are a waste of time?

Facebook is rife with parent complaints about homework. There are numerous Facebook pages and groups dedicated to abolishing the horrible homework practices that contribute nothing to learning and ignite a hatred of school in many children. Here is one example of traditional homework that a friend recently posted; oh, it’s worth noting that this homework was for a seven-year-old:

Tuesday homework: 1. Math worksheet 2. Read aloud 1 page story, answer 3 comprehension questions and have it signed 3. Put 14 spelling words in ABC order 4. Sort all spelling words by noun, verb, adjective, or “other” 5. Pick a word from each category and write a sentence, underlining the spelling words 6. Read 26 page storybook aloud, have sheet signed 7. “Optional homework” read silently for 20 minutes.

Great teachers recognize that burying a second grader in piles of senseless homework serves no purpose. Spelling homework is one of the biggest wastes of time in the history of bad homework. The only useful part of the above assignment is the optional part–voluntary reading. This homework assignment is a crutch for either an ill-prepared newbie or a tired veteran who lives in a that’s-the-way-I’ve-always-done-it world.

2-What if my students use mobile devices?

A fantastic, fearless teacher understands that learning simply can’t be measured.

Today’s classrooms are filled with iStudents. Kids who come to school with billions of resources in the palms of their hands, only to be told by teachers and school administrators to leave these powerful assets in their lockers or, worse, at home. Great teachers realize that we live in the digital age, and they are not threatened by the idea that students can become amazing independent learners, using mobile learning devices, web tools and social media. The best teachers realize that embracing mobile learning is the future of education.

3-What if my planned class activity is boring?

Far too many teachers rely on ancient textbooks, dusty worksheets, canned lectures, and last year’s multiple choice tests as their go-to teaching tools. “Kids need discipline, and learning doesn’t have to be fun,” they argue. Great teachers, though, say “Learning should always be fun.” Great teachers envision lessons and class activities and say, “If it isn’t going to be engaging and fun,” I’m throwing it out.

4-What if my room is noisy and chaotic?

A teacher walked into my classroom one day and said, “Wow! It’s kind of crazy in here.” When I informed her that we liked it this way, she shrugged, shook her head and quickly disappeared. For a very long time, my classroom was quiet and orderly. Students wouldn’t dream of leaving their seats without permission, and most would consider peeing their pants before asking me for a bathroom break. Fear and control were the order of the day, and learning was at best a rumor. After one amazing summer of change, I rebuilt my attitude and my classroom. Students worked collaboratively, moved about freely, talked openly, laughed, jumped, shouted and, best of all, had fun. Show me a silent room, and I’m betting it’s a place that is bereft of real learning.

5-What if I don’t grade this?

The thought of a class without traditional grades makes many teachers shudder and scoff. A fantastic, fearless teacher understands that learning simply can’t be measured. It’s impossible to effectively assess with numbers, percentages and letters. The best teachers give their students objective feedback. They observe and ask questions; they provide alternatives. Most important, they encourage students to revisit prior learning and rework activities in an effort to achieve mastery. The best teachers help kids understand that failure is necessary and should never be punished with a low mark.

6-What if the Common Core is just another bad idea concocted by bureaucrats?

Even if they think the Common Core might be a good thing (there’s no evidence right now that it is), the best teachers question Common Core State Standards and high stakes testing every day of their lives. Great teachers may see how the Common Core can be successfully integrated into some classes, but they always wonder if their own standards and learning outcomes that their students want are the best standards for our children. The best teachers know how to teach. They don’t need a prescription dreamed up by nonprofits to tell them what is right for their students.

 

Click on the link to read Learning as an Experience

Click on the link to read I Love it When Teachers are Excited to Come to Work

Click on the link to read Every Science Teacher’s Worst Nightmare (Video)

I Give Myself an F for Classroom Design

December 7, 2014

 

I have a terrible case of classroom envy.

Whilst my colleagues dazzle with their colour coordination and classroom layout, I am extraordinarily inept in this department. Although an appreciative parent once said after I apologised about the look of my classroom, “I love what you’re doing with my child, I don’t give a stuff what your classroom looks like”, I feel like I am letting down my students. I also realise that the look of a classroom is a reflection of the amount of pride the teacher has for his/her room. I am ashamed at how badly my classroom’s look reflects what I really feel about the room and my wonderful students.

A video like the one above depresses me. I accept it was made to help teachers like me, but I know that copying these wonderful ideas would take me weeks if not months to carry out and the finishing product would be vastly inferior.

Is there any other teacher out there who finds setting up a classroom as stressful as I do?

 

 

Click on the link to read Would You Want Your Teacher Chair Replaced by a Yoga Ball?

Click on the link to read Worst Examples of Teacher Discipline

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Teachers Deserve Blame for Maths Disaster

December 6, 2014

 

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Teachers almost always come from a humanities background. It therefore doesn’t surprise that they tend to feel more comfortable teaching English, History and Geography more than Maths and Science.

A very experienced curriculum coordinator recently told me that it is very common for primary teachers to skip fractions because they aren’t confident with the topic to answer some of their own text book questions let alone explain it to their students.

 

TYPICAL student teachers have the maths ability of a 12-year-old child, leaving them ill-equipped to teach the subject — let alone even pass a Year 9 ­NAPLAN test.

The warning comes from leading univer­sity maths lecturer Stephen Norton, who said that half his students would not pass the Year 9 national numeracy test, even after three or four years of tertiary study.

“Every year I test my students and they’ve got the understanding of a Year 7 or Year 8 kid,’’ the senior lecturer in mathematics education at Griffith University told The Weekend Australian. “They struggle with fractions and proportional reasoning and anything to do with algebra. They should have mastered this by the end of primary school. I believe it is our responsibility in univer­sities to make sure we can remediate that.’’

Dr Norton tested the maths ability of all 125 students who enrolled in a Griffith University graduate diploma of education — a one-year course for those who have a bachelor degree in another field — last year and this year, as well as 40 students in the third year of a bachelor of education course in 2013. Barely half the would-be teachers knew how to convert 5.48km into metres — and 17 per cent failed to convert 6kg into grams. Only 16 per cent could convert temperatures from degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit, using a formula written on the test paper. Just one in four knew how to convert a fraction to a percentage.

Barely one in five students could find the highest common factor of the numbers 28 and 70, and just 13 per cent knew the lowest common multiple of the numbers 40 and 140. More than half the students could not answer the question: “If the total cost of three tickets is $5.64, how much will 10 tickets cost?’’

Just one in three students knew how to calculate the areas of rectangles and triangles.

The alarming results of the only publicly available tests of student-teacher numeracy in Australia will fuel calls to reform the teaching of mathematics at schools and universities.

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne has already flagged the introduction of compulsory literacy and numeracy tests for aspiring teachers. The most recent OECD Program for International Student Assessment test reveals that four out of 10 Australian teenagers lack basic maths skills.

The federal Education Department’s newly released 2013 teacher survey shows that only two-thirds of primary teachers and a quarter of high school teachers were trained at univers­ity to teach maths. Five per cent of the nation’s high schools had at least one ­unfilled vacancy for a maths teacher during 2012.

The official survey found that almost a third of teachers involved in teaching numeracy wanted more professional development on the job.

Queensland’s Auditor-General has found that one in three maths teachers in Years 8 to 10 lack a tertiary qualification in mathematics. Dr Norton said half the students he taught flunked his entry test — although their results improved by 30 per cent after they completed eight weeks of maths study, including 32 hours of face-to-face instruction.

“Most prospective primary teachers struggle with upper primary mathematics upon intake,’’ he said.

“It is interesting that the third and fourth-year undergraduate students were on par with the entry postgraduate students.

“Inability to carry out accurate division and convert a decimal to a percentage, or to carry out basic whole-number problem solving, prior and post learning, was cause for concern.

“Most students found any mathematics associated with fractions, proportional reasoning and algebra challenging and in many instances this was only partly remediated over the study time.’’

Dr Norton — who has a PhD in mathematics education and a master of science, and taught maths and science for a decade at Brisbane high schools — called for more face-to-face maths instruction for all trainee teachers.

He said he believed he was the only academic who tested trainee teachers’ maths ability before and after their maths instruction.

 

Click on the link to read Proof that Maths Can be Cool (Video)

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Reasons Why I am Forced to Teach to the Test

November 12, 2014

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I’d love to say, “Stuff the test!”, but I can’t.

Show me a teacher that loves standardized testing and I’ll show you a lemon with a state of the art car alarm installed in it. How I wish I could ignore the test and just concentrate on teaching the curriculum. But there are compelling reasons why I can’t and they are as follows:

 

1. The Unfairness of the Test – In Australia the school year starts in late January and finishes mid-December.  The testing occurs early in the year, somewhere between April and May. One would have assumed that since the testing happens e.g. at the beginning of Year 5, that the students will be tested up to the end of grade 4. That isn’t the case. The students are tested on skills up to the end of Grade 5. In other words, there are questions on that test that my students have never encountered and according to the curriculum aren’t expected to know for another 6 months!

 

2. The Wrong Teacher Looks Bad – So the test occurs early in the year, meaning I am reliant on last years teacher to ensure that skills are learned and standards are maintained. Logically speaking, since it is early in the year, if my students perform poorly it is more a reflection of years past rather than of me. Yet, when are the results sent to the parents? At the end of the year. So parents read the results and automatically heap blame on the classroom teacher. The fact the students sat for their exams early in the year would never occur to them.

 

3. The Deep End – Up until the 3rd grade there is no real formal testing in the classroom. Nothing that can be compared to the barrage that is standardised testing week anyway. So, it is my duty to prepare my students for what they are about to encounter. This involves, how to mark answers, correct errors, work within time constraints, fill in personal details and how to best go about answering multiple choice questions. To make matters worse, in Australia, the written English essay question (often a persuasive essay), is exactly the same for grades 3, 5, 7 and 9. This means that my grade 3’s have to tackle the very same question with the very same wording as a year 9 student!  How can I not prepare them for that?

 

4. The Consequences – I pride myself on teaching in a specific type of style. This is a style I have developed on my own according to my own unique teaching philosophy. It is a popular style with my students and so far has been endorsed by my parents, and then in turn my Principal. What happens if my students get mediocre scores? What’s the first thing that gets scrutinised? My teaching style. All of a sudden questions are asked. Perhaps he should take a more traditional approach? Perhaps his lessons are a bit light on for substance? He should refer to textbooks more often for his maths. Perhaps he should go back to the sanctioned readers and dispense with his class novels. I can’t afford such negative attention. To lose my style would drain me as a teacher and make fronting up to work so much less pleasurable.

 

I accept that by teaching to the test for a few months, I make myself a lesser teacher. But do I really have a choice?

 

 

Click on the link to read There is Nothing Wrong With Testing Young Children

Click on the link to read The Negative Effects of Standardized Testing are Exaggerated

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Click on the link to read I’m Just Gonna Say It: Standardised Tests Suck!

Click on the link to read Too Many Tests, Not Enough Teaching


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