Opinions expressed on this blog are my own and do not represent any other organization or affiliation I may have.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Love this post: Re-Engaging the Disengaged: 5 Strategies

I love Middle School. When i tell people I am a teacher, they ask what grade... I tell them and they seem shocked... "wow! I could never do that" I laugh and explain all the reasons why Middle School is amazing.

When I saw this link pop up in my twitter feed i instantly connected to the writer and found his strategies to be quite accurate:

A common response, when people find out that I work with junior high school students, is an eye roll and a comment to the effect of, “I could never do that.” The thought of spending five days a week with nine-hundred teenagers is enough to make most people shudder, but I love this age group and the challenges they present.

When talking about Middle School, I admit the greatest challenge can be keeping these pre-teens engaged in learning. "How do I make learning relevant to each of them?" this blog post continued to address similar ideas and questions I have asked my self and my colleagues...

Lately, our staff has struggled in their efforts to make connections with students who are disengaged from the educational process. These are kids who are seemingly apathetic–they don’t participate in class activities; they don’t complete assignments; they frequently exhibit poor behavior and they are frequently absent. For all intents and purposes, these students have lost hope in their educational future.

These are the 5 strategies he suggestes:

(1) Make it Personal – take time to visit with students and learn about their personal interests. Better yet, give them opportunities to tell you about their passions (see Identity Day by George Couros). If they don’t think they have a passion, help them find one. Most importantly, allow students to apply what they are learning to their personal interests. Allow school to be about them!
(2) Search for Celebrations – be constantly vigilant for celebration moments. Trust me when I say that this isn’t always a personal strength and that I realize the school day isn’t all daffodils and candy hearts. If we are looking for reasons to be frustrated or discouraged, we will undoubtedly find them. Instead, search for the moments that making this profession rewarding. Catch students making good decisions, using sound judgement, meeting expectations, working diligently, enjoying school…and take time to recognize these behaviors. Make “celebration moments” the focal points of daily instruction.
(3) Give Every Student the Opportunity to Succeed – it is unfortunate, but some of our students have not tasted success for so long that they have lost hope–no longer possessing the self-confidence, or will, to invest in what they see as a wasted effort. One way to overcome this sense of helplessness is to plan opportunities for every student to experience success. This will mean different things for different students, but by designing lessons, activities, assignments and questions that will set students up for success we can begin to repair student self-esteem and open doors for greater challenges.
(4) Reflect on class assignments and homework – in spite of our best intentions, we frequently set our students up for failure by burying them in assignments that do not serve a clear purpose, or that students have little chance of completing. The issue of homework has been widely debated in education circles (check out the post entitled Homework, by David Truss). Regardless of your position on making homework assignments, I would hope that all educators recognize the importance of making ALL assignments purposeful and relevant. If you are making assignments, be sure to ask yourself (1) what is the purpose, (2) is it a good use of time and resources, and (3) is it in the best interest of students? (see 5 Hallmarks of Good Homework, from ASCD)
(5) Try something different – if things don’t seem to be working, do something different. There are rarely easy answers when it comes to motivating struggling students and keeping them engaged, but doing the same thing over and over without results makes no sense. As problem solvers, we have to shake things up, employ new strategies, and be on the lookout for opportunities to challenge students to be active participants in their own education.

I love this post. I think some of these strategies are common sense, some are a bit vague/general, but all are absolutely correct and fantastic reminders of the things we can do eacha nd every day with students.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Learning-Focused Teaching

Learning-focused Teaching: A Question-Driven Approach to Planning

I am a mentor for the TTOC mentorship group in our district and a participant in the Middle school group. As part of our training to be facilitators we have taken the mentoring and coaching workshops and seminars with Bruce Wellman.

If you are not familiar with his work, you really need to be! It is very deep, very detailed, but very worth it!

Something I have been thinking about in my own teaching and in co-teaching and observing others teaching is how can I improve my instruction to be more learning-focused and how can I assess that?

I found this awesome question-driven approach to lesson planning and reflection through Bruce Wellman's site and I wanted to share it with you.

In teacher training, I remember being so tired of hearing the word "reflection" however, as time goes on, I am recognizing it's value and appreciating the opportunities to discuss with others and reflect on practices to improve.

Check out this question-based approach:

Friday 2 November 2012

Math Pattern Blocks

Pattern blocks are helpful tools to create a plethora of hands-on math activities. They are not just for students in first grade and below, activities with pattern blocks can be adapted to fit a wide range of skills and difficulty, strengthening geometric reasoning and spatial awareness. Here are some activities and games students can enjoy:
  • The Last Block is a 2-4 player game that challenges students to be the last player to place a block on the gameboard. You can use this as a board for the pattern block game.
  • FirstGradeParade adapted Musical Chairs into a game where students added blocks to the patterns created by other students. This is a great way to get students up and moving while practicing with patterns!
  • MathLearningCenter has free pattern block lesson plans to download and use in class. Activities are suited for K-2 students.
  • MarcialMiller lists several games and activities using pattern blocks. Ideas include everything from working with tessalations, fractions, and making pictures of animals and flowers

Source: http://substitutesftw.blogspot.ca/2012/10/math-activities-with-pattern-blocks.html

Thursday 1 November 2012

Task Cards

I have seen task cards used in a variety of classes. A Montessori class I have taught in uses them for Math and the cards are broken into groups based on level and skill set then sorted into drawers. Another class I was in used them for group work so that each group member would complete a task then rotate the cards.

I found some information on task cards:

Task cards are pretty self-explanatory: they are cards which contain tasks, or activities for students to complete. Teachers usually create a deck of these task cards for students to practice skills. They are good worksheet alternatives, can be adapted in to games, easy to make and readily accessible since so many teachers make and share them.

Here are some resources about task cards, if you're thinking about utilizing them:

  • Task-Cards.com, which gives a thorough explanation for various ways to use task cards, including for individual, small group and whole class activities. The site also provides details on several types of task cards and gives examples of each. There are also four sets of free task cards as a sample of the type of material sold on the site. Visit here for a one-stop shop for info on task cards!
  • Talbott's Teaching Trove contains a few sets of free task cards, including working with antonyms and rounding numbers. My favorite are the "7-Up" cards, which encourage students to turn short, lifeless sentences into descriptive ones.
  • The Third Wheel posted free math task cards to sharpen students' problem solving skills.
  • Pro-Teacher.net forums have many awesome members who create and share task cards for all subjects and grade levels. Sign up and join to share and contribute.