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One of the most profound statements a teacher ever made to me went something like this: ‘I keep getting older, but they will always be 16. I’m trying to deal with that.’
Geesh! Let’s dissect that.
When I started teaching at 26, I was only 8 years older than my oldest student, and Facebook was a big deal. Now, “Facebook is for old people,” (yes, sadly that is a direct quote), and there are so many mediums to keep up with that I’ve given up. If I scroll too quickly on Instagram, it gives me a slight headache, and I have yet to appreciate recording a video that will disappear (Snapchat).
In contrast, I’ve watched students viciously scroll through Instagram with the appearance of processing everything they deem important. Being “Instagram Famous” is actually a thing, and Twitter has the power to make CEOs apologize and Pepsi pull ads. But in many classrooms, sit-and-get continues to reign supreme, technology is forbidden, and students are still handwriting essays.
In a world where apps are created by 10-year-olds, a businessman is president, and 130 characters can change the lives of many, our students need interactive, dynamic, and thought-provoking lessons that mirror their lives. Technology should be the rule, not the exception. That said, it may be time to evaluate your methods. If you are wondering if you are functioning in prehistoric times, check out my list below.
Take a Closer Look
#1) Consider that if students are taking too long to type, it is probably because no one allows or requires them to, which is problematic because typing is a necessary part of many professions. Additionally, if students are handwriting essays, that means you are wagging stacks of essays around as opposed to giving feedback electronically that students can always access.
#2) To be fair, if you are reading this article at work, you are off task. Also, how often do you get off task in department meetings? The truth of the matter is that the purpose of the group is to build community, teach cooperation, build skills, and to interact. The goal should not be to make students sit and whisper. I don’t know about you, but if I have to whisper in a group, I’d rather not participate.
Try this: place students in work stations with specific goals and time constraints. While they may not be on task the entire time they are working, they will achieve great things when they have parameters.
#3) There is always a reason to have a phone or electronic device out. ALWAYS. I have a friend who Googles everything we talk about. Her phone is at the ready for anything that may need clarity… She’s a lawyer.
My point is, there are purposes for phones in class other than annoying or ignoring the teacher. As educators, we just have to explore reasons for students to use their devices. In doing so, we make it much easier for them to put their phones away when asked.
#4) Google runs the world. There are many apps to support interactive learning. Teachers can create quizzes, share documents, and more. For more information about Google Classroom, click here.
#5) As a mother of a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old, engagement is always coupled with loud, rowdy, rambunctious behavior. In fact, when those things aren’t happening, someone has a fever. Now, to be fair, we obviously have behavior expectations in the learning environment that are different than home behaviors. However, it is unfair to children to expect that they sit quietly for extended periods of time. As a teacher, I enjoyed how “rowdy” they became because I could tell that they were really into what we were doing. What’s more, when I assessed them later, the overall proficiency of the class was far better after “rowdy” activities than when we were totally silent and working independently.
#6) This is not actually a thing. As educators, we should always be learning, otherwise, we cannot teach and prepare our students for their future. It’s like the student who says, “I’m not used to doing homework,” or the one who says, “my mom isn’t good at math either.” These statements are just excuses.
What You Can Do
There are many ways to step out of the time warp and incorporate modern day learning into your classroom. And while it may feel a little overwhelming at first, it will definitely prove beneficial to both you and your students.
If you are a teacher dinosaur, here are some things you might try:
- Use alternative formative assessments. This will increase engagement and create an interactive classroom.
- Step out of your comfort zone.
- Plan with purpose. Ask yourself, where can I incorporate technology in my lesson plan? If daily feels like too much starting out, try to include something every other day.
- Look into Google. There are many options available.
- Team up with someone who regularly includes technology. Plan together so you have ideas for ways to spruce up your classroom.
The teacher I quoted at the beginning of this post made a very valid point. As we mature in our profession, our children are always the same age. That, in and of itself, requires great adaptation on our part. When we fail to adapt to the needs and/or interests of our students, we miss the mark. As the professionals, our kids deserve our best efforts, even when it takes us out of our comfort zones.
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If you are not using learning stations in your classroom, you are really missing out! Whenever I used stations, I was always beyond pleased with the outcome. Student engagement was up, and I was able to help my more introverted students who would not ask for help in the bigger group setting. Once I saw how well the stations worked, I used them all the time, especially in preparation for state testing.
Things to Consider
Before setting up my stations and re-arranging the class, I always asked myself a few questions:
- Were students all completing the same activity, but with varying levels of rigor?
- Did I want several different activities happening at once? Would students rotate through stations and complete different tasks at each?
- Did I need a station where I worked with small groups of students, or were all stations for students to work independently with my rotating support?
After answering those questions, I was ready to plan the lesson(s). Depending on the goal, there were a few ways to arrange the class:
Using this method, direct instruction was more beneficial because it was like teaching a class with a smaller student-teacher ratio, and we know how amazing that can be for teachers and students.
Another option was to eliminate the direct instruction, and place everyone in small groups with different activities like below.
Students would get a certain amount of time at each station and rotate when the timer went off. Could I have just given students different assignments when the timer went off… yes, but it would not have been nearly as effective. Because students were allowed to get up and move, it helped them mentally prepare to do something different. There was a moment for socialization and interaction with people outside of their groups, and, for those students who may not have been interested in the current station, there was a possibility that they were moving to a station with something that interested them.
The last way I grouped students was by ability:
I know, I know. Hold your horses. This worked out VERY well. By giving students the same assignment with varying levels of rigor, I was able to challenge my advanced students (you know, the ones everyone seems to forget about), push my proficient students, and work closely with my approaching and struggling students. I even had a special lesson plan to help me plan the differentiation. You can download that lesson plan for free here.
With a rolling chair, I would move between the two back groups and support students through their activities. If I had done it correctly, when I gave a formative assessment, everyone would do better on the skill, regardless of original proficiency level.
The Moral of the Story
If you are not using student learning stations, I encourage you to give them a try. Then, come back and tell us how they went in the comments.
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Teaching students to analyze anything can be a daunting task. So when students have to make sense of all of the characters in a short story or novel, and THEN analyze them, the frustration can reach a boiling point for both the teacher and the student. To mitigate these frustrations, graphic organizers can be a tremendous help.
In the classroom, I remember all of the organizers my students had to create by hand as I drew them on the board. Then, using the Gradual Release Model of Responsibility, we would walk through them so that students could really flesh out their characters and ideas, and support that with evidence from the text. Once we were able to do all of that, we were ready for the hard part – writing the analysis.
Today, I have eliminated much of the frustration by creating an Analyzing Characters Organizer Pack.
Included, are 6 graphic organizers, a table of contents with instructions on how to use each, directions on using the Gradual Release Model of Responsibility, the Common Core Standards the activities are aligned with, AND learning targets.
The activities can be used for any secondary ELA classroom. There are a variety of ways to use the organizers including whole-class, independent practice, small groups, or stations.
If you are looking for an engaging way to teach students how to analyze characters, check it out. I found that once students were given opportunities to practice the skill in different ways, the outcome was increased engagement and greater achievement.