Aside Posted on Updated on
I can remember a conversation with a parent about a student losing points for not following directions. Her argument was that he worked really hard. My stance was that none of that mattered if he could not follow the directions. Fast forward 4 years and I stumble across an article about the New Jersey Institute of Technology losing a $1.25M grant because someone did not follow directions. I won’t recap the entire article here. I have shared the link in case you’d like to read about it. What I will say is that there are 2 very important take-aways here:
GREAT Informational Text for Class!
The first thing I thought when I saw an Instagram post about this article was that this is a WONDERFUL informational text for students to read and dissect. Because it is so relevant, it is only necessary for the teacher to ask, “What do you think about this?” Imagine if students were in small groups discussing the text and then they shared out their thoughts.
(For you 🙂 – I have copied and pasted the article into a PDF NJ College.)
What’s the Cost of Not Following Directions?
Apparently, it costs $1.25M when you don’t follow directions, and I propose that it costs a lot more. This may even be a fireable offense. That does not mean that the person in this instance was fired (the article does not say that, and I have no way of knowing). It just means that, I believe, if a university has been offering a college-prep program to low-income children for the past 18 years, and they are no longer able to do so because someone couldn’t double-space an application, firing seems very possible. Furthermore, costs in this situation manifest in several ways:
- The students who are unable to participate in this program become collateral damage.
- The university’s reputation could be tainted in the community.
- The people who work during this program also lose out.
I’m sure there are other costs associated with this faux pas, but that really is not my point. My point is that there are times when not following directions can cost you more than you are willing to give up. It is important that everyone understand the importance of following directions. While the university will appeal this decision, and this program is slated to be cut under the Trump Administration’s proposed budget, these options/outcomes are not always present. In fact, in life, not following directions can cause great heartache.
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It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over
As we watch the playoffs in my house, I am always impressed with the effort the losing team gives all the way up until the last second. Even if they are down by 10 points, it appears that they are hopeful, and so they persevere. Time-outs are called, they huddle, and the coach gives a play, a strategy… a last ditch effort to win the game…
You don’t have to love basketball to understand my analogy. As teachers, it is not over, until it’s over. The same effort I see when I watch athletes in the final seconds of a game, is the same effort I tried to exert at the end of each school year. I know how taxing it can be to make it through an entire school year and cap it off with standardized testing. Whew! It is exxhauuusting! But we must take a few things into consideration:
- Learning is never-ending: As learners, we can all learn new things and polish skills we have.
- Develop the whole child: Children deserve to understand all of the opportunities available to them, not just the ones their demographic dictates as possible. Introducing fun, new things at the end of the year can kindle a fire you may never see. But remember, it isn’t about you.
- Personalization: This word is buzzing around all over the education world right now, and for good reason. Personalization may feel challenging at first, but the end of the year is a great time to give it a try. Then, ask your students for feedback. Take that information and use it next year. You never know, it may be easier than you think.
- Student-Choice: Allow students to choose activities that interest them. Learning is so much better when we like how we are learning.
- Data: What does your data tell you? Where were your students struggling this year? How can you incorporate some of those skills at the end of this year so that next year their achievement gap is not as wide?
Well, considering all of the aforementioned, here are some things you can do:
- Task Cards – At the secondary level, I rarely see these used, but in elementary, they are all the rave! With these, you can hit student-choice and personalization. Allow students to choose the skill they want to practice, the task, etc. Give them a certain amount of tasks to complete within a certain time-frame (dear God, don’t forget to give them a time-frame🙄), and leave them alone.
- Be creative – Take your students on a writing journey. You can make it a collective activity, or give them choice (again with the student-choice). Here are a few examples:
- Write reviews. Review everything – television shows, meals, movies, shoes, clothes. The sky is the limit. Whenever I had students write reviews, I was always impressed with what they observed.
- People watch, and write about it. Take a trip around the building… around the grounds for that matter. Have students write down notes as they walk. Then, come back to the classroom and discuss it. Write about it..
- Interview people. As a class, come up with different categories – school events, seniors going off to college, first year teachers… anything. Give them criteria and set them free.
- Take them to a far away place. How exciting is that?! When I was in the classroom, many, if not most, of my students had not been outside of the immediate area. Taking them on adventures through reading and writing is two-fold. They are still learning, but they are having fun. Choose a country and read their news, learn about their culture, and find literature from, or about, their culture.
Now go off and be great! It’s almost over 🙂
A class clown can completely ruin your class, if you allow it. I have had my fair share of class clowns, but I always tried to take into consideration just how much I love comedy.
As I finished modeling my introduction paragraph on the board, I turned around to see Jake standing on a desk. I looked at him. There was a pause because I was really thinking about my next move. Students were giggling, and staring at me in anticipation. His face let me know he was awaiting a note-worthy response.
“What are you doing?” I asked, trying to shield the exasperation in my tone.
“I’m TIRED of being the shortest person in here!!” Jake exclaimed. “Now I’m taller than Jeremy!”
You see, Jeremy was about 6’6″, and my class clown was about 5’4.
After staring at Jake for a moment, I turned back to the board and continued my lesson.
As I kept teaching, Jake kept his post. He stood proudly on top of the desk. And yes, he WAS now the tallest person in the room. But you know what, he was also taking notes.
I let Jake stand there the entire period because in all honesty, who was he bothering. Was it dangerous… well technically it is frowned upon to let students stand on desks. However, I just didn’t have the time or patience that day to let him get the best of me. That is exactly what he wanted. He got the giggles from his peers, but he didn’t get the response from me he wanted. I secretly wondered if he stood up there far longer than he had anticipated considering that I did not make him sit down.
Ultimately, Jake was not the first class clown, and he definitely was not the last. This scenario stands out to me the most though because I was so caught off guard. I have had a student burst out in Cee-lo songs… repeatedly, a child use profanity in their shared constructed response, a fit thrower, and more (mind you, these were 10th-12th graders), but for some reason, standing on that desk, that day, in an Honors class, really took the cake.
So what’s the point of this post? Simple, every fight isn’t worth fighting, and every student has potential to be something great. I honestly believe that Jake can be the next big comedian. However, I did not need his shenanigans during my class. I could have sent him to the office, written a referral, or responded negatively. But what I hope I accomplished that day was creating an environment that allowed him to be who he was without penalty. At best, I hope that teachers around the world can appreciate that comedians came from somewhere, and if there had been people along the way that broke their spirits when they were simply being who they were, we may not have all of the laughs we appreciate today.
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STATE TESTING – The real 4-letter word in education. The two words sure to make many, if not most, educators cringe. The pressure to achieve proficiency weighs heavily on students and teachers. For those of you already testing, “May the odds be ever in your favor.” For those of you still burning the midnight oil to help students practice all the things you’ve taught this year, consider the following to help with state testing:
~Student Learning Stations~
This is a great way to group students and differentiate. You can spruce stations up by adding games and highly interactive activities. It also allows the teacher to move about the room and help those students who need help. You can read more about student stations here.
~Use Released Test Items~
I always used released state exams from other states in addition to my own, whenever those were available. I wanted students to be exposed to all of the possible ways a skill could be assessed. That said, it was imperative that I find other ways to provide students with the level of rigor I’d expect them to see on a state exam. Think about the way your state’s test is set up, and find something that works for you.
Below are a few resources I have used:
- Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers
- The State of Texas STAAR Released Test Questions
- EngageNY (3-8 only)
- North Carolina
~Let Data Drive Your Instruction~
Whenever you assess students, always be sure that a standard is attached and that you are collecting data each time. ‘Thumbs up, thumbs down’ is NOT a good way to access what a student really knows. Instead, give each student an opportunity to demonstrate what they know. Then, be sure to track how your students do on each skill.
Another thing to consider is using an interactive assessment platform like Plickers , Quizziz, or Kahoot! to break up the monotony of pen and paper or computer screens. Each provide data that you can use to drive instruction.
Put it all together
If you are so inclined, you could put this all together and cycle through from now until you begin testing. For some teachers in my district, they still have 2-3 weeks. A lot can happen with student achievement n 2-3 weeks when teachers are intentional.
Scrolling through Twitter and I see this:
I stared at the screen for a moment before I re-tweeted it. At first, I didn’t know why this was so intriguing to me, but then it dawned on me. As educators, we tell students, “there are no stupid questions,” whether we believe it or not. Some teachers even laugh about the “stupid questions” they get in class (I know, not you 😉). But this post made me think, how often do teachers ask “stupid questions?”
“Stupid” is a very harsh word. However, there are questions that do not inspire thinking, and those questions are not helpful to students or teachers. Ultimately, teachers are preparing students to think critically. In order to do that, students must be able to think beyond what Google has to offer and process information themselves. To do that, training begins in the classroom.
So, as a teacher, how do you know if you are inspiring thinking. Consider these questions – and we’ll start with the obvious:
- Can students Google your answer? Now, to be fair, everything is on Google, BUT, everything is not readily available. A recall question – ‘what happened in the beginning of The Kite Runner’ does not require a student to actually comprehend the text. Instead, a student only needs to remember. Instead, ask ‘how does the first chapter of the novel frame the text? impact the reader?’ With this line of questioning, students can Google The Kite Runner, but they may not even be able to find that answer with research, if at all.
- When is the last time you used question stems to plan instruction? There are several different lists of common core question stems. Kids at the Core is one place to check.
- How familiar are you with Bloom’s and or DOK? When you lesson plan, one of these should be at your side.
- How are your students performing on your summative assessments compared to district or state assessments? There should be consistency between the different instruments. However, if a student is earning an ‘A’ in your class, but is not proficient on district or state assessments, this means that the student has earned an ‘A’ in your class because he/she has done everything you have asked. Unfortunately, what you have asked them to do may not be the equivalent of what they should be able to do. Therein lies a rigor issue.
This parent’s comment is quite poignant. As a matter of fact, it inspires thinking, and cannot be found on Google.
Today’s teachers are facing an uphill battle. With students coming in less and less prepared, climbing expectations of teachers have reached, what can feel like, an impossible level. Limited resources and ineffective professional development only further compound teacher frustration, resulting in rapid burn-out and high teacher turnover.
As a former 10th grade ELA teacher, I too, felt this frustration. The mounting obligations often left me drained. At times, I considered a career change because I felt so defeated. Eventually, I realized that I was working entirely too hard. In order to accomplish all that had been set before me, I needed to change my processes and procedures. I needed to re-evaluate what I was doing so that I could find enjoyment again in what I loved. In time, I was able to find ways to circumvent many pitfalls and creatively compensate for missing resources, all while achieving positive results. I turned my classroom into a place of non-stop student-led learning.
Now, as a Secondary Curriculum Coach, I have grown even more. Working in the curriculum department and assisting secondary ELA teachers has proven beneficial to my craft. The ideas flow like water, and I am more than happy to share with my teachers because the outcome is amazing. When teachers feel encouraged and supported, they become rejuvenated, and the sky is the limit. That rejuvenation leads to master classrooms where teachers are energized and students reach their full potential.
It is my hope that this blog will help more teachers find the support and resources they need to create their own Master Classroom.