Monday, March 28, 2011

Too Much Paper!

Over the past few weeks I have been drowning in paper. It overflowed in mountains on my desk, spewed across tables and empty spaces on the floor. I became extremely overwhelmed.

Luckily, my mom came to the rescue and helped me file and clean it all up. Now that I can see my desk again, I've been thinking about how I got to this point...

At first I started thinking I wasn't using enough technology, but that's not the case. I looked at all the worksheets I haven't even graded yet and I realized I had fallen victim to giving busy work for the sake of managing my class. Most of the work isn't meaningful. There are no fun projects to show their parents, only page after page of barely graded worksheets.

So the question is, what do I do now? The test is next week which means no projects till afterward, but I'm also scared of not giving them work to do because what will I do instead to keep them busy?

I hate that I've turned into this kind of teacher. I read about it all the time and I know better, but the reality is that my class can't handle down time, and reading a book for 20 minutes is still a struggle for many, and it's March! Writing a story is always super quick with them, even when I teach them how to add detail and dialogue. Often times they either finish their assignments in 5-10 minutes or they don't get it so they don't do it. Then I'm sending them off to do a worksheet, that only a portion of them know how to do correctly.

I really would love to figure out a project based learning activity that I could try for the end of this year. Then I can learn from it and be much better at it next year. Or even if I don't do big projects back to back, I still need to find ways to keep my students doing meaningful work and not just piling them with worksheets. After all, it not only sucks for them, but it's a headache for me!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Marriage Counseling and Behavior Management?

I went to a marriage counseling session this evening and the topic was on conflict management.  Everything the presenter talked about not only helped me put things into perspective in my relationship but also in my classroom.  Conflict occurs in my room on a daily basis, whether it's student to student or student to teacher.  I started thinking, I wonder if I could teach my students the conflict management strategies we're learning for successful relationships?  I will definitely have to break it down a bit, but I think it could be really beneficial for the kids, if I can teach and model it correctly and give them lots of practice.

These are the steps I learned tonight about problem-solving:

1. Define the problem (listen, summarize, collaborate)
2. Brainstorm possible solutions
3. Analyze the ideas and select one to try
4. Create an action plan
5. Do it
6. Come back and evaluate the progress

Right now I'm thinking to spend 1 week on each step so the kids have lots of opportunities to practice.  I've seen things like this happen with "peace tables" but I'm a little worried about making a peace table because I know my kids will take advantage of always wanting to go, so I'm thinking to just teach it and encourage them to practice it during non-instructional times.  That will also give them a chance to calm down instead of trying to solve the problem while they're emotionally charged. 

I've definitely never taught anything like this, so I'll just do my best and see how it goes!  If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or experiences from your own classes to share, I'd love to hear them!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Classroom Reflection

It's almost time to go back to school, and I see this as an opportunity to reset and change some structures in my classroom.  But before I dig in to what I'd like to change, I'd like to reflect on my learning, my successes, and my challenges from these first 4 months of teaching.

What I've learned:
  • The first year of classroom teaching is HARD for EVERYONE!
  • Classroom teaching is not what I imagined it to's been sort of a wake up call
  • I'm learning and working through so much about myself, not just about the art of teaching
  • I have a need to control that I need to release
  • Lesson planning will eventually start to get easier
  • Giving kids "choice" is not as black and white as it seems
  • Classroom management means more than just controlling the students
  • There are many situations on a daily basis where I don't know what to do or how best to handle a situation
  • Teaching is really trial and error - keeping what works and getting rid of what doesn't
  • I have some AMAZING colleagues 
  • First year teachers NEED mentor's hard to do this alone
  • I'm not going to love every student and every student is not going to love me
  • When I can see my students outside of the classroom, it helps me view them as a regular kid instead of just a student
  • Building a relationship with my students is important and helpful for us to understand each other
  • Kids really do enjoy working in groups, and I need to stop being afraid of letting them do so
  • I need to forgive myself for not being able to do it all
  • I WILL NOT be the perfect teacher, no matter how hard I try
  • I can only do so much.  I can't save the world
  • I need to stop being so hard on myself
This list could go on and on, as I've learned so much about myself and teaching this year.  I still have much more to learn as the rest of this year continues, and even more to learn each year when I teach.  The learning never ends!

My Successes:
  • I've survived!
  • We made a class video using Animoto
  • I did all right for my first time ever teaching science
  • I'm a chart queen!
  • My students are reading and writing for roughly 20 minutes each day
  • My class can travel quietly through the all on our way to lunch
  • We put on a play
  • I've run some small groups
  • I've implemented exit cards and used them to keep running records
  • I use a checklist daily to assess my students
  • My math lessons are improving!
  • I've kept the class engaged through an entire chapter book 
  • We've practiced giving compliments to others
  • I'm improving on always walking around with something to take notes on
  • Lesson planning is beginning to get a tad easier
I feel like there are more successes too, but for the length of time and space I'd like to move on.

My Challenges:
  • Still struggling with management - knowing how to keep the students engaged, respectful to me and their peers, and dishing out consequences (cuz there really aren't very many to dish out)
  • Helping my low students
  • Helping students in general while I'm running small groups or conferences (this is a big one)!
  • Transitions and unstructured time
  • Having homework ready
  • Checking homework & time to review it in the morning
  • Keeping students on task
  • Moving quietly through the hallway after lunch
  • A structured bathroom procedure
  • The use of materials (pencils mostly)
  • Not having so many students out of their seats during instructional time
  • Playing games in the classroom
  • Making mini lessons and assignment instructions clear enough for students to understand
  • Not getting so angry and frustrated with them all the time
  • Interventions for behaviors
  • How often to communicate with parents, especially with behavior children
  • Teaching Social Studies and Science better
  • Having kids use more technology
  • Not prepping everything at the last minute
So these are some of the challenges I'll be looking to solve for the rest of this school year.  Phew!  That was some good reflecting!  Now I need to get myself into planning and solving mode!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reflecting on my Classroom Culture

I am currently reading the book Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov.  I love what I have read so far and am slowly implementing techniques as I can.  I've been going over chapter 5 a lot in my mind because I'm having trouble with creating a strong classroom culture.  I want to take a moment to reflect on the five principles of classroom culture and how they are playing out with my students.

According to Lemov, these five principles are discipline, management, control, influence, and engagement.  They all work together to create a strong classroom culture, but many teachers focus on one or two instead of all five.  I am guilty of this as well, which is why I need this reflection.

Discipline is often thought of as something we do to students, but it is actually something we should teach students.  Lemov defines it as "teaching students the right and successful way to do things."  It took me a while to understand that even the simplest things like how stand quietly in a line needed to be taught.  I have finally come to terms that EVERYTHING in my room needs to be taught, not just curriculum but procedures, communicating with peers, and staying organized as well.  I'm getting better at teaching these things, but I wish I had known this beforehand because now I finally understand what the first six weeks of school should have looked like so I wouldn't have to take the instructional time to do it now.  I've also noticed that my students are quite visual so I need to have posters and pictures of all these things as well.

I found out that management is really what I thought discipline was, "the process of reinforcing behavior by consequences and rewards".  I was focusing heavily on this at the beginning of the year through the use of a color chart to serve consequences and stickers & prize box to serve as rewards.  I have since learned that I cannot rely on those alone, that the other four principles need to be in place as well.  I'm trying not to overuse them, but I'm still worried that my students will become desensitized and start thinking they don't have to behave unless a reward is attached.  I was against this type of system in the beginning, but my students weren't responding to just logical consequences and redirection so I finally caved in.  The other day I was praising my students for walking in the hallway so quietly and one said, "so where's our sticker?"  This is exactly what I was afraid of, but I explained to her that I was still rewarding her by giving her verbal praise.  I explained to the class that they won't get stickers every time they do something right because that's not how it works in real life and the expectation is that they behave well because it is the right thing to do, not because they are getting a reward.  I'd like to continue building up the other four principles so I'm not relying as much on my consequences and rewards to manage them.

I'm still trying to understand exactly what Lemov means in his description of control.  He's right that it is the kind of word that puts people on edge, including me.  I tend to think of myself as a teacher who has started out trying to control my kids.  I've been told by my coaches that I need to relax a little bit, so that's what I've been working on....not trying to control every single thing and every single behavior.  It's hard because there are still moments of chaos and students not on task, which is really difficult for me to witness, but I've also noticed that I'm less stressed when I'm not trying to control every situation.  Lemov also talks about the power of language and relationships.  I've improved  my tone of voice a lot where it is much more firm and deep so the kids know I'm serious.  I'm still building relationships by having lunch with them, but I noticed this week that I'm not showing them enough love.  I see other teachers love them up like mothers and I haven't reached that stage yet.  I don't think I can be that maternal because I don't have kids of my own, but I know I can show them I care about them more.

I've never thought about influence before, and I have a lot of work to do in this area.  I don't think I'm inspiring enough, and I'm not quite sure how to get there.  I can tell them they can do it, but many of my kids have already experienced so much failure in their lives that they still don't believe it.  I do have some students that already have the intrinsic motivation to behave well and do their work, but I haven't reached them all yet.  I think I should come up with some key phrases and challenge myself to use them a certain number of times throughout the day.  I will also need to research what other teachers do to influence their students.

This is also an area that I have found some difficulty with.  I've been talking with my literacy coach for ideas on how to make my lessons more engaging, so I'm trying those this week.  I'm looking at using more games for math (in my lessons, not just center time), and am thinking about administering a multiple intelligence survey to the class (if I could just find one that's easy enough for 3rd graders to understand).  I'm also hoping that when the Promethean board  gets installed in my classroom, I will have an easier time with incorporating technology into my reading, writing, and math lessons.

I still have so much work to do in order to have the kind of classroom culture I require.  It's definitely going to take me all year, but I know in the end I will be a better teacher for it.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why We're Not on Task

I just finished typing up all the notes I've taken documenting student behavior since the beginning of the year.  What's interesting is during the process, I started to feel like a big tattletale who was being very redundant.  The behaviors I'm specifically thinking of are things like, "talking while I'm teaching," and "off task during writing/reading/math time".  Things like that make me feel like a whiny teacher because kids do that all the time in every classroom.  Even I was one of those kids who talked too much and passed notes during class.  But there's a vast difference between the kind of student I was and the kind of students I teach: I still got my work done and understood most of the material.  With my students, they'll talk and play around but won't get the work done and don't understand the material.  This is what underlies my frustration with their behavior.

I've been trying to force myself to lay off a bit and let the kids be kids, understanding that it's hard for them to sit still and be quiet multiple times during the day.  But I really struggle with a child who doesn't pay attention during the lesson and as soon as it's over will come to me saying, "what are we supposed to do right now?" so then I have to re-explain what I just said during the time that I'm supposed to be conferencing with students or pulling a small group.  I haven't started a single small group during reading or writing yet this year! 

Now, I don't want you to think I am this ogre of a teacher who has no heart and doesn't try to see things from my students' point of view, because I'm not.  I was told by an instructional coach to "be curious about them" because there is always a reason why they aren't paying attention or why they aren't on task.  So the other day we had a class discussion where I asked them why they talk while I'm teaching and why they aren't doing their work.  These are the responses I got:

-kids just want to do what they want to do and not what others tell them to do
-distracted easily
-spoiled and can do what they want at home
-bored and zoning out
-I don't move their color enough (meaning I don't dish out enough consequences/give too many chances)
-don't know what to do because they weren't paying attention
-going to bed too late
-think school is time to play
-I'm talking too much during the lesson
-don't know how to ignore others
-can't help themselves
-people talk about them and they get mad
-don't like learning
-lazy at home
-hyper and have ADHD
-like to play a lot instead of learning
-feel special for getting prizes & teacher likes them more (I think they meant some of the same kids get more prizes than others)
-think it's play time
-didn't have fun during the lesson so not interested in doing the work
-think they're too cool
-asking for books & pencils is distracting
-kids can't have conversations but grown ups can - not fair

I realized that there were some things I couldn't control, but some things I could.  I was especially interested in hearing more about the being bored part, so I asked them for ideas on how I could make the lessons more fun and this is what they said:

-ask questions (I do ask them lots of questions, so I'm not sure why this was suggested)
-give us a break
-give out a treat for good behavior
-calm down from recess
-more action in lesson
-play games
-say something like, "hello kids, are you ready to write?"
-act and use expression
-give stickers for being good during the lessons

This list was much shorter but there were some good ideas.  I tried using more expression and action this week, and will continue to work in that area.  I wouldn't mind giving out stickers for good behavior during the lesson, but it's hard to concentrate on that while I'm teaching at the same time, especially when I can't catch every single student who is behaving well.  I may see a few but someone always says, "but I was being good too!" so then I'm stuck.  Ideally, I would like to believe every student who told me that but the reality is that I have quite a few liars and sneaky children in my classroom (just being honest).  As for playing games, I'm a bit stuck there too.  We play games during math centers but not during reading and writing.  That's basically because the Balanced Literacy model isn't designed for playing games, so I'm not quite sure what playing games during those subjects could look like.  The only time we will have centers then is during Word Study, but we haven't started word study yet.  Are any of you skilled in Balanced Literacy and have incorporated games into the workshops?

I've also been observing things on my own and have come to the conclusion that some of my students just don't learn well in a whole group setting.  They need that small group or one-on-one attention.  I also have many kids who are not on grade level (example: 12 out of my 23 third graders read below a third grade reading level).  So the struggle then becomes, how do I meet every one's needs by myself when about half of the class is not paying attention during a whole group lesson?  Do I cut out whole group entirely and just do small group lessons for everyone?  If so, how do I manage that when students are still off task, disruptive others who are trying to work, or need my help while I'm with the small group?  I've been trying to let the off task behaviors go and continue trucking through the lesson, but I am constantly bothered by the fact that I know those students didn't get it, thus they won't fully master the material, which means they won't be fully prepared for 4th grade and they'll still be reading below grade level, and the cycle continues.  I teach in Washington DC, and any of you who follow education in the nation's capitol knows that we can't afford to keep passing kids on who aren't grasping grade level concepts.  We're in a state of urgency but I feel like I can't win here. 

Right now I'm going to brainstorm the needs of each of my kids and see if I can come up with some ideas to incorporate more learning styles in the lessons and address their learning needs.  I wish I had some help though because the clock is ticking away and Monday will be here in the blink of an eye.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lesson Plans, Oh Lesson Plans

Lesson plans are a thorn in my side....yet I wouldn't be able to function without them.  I rely on them to stay on top of what I'm teaching for the whole week, but I hate the fact that they take soooo much time to create.  I won't even go into how they are due on Fridays, which is pretty much impossible for me.  What I've been wondering lately is where is my time better spent?  Right now, I spend my weekends planning my lessons for the upcoming week.  However, when Monday rolls around I have no materials made for the lessons.  This means I usually have to stay late every night making the charts, work, and materials for the next day OR make them in the moment, which causes behavior problems in my classroom.  So of course, I would love to have the weekends to make the materials, but then when will I do my lesson plans? 

I wonder, if there were a weekend where I could do 2 weeks worth of plans so then I could then switch my roles where I use the weekend to create materials and use the week to do lesson plans after school?  I haven't gotten myself to manage my time well enough yet where I can do it all in one or two nights, so either way working on the weekends and staying late after school is unavoidable. 

How do you work out the lesson plan vs. material making time crunch?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My Educational Values

I have some really great instructional coaches at my school.  Lately, they've been talking about what we value as teachers and how that shows up in our classrooms.  They've also told me personally that they believe I'm not being true to myself, like I'm acting how I think a teacher "should" act or like how other teachers at my school act, but it's not my natural self.  I thought about this a lot the other night and think I finally understand what they mean. So I asked myself, "What do I value as a teacher?" and this is what I came up with:

I believe...

-learning should be fun
-kids need structure
-kids need to be nice to each other
-kids need to develop empathy and compassion for others
-kids learn from each other
-kids need to be explicitly taught and things need to be modeled for them
-kids need to constantly review material in order to master it
-kids should be able to read and write independently
-kids should be able to articulate their thinking
-kids should know how to work cooperatively in groups
-kids should be taught how to help others properly
-kids should be responsible for their materials
-kids should be prepared for the day
-kids should be held accountable for their actions
-kids should feel comfortable and safe in the classroom
-kids should take ownership of their classroom
-kids should see their own work displayed
-kids should be challenged to think critically
-kids should be able to function without me being there
-kids should be treated with respect
-kids should be spoken to in a loving but firm way
-kids should feel loved
-kids should feel proud of their accomplishments
-kids should be able to handle conflicts peacefully
-kids should understand how things work in the real world
-kids should know there are consequences for their actions
-kids should understand that the world does not revolve around them
-kids should know what's happening in the world around them
-kids should reflect on their learning
-kids should share and be kind to one another
-kids should express their creativity
-kids should have dreams
-kids should be prepared to go to college
-kids should feel inspired to learn

I also asked myself, "What kind of teacher am I/What kind of teacher would I like to be?"  This is what I came up with:

I am/I would like to be a teacher who:
-makes her students feel loved
-is excited about learning
-gets her students excited about learning
-can manage a classroom well
-teaches her students how to behave properly
-trusts her students
-loves technology
-loves to read
-wants all of my students to feel successful
-moves my students' levels up
-remains patient in stressful situations
-knows my students very well (academically and personally)
-is taken seriously by my students
-turns my students into hard workers
-continues to learn about my craft and improves
-can celebrate the small things

Some of these qualities I already posses, and some I am still working on.

I think the next step in this reflection is to pick a few of my values to work on each week, then by the end of the year all of my values should be present somewhere in my classroom.

What do you value as an educator?