Thoughts on Assessment

In the past, I was conflicted on how to perceive assessments results. During my first two years of teaching, I was extremely disappointed with the results that I would receive. Over half of the United States History students received failing grades, some as low as 45 or 50. I discovered through TVAAS, the issue was with me and my role in the classroom rather than the students. The students had no information concerning individual expectations and goals. The lessons and assessment were only sections of lectures formulated into a review day then churned into a test. These test were made from a test generator the department had received from a book company that claimed to be in line with the state standards. I was in survival mode: how I taught, how I assessed and especially how the results were analyzed.
Through implementing different types of assessments, I have challenged myself and the students to think differently about how standards are taught, assessed and analyzed. Now, at the beginning of the year, we as a department embrace data and enjoy breaking down test questions by words and phrases. At the middle of the first nine week period, I see that students are ‘hitting their stride’ or finding their pace to perform on assessments. My goal is to identify one or a group of students who are falling short and reward those who are going beyond their expected level of performance. Rather than using assessments as a 50/50 shot (you fail/ you pass), common assessments, norm referenced, formative and summative assessments shed a light on the students’ true and continuing academic performance.
Common Assessments are Vocabulary Quizzes
In the history department, we implemented common assessment three years after the push of PLCs. The assessment consisted of five questions, multiple choice, that were aligned with and taken from the item sampler online directly correlating with state SPI’s. We picked the questions based upon how often the standard appears on the practiced test. The validity of the assessment shifted to vocabulary issues rather than Historical knowledge. The most popularly missed questions consisted of political cartoons in which caricatures used a word that was beyond the students’ level of comprehension. As a department, we adjusted instructional strategies and addressing content validity by placing key words into lectures and conversation with students. We found that students became self-managing and would genuinely ask for the definition if the word was used in a causal manner. After analyzing common assessments, we mandated that the key words be integrated into formative assessments to measure the students’ performance of application skills. For manageability, we placed key questions of vocabulary focus on the first page of the formative assessment.
Integrating Norm-Referenced and Formative Assessments as a Learning Tool
While analyzing and addressing vocabulary skills, we tracked formative assessment data reliability based on how many questions the student would miss on a forty question assessment. During the period of the students, “hitting their stride”, I monitored the students achievement and compared performance based upon TVAAS projections, then converted the percentage into a baseline for how many questions should be missed on the assessment. Over a period of five weeks, the average student score would deviate from two to eight questions. The goal was for 70% of students to meet or go above their TVAAS projections. The assessments were 70% multiple choice, 30% short answer. For the class as a whole, I identified common questions the students missed on the first few assessments, linked the standard and composed spiraling questions addressing the standards in various ways. After week six, I requested that the students write down how many questions they should miss on an average assessment consisting of 40 questions. Over 80% of the students’ prediction matched or went above the TVAAS projectiles. If the student wrote down a score that was below TVAAS projections, we would have a conference to enable the students to self-monitor their progress. For example: students states they should miss ten and TVASS projections show they should miss six. The student and I set a goal for missing only eight in the next formative assessment, in one month only missing seven. The student became self-directed. In Paul Black’s words, the student has tasted their soup. The system was called a “magic number.” The students were provided clear targets and informed that if they fell below their own projections it would require remediation.
The frequencies of formative assessments were an issue that needed consideration in order to maintain reliability of the assessment findings. The timespan in between assessments was no more than two weeks at the most. If an assessment was delayed by an unforeseen issue, a short formative assessment was implemented with no prior review or forewarning. In order to receive honest data and reflection of student performance, we informed the students that the grading rubric would be more forgiving and stakes would be lowered if they did not meet their “magic number.” This version of an assessment could be an ego stroke or an opportunity to learning from mistakes. It was not a lengthy assessment, and was given in a casual manner. If the students fell short and felt guilt we identified that reaction as empowerment or taking ownership. For the purposes of self-modifying, I requested that students highlight missed standards in their individual notes.
Summative Assessments: The Showdown
Most of the pressure I observed the students placed upon themselves was during the days before a rigorous summative assessment. The stakes were raised and test rigor was based upon how the stage is set for the summative assessment. The main goal was gaining objective and reliable performance documentation. The soup was being delivered to the customer. In rigorous, high stakes norm referenced assessments, the results of positive growth had a substantial impact on increasing interest in subject matter and to improving behavioral patterns in class. The assessments were 100% teacher manufactured with 25% using multiple choice and 75% focusing on short answers. The short answers questions implemented spiral learning techniques with an objective goal of answering the questions using two to three words (if the students mastered a standard via multiple choice, the assessment question would shift to answering a question and applying knowledge in their words). Magic numbers were heavily discussed and student/class goals were provided, for instance: 70% class wide achievement reached equals extra day of enrichment activities.
When the class was motivated with reaching not only individual goals, but class-wide targets, I transitioned from recall and response pass/fail to an empowering learning coach.

Using these techniques, I was able to identify students who were falling short based upon specific SPI’s before any major high stakes assessment, as well as reward students who would not normally be recognized in other classes. Student felt empowered rather than embarrassed of their performance. Students needed, and secretly wanted, structure and feedback that could be provided through these types of communication through assessments. In the past, I handed back graded test and observed reactions of quiet apathy. Now when I given back assessments results, I observed a postive climate of students discussing questions with each other to looking for the item they missed then going into their note book and highlighting the SPI to making statements such as “not next time” or “OK, this is what I need to work on.” I felt that I made an impact by empowering students take ownership of their own targets of academic performance.

Always Adapting,

Joe Collier

A Brief Study In Data and Growth

Scatterplots on the TVAAS website show multiple schools in the middle Tennessee region making significant growth in the end of course assessment despite evidence of economic disadvantages.

What sets these schools apart? Why are they making significant gains when surrounding counties with similar demographics counties are falling short?
Hypothesis:
Do student factors, such as poverty, correlate with growth and effective learning?
Testing the data:
A teacher questionnaire was developed that broke down subjective and objective factors of potential for higher rates of student growth. The questionnaire was entitled: POET (Potential of Effective Teaching). After developing POET, phone calls were made to teachers within the selection of the schools listed above. A L5 teacher from a middle Tennessee school was chosen as a prime candidate for this model based upon growth in this economically disadvantaged school. The L5 teacher was interviewed and revealed multiple findings ranging from setting high expectations through teacher made essay-based summative assessments, implementing common core models, and establishing a positive classroom environment.
Implications:
Does poverty play a significant role or barrier to student growth? No. The Sanders and Horne study (the original developers and the value added system) proved this finding as well, but strong personality teachers and student knowledge are not enough to make growth in rural areas of Tennessee. There is a combination of growth obtaining factors that are worth consideration. Where do schools with low growth go from here?  There are multiple barriers to making significant student growth. The largest factor is that of teacher and subject placement.  The next barrier to success is the uncertainty of the upcoming field tests and future state assessments for US History. The L5 educator stated in their interview that they were using graphs, charts and maps in composition books for the past ten years and assessed the students through read and response assessments. The L5 also stated that they were not concerned about methods of state testing or projections as much as setting and maintaining high standards for all students in the classroom.
Recommendations for Administration
Based upon characteristics from effective to novice teachers found in these POET interviews, the following concepts should be considered for schools that are lacking in academic growth.
Refrain from using 100% multiple choice formats for testing, and implement essay and response driven assessments that can provide overarching summaries or themes of state standards rather than focusing a majority of time on specific SPIs.
Develop closer knit PLC environments among freshman social studies teachers with a goal of establishing similar assessment formats, notebooks and especially goal tracking techniques based upon TVAAS projections to set higher expectations. (Model feeder schools)
Establish better lines of communication with the special education department in order to provide quality modifications to achieve success for all students.
Develop more mentoring and coaching, where successful or veteran teachers can help novice or lower scoring teachers
Ponder the ethical and dreadful debate of teacher placement.

Further Research
A range of questions manifest from the research that would be worth consideration for further research. The initial findings on the TVAAS scatterplots showed multiple schools that meet the criteria for high growth in economically disadvantaged schools in Middle Tennessee. Among these schools other factors emerge from involving system wide educational policies to years of average teacher experience. Examples include reward schools, feeder school systems with close knit PLCs, block schedules, Doctorate level educators, and schools have crafted outstanding school homepages that indicate a positive school environment. How would others score in the POET questionnaire? Would a majority of these high growth schools have teacher with high POET scores? Could these high growth schools have teachers with small potential for growth, who are benefiting from school or system policies? What system wide policies do these schools have in common that lead to higher growth versus their neighboring counties?

 

Always Adapting,

Joe Collier

5 More Questions in Education That Need Solutions

This is a continuation of the post 5 Questions in Education That Need Solutions

Question 6

What are the 3 most important things students should have to be able to do before they get into high school?

Rule of 3

There has always been a Rule of 3 (read blog post Skills you need to teach your students) and as educators we need to find the three most important things we feel students really need and concentrate on refining those skills. I’m sure math teachers will say math skills and English teachers will say reading and writing skills, but what do the students truly need in order to be successful in high school.  Please give some in depth detailed comments below on what you feel are the 3 most important things students should know before they get to high school.

Question 7

Why does our grading system have letters?

grading scale

This is a question I have constantly asked about and the only response I have gotten is “I don’t know.”  I think it is a question that deserves a discussion.  My argument has always been to get rid of the letters (A, B, C, D, and F) and go strictly by numbers.  Every nationwide standardized test including the ACT and SAT gives you numbers to represent your score so why do we use letters.  If a parent looks at a report card and their child has a C in a class most parents would feel that their child is doing fine in that class.  The reality could be that there are making a 76 and are 6 points away from failing the class.  I know some response to this question will mention GPA and I know it is a farfetched idea but I am anxious to hear your comments.

Question 8

Why are there people in charge of education that have never been in a classroom?

dept of education

This is a question for all the levels of education from local principals and superintendents to state and national leaders of education.  It is a question that always comes up when the local, state, or national leadership makes a “what are you thinking” decision that makes no sense and ends up being a waste of time and money.  I’m sure there is a reasonable explanation for why there are often non-education people in charge of education so please explain to me in the comments section below.

Question 9

Should students be able to redo tests that they have done poor on?

redo

All the schools in the district I teach, as far as I know, have made it mandatory to allow any student to redo a test if they fail.  Some teachers have said that they are required to allow students to redo a test until they pass it.  Since implementing the school wide redo policy you can see positives and negatives of each side of the argument.  One side argues that it holds them accountable and reduces failure and dropout rates.  The other side argues that it negatively affects learning and doesn’t hold them accountable.  Please share your side of the issue and any other solutions to this question.

Question 10

What is more important life skills or educational skills?

life skills vs content knowledge

I would expect every teacher to say that both are important, but which one is more important.  One belief is that if we teach them educational skills then the life skills of hard work and dedication will have to be developed.  Another belief is that the life skills need to come first in order for students to acquire educational skills.  It’s a chicken vs egg question.  There are many questions within the question.  First, does it matter the type of student and their goals after high school?  Secondly, does the student’s background determine which skill is more important?  Also, do the importance of skills change from class to class?  For example, is educational skills more important in the core classes and life skills more important in elective classes?  Leave a comment below, but don’t be political in your answers.  No playing both sides of the aisle.  Give a strong argument for which skill you feel is more important.

Where does the “Spark” go?

The other day I was observing my five-year-old daughter.(She is now six). When talking about school with her, she loves it and her teacher. She talks to her mother and me about what happens at school that day, and all the other goings on with her in her educational life.  I teach high school kids, and it rarely seems my students enjoy school.

Which brings me to the question and the title of this blog post. Where does that spark for education go? It seems as if every day in my classroom my students always seem to dread the day at hand whether it be in my class(which I have a strong belief my class is a fun learning environment) or another class. The students just seem haphazardly going through the motions of school. After noticing the way, my daughter acts I wanted to know how can we bring the fire back for all students to have the desire to learn.

So began my informal research. I polled my students and asked them what period did they seem to dislike school and not surprising to my thought process. The vast majority of my students told me that the middle school years were the hardest for them, and they didn’t place any blame towards any teacher about their disdain for school they just stated it was possibly puberty, and the changing of their bodies are the reasons why they didn’t like school. It was also a coincidence on the “This American Life” the week after I  began pondering the question. An entire episode of “This American Life”  loaded in my podcast queue became dedicated to Middle School. The reporter interviewed a few students over the subject. Truly it was an enjoyable listen.

Since I have a good generalized thought, the spark of education seems to die out in Middle School how can we combat this problem? Do I have the answer? No, but maybe you or someone you know has done more extensive research than myself might have the answer. From my thought and pondering, I have come to one conclusion. Whether the students are in high, middle, or elementary school, they are still kids. Some in adult bodies but they are still kids, and we need to strive to keep them engaged in our lessons so they can be inspired by educators to continue the spark for education.

Since this topic has come up so many times in the past month, I have seriously thought about writing a book or doing more research on what needs to be done on this topic so more teachers may fight off the blues of students to keep them more engaged.

If you are interested in the Podcast episode mentioned above. You can listen to the “This American Life” episode here.

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/449/middle-school

5 questions in education that need solutions

This is going to sound like a big whine session, but I want to offer questions that are often talked about among teachers and see what comments you have to offer.  Be sure to post solutions not just complaints.

Question 1

How do students get to high school and don’t know their multiplication tables?student with mult tables

Being a high school math teacher I see this all the time and it is very frustrating and discouraging.  I have no doubt that at some point in their academic career students have been taught their multiplication tables but at what point did they lose that skill.  It is a vital skill for them to have in order to be successful in math, but also after school.  A lot of jobs require potential employees to pass a test that doesn’t allow them to use a calculator.  The problem isn’t just the “lower” students, it is a problem with every level of students.  I gave my homeroom a 3rd grade math test and didn’t allow them to use the calculator.  It was a test that most of them should have at least passed.  I only had 2 out of 4 Pre-Calculus/Calculus students make a 100.  The test was difficult for a 3rd grader but it shouldn’t be for high school seniors that are about to enter the “real world”.  I’m curious to hear your responses to this question.

Question2

Why are there 8th grade students that can’t read at a 4th grade level?

student struggling with reading

I know that reading has been a major emphasis in the elementary school with the implementation of AR testing and other programs that try to get students to read more.  It may be helping, but we still have students that are reading three and four grade levels below what they should be.  The reading problem still exists and if a child can’t read at an appropriate level then they can’t succeed at any level of school or at any subject in school.  Every class is dependent on the ability to read.  If you have answers, advice, or ideas to solve this problem please comment below.

Question 3

Why have parents changed?

parent vs teacher

I know one answer to the question is going to be the increase in single parent homes.  I do believe it is an issue, but it can’t be that simple.  There has always been single parent homes, but the issues that teachers are having with parents haven’t.  It seems that if a student gets in trouble, too often it’s more the teachers fault than it is the child’s.  Teachers were once considered an extension of the parents.  They were relied on as someone that disciplined their students and held them to a high standard with their behavior and their academics.  Things seem to have changed over the years.  Any comments or suggestions on this issue would be welcomed in the comment section.

Question 4

Where did the study skills go?

study skills usa

The academic struggles that students have today are the same struggles that students have always had but it seems to be more prevalent nowadays.  If you advise a student to go study for a test I’m not convinced they know how.  Although I am an advocate for a study skills class, it shouldn’t take a study skills class in order to prepare for a test or get help with homework.  We are living in a time where we can get all the information we need by clicking a button.  Is the problem a “can’t” problem or a “won’t” problem?  I’m really interested to read your comments on this subject.

Question 5

How can a student graduate high school without the ability to tell time, write a check, sign their name, make change from money, or fill out a resume?

dollar change

The advancement of technology has been great for educating students, but it has also caused some skills to regress over the years.  For example, with the ability to type research papers and other assignments student’s penmanship has made a drastic decline.  I know the digital clocks have decreased the need to tell time and the use of credit cards have limited the use of checks, but isn’t it a skill they still need to know.  There are still going to be times where people are going to have to sign a paper and their printed name doesn’t need to be there signature too.  Our education system has done a lot of “what are you thinking” things and one of them was taking cursive writing out of schools.  It may be because I am a math teacher, but the most disappointing skill that too many students don’t have is the ability to make change from money.  It doesn’t matter if you are an employee or a consumer you need to be able to count change.  It is very frustrating to see a cashier not give you the correct change.  I realize it can happen to anybody at some point, but it does seem it happens too often.  Any solutions to solve this problem would be welcomed below.

   I hope these questions don’t come off as blaming teachers for all of our problems and I don’t want the comment section below being a blame section.  I realize that a lot of our problems as educators is out of our control whether it be home life, time constraints due to standardized testing, or other aspects of the local and state requirements that we are asked to do, but we need to come together and come up with solutions to the questions we all have.

Skills you need to teach your students

In this day of teaching, there is so much pressure on teachers to get their students ready for “the test” that we often forget the essential skills that our students really need.  The reality is that most of the subject specific content that we teach our students will be lost within the first five years of them graduating high school.  There are far more vital and valuable skills that we need to be teaching our students than the subject specific skills that we feel are so important. The following is a list of valuable life skills that we, as teachers, need to be teaching our students.

Listening

Listen

Listening is the most important skill we can teach our students.  It is a skill that everyone is capable of developing.  Communication requires two things.  A message has to be sent and the message also has to be received.  If students don’t listen then the message will not be received.  There is a saying that “the only requirement for listening is to be present” and if the students are present then they can learn to listen.  The first thing the students need to understand is there is a big difference between hearing and listening.  Students often hear your voice, but aren’t listening to what you are saying.  Developing listening skills will enhance the student’s learning and will be vital in developing the other skills they need to be successful.  Everyone knows the importance of listening but the question is how you teach listening.  One thing to emphasis to students is the importance to have eye contact with whoever is speaking.  Your ears are were your eyes are and there is a reason God gave you two ears and one mouth.  You need to listen twice as much as you talk.  Also, asking questions to non-volunteer students will keep students’ attention and will test whether they are listening or hearing.  If the students don’t have the skill of listening, they will not be able to learn other skills.  For strategies for developing listening skills visit 5 Strategies for Teaching Listening Skills and Whole Body Listening Skills

Following directions

Follow directions

Listening and following directions are often two skills that are combined.  Part of following directions is having the skill to comprehend and remember the directions that are given.  I have read about the Rule of 3 and I try to implement it in my class as well as with my own children at home.  The Rule of 3 says that people can only process 3 directions at a time.  For example, tell your students to “get a pencil, piece of paper, and open your book to page 17”.  In teaching math you would say “identify the question, set up the problem, and solve it”.  Coaches often use the Rule of 3, especially with young players.  When teaching a player to shoot a basketball you first teach them “eyes on the rim, toes to the rim, and ball placement”.  After they learn that, you advance to three more things such as “elbow in, hand behind the ball, and follow through”.  For more information of the Rule of 3 visit Using the Rule of 3

Be reliable

Reliable

If you look at the top skills that employers want out of their employees, reliable and responsible are always toward the top.  Teaching a student to be reliable can be very difficult to do, but there are some things that you can emphasis that may help you.  First, hold your students accountable to deadlines.  For example, if the bell rings and a student is late to class you need to count them tardy and follow your schools policy on tardiness.  Also, if you have a set day when an assignment is due hold the students to that date.  If they turn in late work then there must be a penalty in missing the deadline, just as there is a penalty for missing an assignment date when they get a job.  If you can help them become a more reliable person then you will enhance their chance of getting and maintaining a job.

Be willing to learn

willing to learn

The biggest aspect of trying to develop the willingness to learn in students is to help them realize they don’t know near what they think they know.  It is a desire that most students have in elementary school, but it tends to fade as students progress through school.  We need to identify when that desire fades and try to address the problem before it becomes a habit.  Students need to know their weaknesses as a student and try to improve on those weaknesses.  In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know so you need to help them understand how to have a desire to be a continual learner.  It’s a delicate line but teachers need to encourage students to push themselves to keep learning and never be content.  The day that they don’t have the desire to get better is the day they stop learning.  Most jobs that don’t require a degree will teach you the skills you will need, but you have to have the willingness to learn those skills.

Problem solving

problemskills

The top desired skill of a vast majority of employers is the ability to solve problems.  A student that can “think outside the box” and solve problems with critical thinking is more efficient and more valuable than someone that isn’t.  It speaks to the idea that it is better to have “street smarts” than “book smarts”.  The biggest obstacle for teachers is teaching the students to think instead of just regurgitating information.  Teaching problem solving in math is part of the curriculum, but it can be challenging in other subjects.  One technique to improve problem solving skills is to encourage alternative ideas on how to solve questions.  Often times the best problem solvers are the stubborn people.  It’s difficult for a teacher or parent not to say “because I said so”, but when we say that it tends to hinder students’ critical thinking skills that are vital to their growth as a student and a person.  Let them share their ideas even if you feel it is wrong.  It may lead to ideas from other students and you may learn something as well.  For more ways to teach problem solving skills to your students visit the following links.

Teaching Methods for Problem Solving

Teaching Problem Solving Skills

Work in groups

working in groups

Ability grouping is one of the most effective and efficient way of improving individual student academic achievement, but it also serves as an important way to teach communication skills.  The debate comes with how to group by ability.  Is it better to group lower students with upper students or group them as lower students and upper students?  I would argue that both techniques need to be used.  Every student needs to be able to work and communicate with a variety of personalities and groups of people.  Every profession requires the ability to work with a group of people in order to accomplish certain goals whether it be in a factory, business, or another work place.  The employee that can work better in groups are the ones that tend to get promoted quicker.  In this age of ever evolving technology the ability to communicate has steadily declined.  Therefore, helping your students develop their communication skills will help them work more efficiently in groups and become more valuable in the work place.

Definition of success

success

There is a huge misconception with students about the definition of success.  First, students feel that success is directly related to grades.  While I would agree that students that have earned high grades usually have the abilities to be successful, it is not the sole factor in whether a person is successful.  Secondly, students feel that success is tied to how much money you make and your possessions.  I believe every teacher would agree that money doesn’t equal success.  The problem is convincing your students that money doesn’t equal success and finding ways to teach them how to be successful.  Success is accomplishing the goals that you have set for yourself.  If you can teach your students to set challenging, but realistic goals and how to reach those goals they will become successful.  To learn how successful people define success follow the following link.

9 Successful People Defining Success

The Golden Rule – Treat others the way you want to be treated

golden rule

The Golden Rule should be the first thing we try to teach our children and our students.  It is the foundation of how to teach a child proper behavior.  Teaching someone how to be a good person is often times more important than teaching them how to be a good student.  If students understand how to treat others it will help them communicate more effectively, become patient, and be more respectful and thoughtful of other people’s opinions and ideas.  Teaching the Golden Rule can be challenging, but one way to encourage any rule is to acknowledge it when someone displays it correctly.  If a student is not displaying a desired behavior it may be best to talk to that student to help them understand why what they did was wrong.  Treating others with kindness and being considerate of their thoughts and feelings will be very helpful to students in every aspect of their lives.

How to be a leader

leader

I feel coaches often make a mistake in trying to find the leader of their team.  We should be trying to teach everybody how to be a leader.  As a coach, I don’t want to depend on one person to lead, I would want to have multiple people that I can count on as being leaders.  A majority of students are eventual going to be parents so they are all going to be put in a leadership position.  We, as teachers, need to explain and model to our students the characteristics of an effective leader.  Effective leaders are masters at communicating and are able to motivate others in order to accomplish a common goal.  Teachers can teach these skills through designating a leader when they do group work.  The leader is responsible for communicating the assignment to the other group members and keep everyone focused on the task.  There are different effective ways to lead, but the end result is always a reflection of the leader.  Make a rubric that highlights the leadership qualities that you, as the teacher, want to emphasize and give the leader immediate feedback on how they did.  The following is a link to an example of a grading rubric to evaluate leadership skills.

Leader Quality Rubric

If we are to teach our students these skills it is essential that we model these skills.  If we model the inability to listen to our students, we are constantly late to class, unorganized, or unable to follow directions our students will not have an example to go by.  We are visual people and students need to see a visual representation of these skills in use and teachers are one of the role models students are looking at.  We have been told in education that more is learned through observations and hands-on experiences than verbal explanation.  The same applies when teaching these skills.

Teachers are difference makers

Teachers are the most vital part of our society.  Before any successful person became successful they had a teacher that helped them along the way.  There are numerous stories of how successful people attribute a former school teacher with helping them realize their abilities and then help them achieve their goals.  Former President of the United States Bill Clinton recognizes his high school band director for taking a vested interested in him in and out of school to help him grow as an individual.  Oprah Winfrey recalls her fourth grade teacher helping her believe in herself and getting her to enjoy learning.  Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, (although he did dropout of Harvard) acknowledges that he wouldn’t be where he is today without his former math and drama teachers.  Even the success stories of small business owners have a teacher that either helped them along the way or taught them the skills they needed to be successful.

Teachers can impact generations of people and effect communities around the world in a variety of ways.  So many students are looking for someone to tell them that they are important and that someone believes in them.  That is the part where teachers fill the gap.  In most cases, when a child gets to school age, teachers see the children more than the parents do.  That means teachers have a great responsibility and a great opportunity to make a positive influence in children’s lives.  As a group, teachers have the opportunity to change the cycle of a family.  For example, there are many examples of children that are stuck in generational poverty and looking for a way to get out.  That is a tremendous opportunity for a teacher to make a difference in a child’s life and help them change the cycle of poverty in their family.  As a result, that child will continue the cycle with their children and the whole generation of a family has changed a cycle of poverty into a cycle of stability.  The same can happen to families with cycles of alcoholism, child abuse, divorce, teenage pregnancy, and other generational issues.  If teachers help enough students change the negative cycles in their families, they can help change the negative cycles in a community.

No other profession offers the opportunity to interact with the future work force every day and help mold them into productive and responsible employees.  Teachers have the power to enhance a community’s work force and as a result attract more jobs to the community.  In other words, teachers have a significant role in the employment rate in their communities.  If schools produce quality workers then more businesses will move to the area which will result in more job opportunities.  There are not many jobs were people are given the opportunity to make such a big difference in lives of people in their community.  Most students have teachers in their lives for over 12 consecutive years, so while parents have a vital role in their children’s lives, those children’s teachers become difference makers in each of their lives.

 

 

 

Dos and Don’ts of Teaching

I don’t want to come off as a “better than you are” teacher.  I know those type of teachers and I really try not to be one.  I just came up with a short list of things that I have learned and been told about teaching that I feel can be helpful to all teachers.  Please read these lists and offer more dos and don’ts at the bottom of the page.

Dos of Teaching  

  • Remember that you are there for the students
  • Keep learning how to be a more effective teacher
  • Be prepared for each day
  • Be open to new ideas
  • Understand that students have changed over the last 10 years
  • Communicate with parents regularly
  • Believe everyone can learn
  • Treat students with respect even if they don’t treat you with respect
  • Understand that every student doesn’t learn the same way or at the same pace
  • Let them see that you care
  • Understand that you have a choice on how you approach each day
  • Get to know your students
  • Do the best you can

Don’ts of Teaching

  • Blame the students for everything
  • Blame yourself for everything
  • Say “When I was in school …”
  • Be stubborn to change or advice
  • Give up on a student even if it looks like they don’t care
  • Complain without solutions
  • Forget why you teach
  • Let the students affect how you act
  • Talk down to students (nothing good comes from it)
  • Stress over standardized tests (easy to say but hard to do)
  • Try to be the “cool” teacher (you have to be yourself)
  • Treat all the students the same (before you disagree give me time to explain)
    • I learned from coaching that you coach every player, but you can’t treat every player the same.  You should expect more out of your better players.  In the classroom, you should teach every student, but expect more out of your better students.

Student Motivation

Now that the 2015-2016 school year is coming to a close and educators are developing last minute reviews and testing guidance for students prior to summative testing, it is essential to focus on the motivation behind student performance and goal setting. As much as this time could be used to venting about state mandates and test reliability, especially when there have been apparent flaws in the validity of testing this year, let’s turn our focus on the relationship between student, teacher, and the assessment. I firmly believe that the success in education comes from the trust established in the classroom. Co-authors, Anthony S. Bryk and Barbara Schneider wrote a book entitled: Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement, in this text the central focus of trust comes from the motivations of the principals and teachers and showing in our actions that our motivations are true to bettering schools, teachers, and most importantly the students.

At the beginning of the year, multiple conversations are held in my classroom for the sole purpose of developing this relational trust.  During these conversations, I stress to the students not to let grades be the focus or motivation for academic excellence, but to strive to set their own individual goals for accountability.  The goals come from the student after taking survey tests at the beginning of the year that focus on core reading, writing, and analytical skills.  The students’ set goals are then compared to the state’s projection for proficiency and a majority of the time the student’s goal is higher than the state’s projection. Goals are monitored through the year for remediation and/or enrichment. These goals are more important than the letter grade because they hold the student to a true and tangible standard.

Some students will be motivated by grades whether the motivation comes from themselves, college admissions, or their parents and there is nothing wrong with this, but in general curriculum classes, these examples of motivation might not be as tangible as advanced placement courses. Therefore, teachers must find other forms of motivation through establishing trust and developing the students to set their own levels of success.  The downfall of letting grades be the only motivation is the uncertainty based on the event that the student realizes the flaws in the testing and/or the test will not count for or against them.  If grades have been the only motivation, then what if there is no grade tied into the end-of-the-year assessment. Students lose motivation.

If the student has established their own goal of accountability and the teacher has proven to the student that the teacher’s true motivation is to guide the student to that goal then the teacher has developed relational trust. Weeks prior to the end-of-course, I stress to the student that they study for themselves rather than a state mandate, grades, or even for me as their teacher. When the student goes back home, it will be within themselves to find the reaso and true motivation to open the book or study guide.

Always adapting,

Joe Collier

Transparency? How can I be more Transparent?

One of my favorite educational buzz words these days is transparency. Merriam-Websters defines “Transparent: able to be seen through.” I often hear the questions How can we be more transparent as a district, school, or even in our classrooms.

The world we live in today offers more options than ever before Transparency all around us. At almost any given time we know what our favorite actor, musician, or athlete is doing with social media. I often I ask myself just how much information is too much. I have a background in business and marketing, and I understand for you to promote your business you have to sell your product. Just like a business you need to sell your product which is education. You need to let your parents and community members know what is going on in the world of teaching.

For years, many teachers have thought of their classroom as their domain and rarely let anyone in on the daily classroom grind. Traditionally parents would find out about their child’s success or failures through attending parent-teacher conferences, have classwork sent home, or by reading the student’s report card. Parent’s want to know what is going on in their children’s lives; this is not to say they are helicopter parents merely they have a vested interest in their children’s education.

As an educator, you do not have to share everything that happens in your class. I assure you if you share the right information you will build a better relationship with your parents and the local community. Below I will share with you some ways to become more transparent.
Facebook

If you teach young children or if you are a school or district I highly recommend having a Facebook page. I help curate our school’s Facebook page, and we have roughly 30,000 impressions on a given week. Facebook is possibly the best way to get the excellent news of your school out to the public.

Facebook is an easy choice for most teachers wanting to get in on the ground floor of transparency. The social media giant makes it easy for you to set up an individual page for your classroom. Early in my teaching career, I created a Facebook page called Mr.Dunn’s class. Through this form of media, I shared when tests would be, and other quality news. Quickly Facebook became not cool among high shool students, mainly because their parents and grandparents were on this form of social media.

Twitter

Twitter is my favorite form of social media. A colleague of mine referred to Twitter as a quick conversation you have as you pass someone in a store or walking down the hall. I love this analogy because he is correct. If you want just to give short updates or send a link to something you would like your audience to see then Twitter is a great way for you.

I have used Twitter in my class; you can find me @dunnhistory, with Twitter I would use it as a tool for a short message, historical pictures or links I wanted to share with my followers or my students.
Remind

Remind has quickly become one of the most used apps as educators today. With remind you may have parents or students to sign up for your Remind text messages. Texting has become like second nature in the digital age we live in; even my grandparents attempt to text. I like Remind mainly because, you have people who do not or choose not to have access to social media, but they have a cell phone. Text reminders have been the most efficient way I am transparent with my students, and their parents.

Email

On any given day over 250 billion email messages are sent out. Granted, most of them are spam messages. So why would you try to move away from this form? Since the inception of email, it still is the most common way we can communicate with people. How many times have you heard it is in your email? Or have your checked your email? If you are interested in haveing a weekly or monthly mailer, you can. You do not have to be a coder or a web designer for you to use email marketing programs. Companies like MailChimp, Benchmark email, and Vertical Response all have free versions so you can create a mailing list.

http://www.mailchimp.com
http://www.benchmarkemail.com
http://www.verticalresponse.com

School website

The majority of school districts have a website, and each teacher has an assigned web page. My district like most has designated a site to me. On your selected site you may choose to use it as a form of communication of class only things. I use mine as a one-stop shop for all things Mr. Dunn’s class. I have links to study guides notes and other items about my class. I do recommend if you have created content for your course use this platform so your students and parents will have convenient access.

Blog or personal website

If you are not in a district that allows you to have individual sites, I would strongly recommend a blog. Most teachers I am familiar with have some blog whether it be for your class or your personal accounts. Currently, you are reading my blog. Educators have used this process to share the weekly happenings of their class. They can share stories from students as well as pictures of the events from the class.

You can use different types of blogging platforms for your needs the two most popular are Blogger and WordPress. I have used both formats, but I tend to lean more towards WordPress. If you live in the world of Google, you might want to experiment with Blogger first. My first blog was on blogger, but the look and feel of my blog were not what I wanted my audience to experience. I moved to WordPress earlier this year, and I am pleased with the ease and beauty of WordPress.

http://www.blogger.com
http://www.wordpress.com

Class Dojo

Last but not least is Class Dojo. Class Dojo is my favorite application/website for being transparent for elementary aged students. Class Dojo is a very robust platform. On signing up, students may make their avatar it will appear in the class designated by you the teacher. You may communicate the behavior of the student to the parent from this app. Not only can you express student actions you also have access to sending direct messages to the parent, group messages to all the parents, and you may share photos in the class feed. If I were in the elementary setting, I would use this app on a daily basis.
If you are looking for becoming more transparent with your district, school or classroom explore! Play around with all these or other forms of communication. Do not be afraid to learn what might be out there. Remember just a small seed can grow into an enormous tree. Cultivate your students learning.