Wednesday, May 3, 2017
I’ve talked about PBIS in one of my prior blogs, but I really want to show the impact that leadership roles can leave on a student’s life. Although most leadership opportunities are extracurricular, which shouldn’t usually affect a teacher’s life or interactions with the student, for the student, it makes all the difference.
PBIS, if you don’t know yet, stands for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. To simplify that, it involves encouraging a student’s positive behavior, usually by integrating clubs and organizations dedicated to support and the deterrence of negative behaviors. For my school specifically, they have integrated multiple student-led programs, each dedicated to a problematic area in our school. For us, the main idea is to put many students in charge and as a result, deter them from the negative behaviors they’re discouraging, supporting their path to becoming a better student, and giving them opportunities to better themselves as a leader.
Personally, I was directed into the Student Advisory Planning Team, who create quick lessons for Advisory, a brief thirty-minute period in between our first and second blocks, used to get everyone on the same page and pass out forms. Despite that it’s not an extremely widespread or notorious program, I was still excited to be in it, as it was my first leadership opportunity. Keep in mind that I’ve barely been a bowtieboy for a month and have barely done any work in the name of it. However, it was still recommended to me that I show up for one of their meetings. I came in early that morning and planned lessons for over one thousand students. The group also gave me an invitation to present to administrators, teachers, and principals at the educational headquarters of the county.
Although it was a generally casual presentation, unscripted but practiced, it sparked a huge change in my life. I ended up giving that presentation many times at school faculty meetings to vice principal meetings. Because I presented for all of my teachers, they have started to see me in a different light. Some teachers, even some I don’t have, have talked to me, and raved about my presenting. Some have even asked me for input on their teaching-related problems. All of that feedback just empowered me. I became so much more confident and have projected myself in a different light at times.
It’s shocking to me the shift in my life from eighth to ninth grade. I wasn’t a specifically busy kid in eighth grade; I just went home, did my homework, relaxed, and got good grades. The shocking thing to me is that that was exactly how I was coming into ninth grade, I had the same habits and the same calm, social personality. With the addition of cross country and track, I was the same person. But with track and leadership experiences, I don’t have much free time, which has made me a better student in a way, as I have less time to procrastinate and therefore, have better time management skills.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Nearly everyone I know was looking forward to the upcoming Spring Break this year and for good reason too. I haven’t met a single person who didn’t enjoy taking well-deserved breaks from their hard work. It’s a very important part of working. It’s not usually focused on by bosses and teachers because it’s part of the off cycle. It doesn’t benefit them at all and they can’t change it, so why should they focus on it? The answer is that they shouldn’t. That’s what’s so great about breaks. They’re all about you. They allow you to focus and take a breather from what you’ve been doing so that you can come back in, refreshed, and continue your work.
Breaks are very important in the cycle of work, as no one can keep going 100% forever. We’re not robots. We get bored and tired and weary of our work eventually, even if we are passionate about our work, whether it’s being a student, teacher, or even an accountant.
I definitely needed the Spring Break that just passed. Although it may not be that way for other students or teachers, school is very stressful for me. I find myself often overwhelmed with balancing upcoming tests, homework assignments, my grades, and my extracurricular activities. I’m not complaining about the workload, as it seems very fair to me. The problem is that I get stressed when I have to manage all of these things on my plate. So, even if the individual class loads are reasonable, I get overstressed when I have to do all of them.
When I reflect on myself, I notice that I enjoy school more than most other students. It’s not a hobby for me, where I have to go to school and savor every second of it. My mindset for liking school is that I respect what it does and will do for me. Although I don’t enjoy every part of school, because of the opportunities it gives me. With my mindset, though, I still get burned out after a stressful, test filled week. To be completely honest, I couldn’t enjoy or do well at school without the weekends that allow me to mentally recoup and prepare for the next week.
The way I see it, anything you do is like what running is for me. You might really like doing whatever it is you’re doing. And you might not enjoy it all of the time. But even when you’re doing your best on a really good day, you can’t go forever. Even if I was in perfect, literally perfect, shape, I would eventually get tired on a low intensity distance run. I might make it 20 miles or I might make it 100, but I can guarantee you that I will have to stop eventually.
I know that I’m not the only one who thinks this way. I’m not speaking as a lazy student who just wants to get out of school. I’m trying to step back and analyze my and other peoples’ mannerisms from an objective lens. When I researched into this topic, I was astounding by the number of psychologists and other experts who shared the same views.
I read an article written by the Harvard Business Review that focuses on Steve
Wanner, a “highly respected 37-year-old partner at Ernst & Young, married with four young children.” He was clocking lots of hours at his job and found that he was just mentally and physically depleted. When he got home, he didn’t engage well with his family, he didn’t eat healthily, and he didn’t exercise or sleep well. His solution? Not only did he cut back on the distractions that prevented him from practicing healthy habits, like drinking wine before bed, but he also woke up earlier when it was peaceful to do his own thing, which was exercising. That does a great job of proving a point that I’ve been trying to prove. Breaks are about you, so you do what you want with them. Just because exercising might not be a break for you, Steve enjoyed it because it distracted and made him physically and mentally healthier again.
I’ve been talking about this theory of breaks making people better the whole blog, but here are some actual results. At a company called Wachovia Bank, an experiment was run were some employees were taught how to take constructive breaks and the other group wasn’t. The group that was taught ended up being happier, making more money for the company, interacted more meaningfully with their customers, and were more interested in work. That’s a lot of improvement for an introduction to better breaks.
From this blog, I hope I can showed to you, if you already didn’t know, how important breaks are. This was important to me because it appears that breaks are never at the top of the agenda when it comes to school or work. Bosses aren’t usually concerned with their employees when they’re not working. But, it shouldn’t be ignored when it can make such a difference on work output. If there are any teachers or bosses reading this, I hope that they can find a new mindset of breaks and the importance of them so that they can benefit their workers and, through the increased efficiency, themselves. Remember, it doesn’t take much.
Friday, April 7, 2017
Like I’ve said in nearly every blog I’ve published to this day, so many factors contribute to making a class good or bad. I’ve even tried to cover a lot of the aspects so that teachers can perfect their class for their students. All of these factors are important to building a connection with the students and forming a better class, but they all pale in comparison to the teacher themselves. Even if a teacher has a kick butt classroom environment, if they’re not an engaging person, it all goes down the toilet and the students aren’t happy. All of the factors are there to help the teacher build a connection, not to build it for them. Because I’m a student, I obviously have zero teaching experience and only an idea on how to teach a class. But that’s not enough for teachers to take into their class to incorporate immediately. So, I interviewed some of my closest friends about the kinds of teachers and teaching strategies they like. In this blog, I’ll share those interviews so that teachers reading this can get a student perspective on a good teacher and perform a quick self-check. I’m also going to analyze the results so that I can find any topics that students feel very strongly and are, perhaps, biased towards. So, here we go.
This interview is with one of my friends, who I will call Friend 1. He tends to be very quiet and shy in the classroom. He’s very polite in the class, gets his work done, and doesn’t cause any disruptions. This leads to most of his teachers liking him and him being okay with his teachers. But, he has very strong opinions on school and will tell me about any complaints or grievances he may have,
Me: What subject did your favorite teacher of all time teach? (This question was to see if students preferred teachers of one subjects to teachers of another subject).
Friend 1: That’s a tough one, but probably social studies or English. I’ve had a lot of great teachers though.
Me: Out of all of your teachers, do you find that you generally prefer younger teachers?
Friend 1: Yeah, I think so.
Me: Why do you think that is?
Friend 1: Probably because younger teachers can understand their students more. They’re closer and more similar to the students. They have a better idea of what they’re going through.
Me: So, can older teachers still connect with students?
Friend 1: Yeah, they definitely can. They just start out more separated.
Me: How can any teacher bond with a student?
Friend 1: First of all, they have to be on the same level. If they want to be really good, they have to more than is expected of them. They should be willing to take time out of their personal lives.
Me: And what qualities do these teachers have?
Friend 1: Well, they’re really social. I mean, like, they’re easy to talk to. You feel safe to share your opinions because you know that the teacher will be cool with them.
Me: What kind of things do they do?
Friend 1: Their lessons are really, really hands on. They put you into different shoes to teach.
Me: Thank you.
Friend 1: Anytime.
From these answers, I can tell that my friend is very interested in having a teacher who’ll work with them. A teacher who can almost act like another student, being able to socialize well and relate with them. They’d be very committed, strong teachers who teach through respect.
The next interview that I’ll show you has a lot of similar answers as the first friend’s, but I’ll let you see for yourself. I’m interviewing another friend, who I’ll call Friend 2. Friend 2 is very strong academically and pushes himself in all of his classes. Like the Friend 1, he doesn’t cause any problems and keeps to himself. I would say that he is more outgoing. He is much more likely to talk and participate in class.
Me: Friend 2, do you tend to prefer younger or older teachers?
Friend 2: Umm… I think I prefer younger teachers.
Me: Why do you think that is?
Friend 2: Well, I guess, overall, they know more about our generation. You know? They’re more familiar with tech and stuff.
Me: Why don’t older teachers connect with you as much?
Friend 2: I’m not saying that, it’s just that they have different lingo. They can connect with you, it’s just that they have different interests and stuff like that.
Me: So, what steps can any teacher take to connect with their students.
Friend 2: Probably a lot of participation, like discussions and really hands-on stuff like the science labs. They also have to learn students personally.
Me: So, what would a good teacher’s class be like?
Friend 2: Very little notetaking, definitely. With all of that participation I just said.
Me: And what would the teacher act like.
Friend 2: They’d be really fair and reasonable. Also, really interesting as people and good at getting knowledge across. They’d control the class through respect.
Me: Thank you for your answers.
Friend 2: Sure.
The two interviews had a lot of common results, so it appears that students want very interactive lessons that involve a lot of input rather than notetaking. They also want to be on almost the same level as the teacher, both having control and a voice. They want a teacher who they can respect because they’re a fair, reasonable leader rather than through fear. Students want more than just a good teacher, though. They want a good, interesting person that they want to listen and learn from. It helps to be younger and be more similar to their generation, but that is a constant battle. Every teacher comes in young and being very in touch with their students, but as time goes on, it is inevitable that they will become less like their students. However, any teacher can overcome this by being a generally likeable and unique person. That is a universal bonding agent. It wouldn’t matter if a teacher had no idea what fads were popular if the students like them as a person.
Through seeing the unfiltered opinions of students, I hope that teachers can reflect on themselves to see if their teaching methods are well-received by students, and if not, can improve how they interact with students based on what the small sample of students I interviewed want. Remember though, this is a small sample of students and they probably like and dislike things that other students may not, so if a teacher doesn’t meet these particular student’s standards, they could have a completely different, unique way to teach and connect with their students.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Teachers can change their classroom environment, what assignments they give, and how they interact with students, but none of that changes what their class literally is on paper. Although all of the things I mentioned can easily affect how much the student learns and how engaged they are, it still isn’t what composes the class. The actual time spent in the class, when it really comes down to it, is the class on its most basic level. It’s the foundation of everything that makes the essence of the class. It’s the only thing that’s technically required from a class.
The classes that most students are accustomed to primarily revolve around notetaking. You take your notes and then there’s an activity right after that. Then the bell rings and you go on your way. It’s not necessarily a bad method of class time usage, as it does have results. Students will remember everything they need to pass the test. No problems there, right? Usually, those note based classes are pretty dense and fail to give their students enough time to truly learn the material. They just memorize. They might know what, but they don’t know why. And as a result, they information fades from their memories the second after they’ve taken the test.
It’s a good idea in theory. Lots of information delivered in a condensed form, an activity to compact the knowledge in a student’s head, and then a test based off of the information that they’ve learned. I’ve looked at this teaching method through both a student’s and a teacher’s perspective. When I had the opportunity to follow a teacher around for a day, I got to learn about how he saw the teaching method I mentioned above. He was passionate about teaching and confident in how he taught. He tried to add variation between lessons, but despite all of his efforts, when I asked his students, they still said that they were bored and disengaged. I feel badly for the teacher, as he poured his heart into it, yet student engagement didn’t pan out.
Sometimes it’s just not about the notes and the content. If a teacher can teach students valuable skills and engage them, then interest in the subject and positive feedback in the class will quickly follow suit. Nearly all of my most memorable and enjoyable learning experiences have come from classes that utilize their time differently. I can think of very few unique classroom “schedules” that I haven’t enjoyed. They’ve had a very high success rate for me.
I’m really enjoying my current math class, which means a lot coming from me, as I historically dislike math classes. Math, for me, has tended to be a very by the book class that I’ve struggled in. It’s usually a fast-paced class that I have to invest a lot in to keep up with it. But that all changed this year when I walked into my math class. It’s very obvious that the teacher is very passionate about math and spends most of the class working through problems, discussing why things are the way they are, and general review from the last class so that it’s drilled into our heads to the point where we are one with it. Math has never been so easy for me and it’s all because of how the class time is used.
Lately, I’ve also been reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and have been very impressed by what’s contained within the pages. I’m not extremely far in, but I can already tell that I would have loved to have been in Miller’s class. She dedicates the majority of her class time to letting students read. The point of it all is to spark a reading drive in her students, no matter who they are. She has the same results with developing readers, who are reading below the grade level, dormant readers, who read solely for the sake of school, and underground readers, who already read for fun. I’m an underground reader and I know that I would cherish all of that time spent reading. But Miller also yields results from all of that class time spent reading rather than taking notes and filling out worksheets. One of her students, Kelsey, was a developing reader who had failed the state reading assessment three times prior, but by the end of the year she “passed the Reading TAKS with flying colors.” (The Book Whisperer, 2009). But the classroom brought Kelsey further than that. After the well utilized class time, she went on to become an avid reader and “has never stopped reading.” (The Book Whisperer, 2009). This is a great example of how well used class time can change a student for the better.
There are so many ways to make a class more enjoyable for students, but the one thing a teacher has to do is plan their class time well. After all, during class time is the only time that teachers get to see their students and actually teach them, so they really have to take advantage of that limited time. Teachers have to come up with their own unique way of spending class time that will keep the student engaged and foster their learning. If that is successfully established, then the students will care enough to truly learn from the teacher. For example, Miller built a class schedule that emphasized reading. From there, she built a bond with her students through a shared love of reading and right after that, the students were willing to follow her anywhere and truly learn.
This has been a collection of my experience of classroom scheduling. I hope that every teacher reading this can pull out a unique classroom schedule from this to enhance the learning experience of their students. I also hope that any teacher with a unique classroom schedule already in place can use this to look at their schedule from a student’s perspective and reflect.Miller, D. (2011). The book whisperer: awakening the inner reader in every child. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Although there are many aspects that compose a good class, like environment and the teacher, one of the most important things to students and administrators alike is how what type of assignments are assigned and how frequently assignments are given.
It doesn’t really matter to administrators how the grade gets in as long as it gets in. That leaves the subject very open to interpretation. What comes with much interpretation, however, is finding the right balance. If there’s a test every other day, that’s just too much. Information doesn’t get retained and the students will be perpetually stressed out in that class, and hate it as a result. The students will end up disengaged and not learn anything. But giving virtually no graded assignments is almost as bad. If a well-intentioned student makes one mistake, the entire rest of his quarter is ruined. When the entire quarter’s grade is at risk in one assignment, things get pretty stressful.
The frequency of the assignments isn’t the only variable that influences a student’s level of engagement, either. There’s so many assignments I’ve experienced in my many years of school. And from experience, I know that there’s no formula for crafting a perfect assessment schedule. There’s so many variables. For example, a few big projects might work in an assignment-lacking class, but in a test-heavy class, it would be too much. Rather than giving a formula, I’m going to give examples from my experience of poorly and well-executed assessment plans.
One of my science classes went very well for me. In my head, it’s the perfect balance of work. The assignments are different from one another, which made it very easy to retain the knowledge because I could go say, “Oh, that’s the one where we did so-and-so.” Having unique assignments not only made it easier to distinguish between assignments, but also made it easier to adapt to whatever we’re learning. Like, in some units where we had to learn two different subjects in subunits, we had two quizzes rather than one big test. This was very helpful during winter when there were multiple breaks during the quarter. Being able to adapt based on class time helped to keep the class very manageable. There were also unique labs. Each one had a different procedure that kept it interesting. The labs were the perfect balance of big grade and not enough to be stressful. The frequency of them was perfect to work together with all of the other assignments to create a very well-structured classroom. Just having a synergistic schedule was able to greatly sway my opinions about the class and I found myself taking more interest in it.
On the other side of the coin, however, is one of my gym classes. At one point in the year, we had health class. The teacher hadn’t been very engaging before this, as he didn’t even pay attention the entire class and just gave us one hundreds anyways. In the soccer unit, he literally brought us down to the field with a bag of soccer balls and left. But when I checked the gradebook at the end of the day, I had a one hundred. I had no idea how he was going to teach us health and shortly found out that he wouldn’t. When we got to class, we were expected to read a chapter of a very boring health textbook and answer every question at the end in full sentences, which was about twenty-five. But rephrasing everything to answer the questions took about the entire class, which was boring, but I was used to it. It continued to happen like that, though. We had to do four of them, which wasn’t the worst thing, but was still not pleasant. On the fourth day, we were informed that we had a test on the content of all of those chapters that we mindlessly filled out next class. I had barely remembered any of it and got pretty stressed. When we got there the next day, he had forgotten about it and he didn’t give it to us that day. But he did collect the worksheets that we had completed, forgetting to tell us that they would be part of our grade. I had done all of mine, but a lot of kids hadn’t. Who can blame them? At the time, it seemed like a colossal waste. The plan for that health assessment was a disaster. There were big grades with no preparation and boring work that seemed pointless. That example did nearly everything wrong and led to what seems like, to this day, a worthless waste of time. The teacher should actively be there to help prepare students for whatever assessment there may be and design engaging and useful lessons and assignments.
Donalyn Miller, a reading teacher, takes another unique approach on grading. She requires her students to read forty books in a year. She strives to spark an interest in reading in the student and her mentality is that “Ten books or twenty books are not enough to instill a love of reading in students… They might not internalize independent reading habits if my requirement expected less from them.” (The Book Whisperer, 2009) Miller showcases a lifelong assessment plan. Her goal isn’t really to get a grade in, but a love of reading. And it works very well in her case because she also says “I know this approach works because I have never had a student who reached the forty-book mark and stop there.” (The Book Whisperer, 2009)
The grade is a very important part of the classroom, as it’s the tangible representation of the class. Although it isn’t even close to everything, it’s one of the few things that matter on paper and to some students. The grading of a class is a very complex thing, but I hope that this gallery of successful and not-so-successful grading systems can give teachers an idea of how to make their own strong grading system to incorporate into their classroom. The grade and the stress of the class, as I said, can very heavily swing a student’s view of how good the class is at a surface level, so I hope that grading systems that the teachers concoct will work in their favor to take the first step to appealing to students.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
In this day and age, technology is everywhere. It’s become such a crucial part of everyday life, from simple entertainment in the form of YouTube to extremely complex computer programming to run factories. Technology plays such a prominent role in the rest of the world, so why doesn’t it play that big of a part in school?
I see technology every day in my school in lots of small ways. We have electronic boards and computers, but they are often used as fancier chalkboards and notebooks. The most successful technology integrations that I’ve seen have shared certain aspects. They were all just as much about the technology as the actual content, they had real-world results, and they were a creative outlet that provided room for variation. When technology integration is done properly, it is very engaging for students, because not only are they comfortable with the technology, but they also have a lot of freedom to explore.
In one of my classes this year, for example, we’ve been actively creating a website throughout the entire school year, acting like a business. There are multiple departments with different jobs to simulate a working environment. This class follows all of those rules I listed. Because the class is mostly discussing, the website is just as important to learning as the actual content. The technology and content are hand in hand. The real-world results come in the form of the website, which is a real website that can be checked out by anyone. The website also allows us to customize its looks and content, which has been giving students lots of control which results in having to be creative. There’s even a contest each week to see who can be the most innovative. That class ties in technology perfectly. It teaches real-life technology skills that students will use in the future while maintaining a creative feel that engages kids.
Although Susan Ohanian wasn’t given much access to technology when she taught, she incorporated what she had well. She had a writer’s workshop that students would visit to write on typewriters, which was a rare privilege for the students that could potentially teach them how to type for future jobs. The students could type about whatever they chose to, which really inspired a lot of students to the point where they wanted to go to the writer’s workshop. At the end, they were given the opportunity to write an anthology that parents could buy. Having a goal at the end gives a lot of students a drive to work hard, which is why it’s good to include real-world results. Even Ohanian was surprised at how engaged her students were, recognizing “the marvel of a student initiating a conversation that is even vaguely curriculum-orientated and doesn’t include one of the two phrase: “Do I have to?” and “This sucks.” (Caught in the Middle, 2001)
Technology integration is very important to have in a classroom, not only because it engages all students, but also to give the students experience with the technology that will be helpful to them later in their lives. Technology is best incorporated into the classroom when there are real-world results, room to be creative, and valuable technology skills. Technology skills are very important in today’s world, so I’d be honored if teachers could use my method to create their own unique, engaging projects that open up a student’s world.
Ohanian, Susan. Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids and a Killing Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. Print.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Very recently, I was given the opportunity to join a group that provided me with the opportunity to present at my county’s administrative building. I was presenting on behalf of PBIS, or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Usually, only teachers and administrators present at that event, but my school’s assistant principal decided that it would be very unique and powerful if students presented instead.
The presentation itself was about what programs my school had put into place to prevent troublesome behaviors that we had pinpointed from data. The program that I was presenting for was the Student Advisory Planning Team. I was invited into it, even though it’s not an exclusive program, to plan advisory lessons for students, by students. Advisory is a thirty-minute period in between our first and second blocks. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, students go to their teachers to conference grades, study, and anything else to help them in that class. On Wednesday, however, students go to advisory, a class that acts as homeroom, where forms can be handed out, SATs can be taken, and valuable lessons can be taught.
Having lessons in advisory provides an opportunity for students to plan lessons in the form of the Student Advisory Planning Team. As a team, we meet up once at the beginning of each semester to discuss what we deem important subjects to address in the form of lessons. The ideas are written up on a board and the students call dibs on which lessons they want to plan. From there, the groups would plan the lessons in their free time and turn the lesson plans in and get them checked by an administrator.
Having students plan the advisory lessons benefits the school in a surprising amount of ways. The biggest pro about it is that it strengthens the school community vibe. When students are placed in a position of power, like planning school-wide lessons, they are more eager to be involved in the school community. It also makes advisory more enjoyable for students that aren’t participating in the Planning Team, despite the fact that the team isn’t selective. Because students planned the lesson for other students, the lesson tends to be more enjoyable to learn for them.
The main reasons of establishing programs like this are to cut down on bad behavior and strengthen school interest, but there are so many ways to do it. The most important aspect to have, however, is that the students are working with the teachers to accomplish real, tangible results, not worksheets. But, with requirements as few as that, there are unlimited ways to carry this out.
Susan Ohanian, for example, set up an extracurricular activity in which students gave up their lunch blocks to write rather than doing the misbehaviors I mentioned. The lure of a positive activity that a teacher set up prevented kids from loitering around the bathrooms and doing other misbehaviors. “The lure of writer’s workshop… the promise of peace and quiet.” (Caught in the Middle, 2001). Once the students were intrigued, Susan worked with the students to better their writing and eventually publish a real anthology. Susan Ohanian executed that very well. She worked with students to create real results and through doing it, prevented undesirable behavior.
Another possibility could be something like an administration discussion. Students could go there and state their opinions. They would work with one another and the administration, perhaps making new school rules or organizations. They would obviously be connected to the teachers through talking with them. They would also churn out lots of improvements, making the school a better place.
It’s very important to have organizations like these in place, not only to prevent bad behavior, but also to teach students important skills, primarily teamwork. Students working with administration also yields lots of results like school being better or books being published. Having organizations like these in place also increase the students’ eagerness for school and the other aspects of their lives, which boosts morale.
I hope that administrators or teachers reading this can utilize the traits that all of the aforementioned organizations share to create their own unique organizations that benefit their school and students in many ways.Ohanian, Susan. Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids and a Killing Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. Print.