Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Class Time

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

Grading

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.

Miller, D. (2011). The book whisperer: awakening the inner reader in every child. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Technology

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

My Experience at PBIS

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.
  

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The 5 Senses in a Classroom

Imagine that you’re a student on the first day of school. You walk into your first class of the day. The room is bleak. It has no posters or other distinguishing features. There are no windows and the only source of light is from fluorescent lights above your head. There is an alphabetical seating chart and the desks are arranged in rows, all facing a board in the front of the classroom that reads the teacher’s name. This isn’t an uncommon experience for an average student.             

Now, imagine that you’re in the shoes of a student who doesn’t play school. You walk into class with your headphones in and your head hung low, oblivious to your surroundings. You plop down in the same chair you’ve been sitting in all year and prepare yourself for another lesson you’re not interested. The only time you show signs of life is when the bell rings and you quickly exit the classroom, preparing to relive the cycle in your next class. When you finally get home after what feels like and endless day, you don’t want to do your homework. So, you don’t.

So, what happens when you mix a bland classroom with a nontraditional student? Nothing. When students don’t care about the teachings and the teachers have given up on the students, nothing happens. Nothing is achieved. The students simply tune out the class and wait it out and when the teacher doesn’t try to encourage them, nothing changes.

When a student first walks into a classroom, they draw all their conclusions about the teacher just based on the room. Right then, they decide if the teacher is boring or interesting or whatever else based off a single glance. If the students see a room like the one I described, they lose all hope in liking the class, forming a connection, and having a good year. While a classroom doesn’t define how good or bad a teacher is, it has a HUGE influence. So, when a single glance determines how a student feels about the teacher for the rest of the year, the teacher really has to nail their image.

There are so many simple things to change about the classroom to make it more interesting. Teachers could have unique decorations that kids take interest in. Something as simple as that would make the student pay closer attention, just because they’re more interested in the teacher. Room decoration should also appeal to the senses and work towards a more comfortable learning environment that will enhance the student’s education.

I feel that sight is the most important sense to be pleased when decorating a room. It’s the most prominent sense that the students use when they’re in the classroom. They form the majority of their preconceptions about the teacher based on what kind of posters they have or if they have action figures or not. However, when a teacher decorates their room they shouldn’t blindly throw posters up that they know nothing about, as the kids will think that they’re trying way too hard to seem cool. When decorating a classroom, teachers should find the area where their interests overlap with the students, so that they can form connections with the students and realize increased class participation. The other huge aspect of appealing visually to students is how teachers arrange the desks. If a teacher wants to appear cool to the students, then they should probably arrange the desks in groups. Most students prefer to be able to socialize with peers, so when a teacher grants them that, they’re more likely to care about the teacher’s class.

            When students first walk to class, the first taste of the class could be heard in the form of music drifting into the hall. Before class starts, quiet music could be beneficial to students, as it won’t distract them, but only provide a more easygoing environment to learn in. It doesn’t even matter if the music is new or old, because it’s hard to know what type of music can affect a kid’s mood for the better.

            Smell can also be utilized when designing a classroom. Although it’s not a prominent sense that kids notice right away, they could feel more at peace because it doesn’t smell like printer paper and they don’t even notice it. All a teacher would need to do would be to add a scented air freshener of whatever scent they choose.

            Another important part of classroom design is feel. Not mental feel, but how the classroom literally feels beneath your fingers. This is a lot harder to achieve than the other senses, because changing what a classroom feels like is hard. Most classrooms have lots of hard surfaces like desks and chairs that are uncomfortable to sit in for long periods of time. To change that, the easiest solution would probably be to add pillow, cushions, beanbags, or couches. I can’t explain it myself, but sitting in a cozy chair makes me feel much more important and more inclined to be productive.  

            A classroom can also leave a taste in your mouth. The taste of a classroom isn’t the literal taste of the components that make it up, but how the other four senses work together to leave an impression on the student. When the four senses are utilized well in a classroom, they can create a whole different feeling than that of a standard classroom. A well-organized classroom can have a relaxing and safe aura that promotes productivity and creativity and has students leaving with a great taste in their mouths. Susan Ohanian has a great example of this when she says, “Four eighth-grade girls come every day…The girls hate the noise of the cafeteria as much as I do.” (Caught in the Middle, 2001) Ohanian set up such a positive environment, students are giving up their lunch because they care about the subject. All students “Can learn, if they want to learn” (Seeking Diversity, 1992), and a good classroom environment like Ohanian’s can create that want to learn.

            I hope that the teachers reading this blog can utilize the four senses I described to reorganize their classroom, which I’m sure are already vibrant places that leave students with a good taste in their mouth.

Ohanian, Susan. Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids and a Killing Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. Print.
Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational, 1992. Print.