- Students still need to think back to questions from 4+ months in the past. Though the information didn’t change, it tough for many to think back that far.
- Students still need to review the many questions, especially those they got wrong. It is an intensive and thorough review process.
- Finally, there is still a lot of information – I make sure the final hits all major topics from our old tests, usually resulting in a 175+ question test.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Though I’m sure this post may not be entirely new or anything groundbreaking, I want to make a case for the true cumulative final.
When I was in high school, I remember nearly each and every class having a cumulative final. Teachers would go over information with us and we would have to think back to the mass of knowledge given throughout the semester. Once I hit college, this was not always the case. Cumulative finals were exchanged for projects and regular old tests. Though cumulative finals seemed intimidating, and I gladly accepted the change, as I reached junior and senior year, I realized I actually missed having cumulative finals. As strange as it was, I actually wanted to go through the old material and have a chance review things from months ago. Though I certainly had the ability to go over it regardless of if I was tested over it or not, something about having it on a test helps it to stick better, right?
This realization greatly affected my first year of teaching, as I made a commitment to having students do a real and cumulative final. Though I was very positive about this being the best option for student learning, I was sure the students would not be excited. I decided to take a page out of a few previous teachers’ books. I decided the test would be made up entirely of questions from their old tests. This would save me time in creating the test, and it would allow students to have every question available to study (plus they have answered all of the questions before). To make things even easier, I decided to go through old tests with the students and tell them what questions are going to be on the final, and read through the correct answers. At this point, it may seem too easy, but let me explain:
The last thing I made sure to do in my final, is to have it NOT just be Scantron. Though I understand why many teachers do it, I still felt the need to have students do questions which test their knowledge more thoroughly. I certainly have some questions that are multiple choice and true/false, but many questions are fill in the blank and many questions where students need to briefly describe something. When it comes to grading time, yes I am jealous of those who Scantron and are done, but I do feel confident that I am thoroughly preparing students and testing student’s knowledge. Maybe my theory will change in the future, but for now I stand firm.
Try it, and see what you can learn.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Anyone in the service business knows the value of word-of-mouth referrals, especially in this age of yelp and all the other yelps out there now. Furthermore, anyone who knows how to enjoy their job and do well at it always has the attitude of "I can be better". This is where the value of feedback comes in. And, this is why it is worth your time to give an end-of-the-year survey as we approach this summer. However, all surveys are not created equal.
At our school each student takes a survey in each class and answers on a scale of 1 - 5 (or something) about 20 questions about the teacher. "Does he show up on time? Does he make lessons interesting? etc.." Then the results come neatly packaged with a bar graph so you can check yourself out. I do think there is value to these kinds of surveys. However, the exact results could be found with only one question: Do you like this teacher? 1 for "yes", 2 for "no". For students who like the teacher, they will fill out good things even if they're not true because they feel guilty and can easily convince themselves that it's "true enough". For students who don't like the teacher, this is their chance to get back at them. Let's also not forget, that probably 80% of students taking surveys are probably skimming their way through because they don't actually care.
For me, I have never stressed about the above survey. If I read the questions myself, I know I can accurately assess myself on my own strengths and weaknesses so I don't care that much what the students have to say. What I do care about is, actual constructive criticism, and getting that is more valuable and I dare say a lot easier than 10 minutes online. Here's the method:
1. Make the students write out answers on paper. I usually give it out the day before the final.
2. Don't ask more than 4-5 questions. Think about it. You only really want two things: a pat on the back and room for improvement. You actually only need two questions, but use the first couple to get their memories working so they're into it.
3. Before handing it out, give a sincere talk about how important this is, not just for you as a teacher, but also for future students, which in my school, could easily be those same students. Keep them anonymous.
4. Don't ask for too much. Complete sentences and examples are good, but I find that, "Tell me 1 thing that worked well/was bad" is perfect. If a student has more than one thing, they'll say each of them anyway.
I have done this, I think, every year to every class and read every answer of every page. I still haven't mastered the problem of several students blowing it off and giving nothing of value. But, it doesn't take 27 suggestions before you can find something to work on. Usually, the more insightful and observational students will be happy to have a voice and they'll tell you what you need to hear. They will tell you specific things to your class that were never, and could not be covered in the 1 - 5 computer survey.
I keep the useful ones all summer and read them a few times, occasionally thinning out the pile with each reading. Then, at the beginning of the following year, I keep the best 3 or 4 with me and look them over before writing lesson plans with an attitude of, "Doesn't return work soon enough? Well watch what I do on Wednesday, sucka!" I know that sounds a bit like "I do this so you should", but what I really meant to sound like is, "We all should. I try to also." You try to also also*, and see what you can learn.
another good source for getting feedback:
*I don't want to hear about it, English teachers.
Monday, April 29, 2013
"You won't. You probably will never have to factor a quadratic expression in your life after your college math course. However, this skill is necessary for doing all the other stuff we have to cover in this class, which is necessary for you to do well on your ACT and SAT, which are necessary for getting into a good college. Math teaches you to think and problem-solve. Don't focus so much on how you will use each of these individual skills. The more important skill you are learning is critical thinking. In addition to this, math opens up many career opportunities for you. Stick with it now so that you do not close doors to the future that you might wish were open to you once you head off to college."
I agree with everything in this explanation. The problem with it is that my students tune me out after the first sentence: You won't. I am challenging myself to find an inspiring approach to answering this question before it gets asked. I challenge you to do the same. No matter what your subject, material must be connected to your students' lives in order for them to be motivated and to fully understand the concepts.
Here are my thoughts about meeting the challenge. I want to hear yours! Please comment.1. I need to learn as much as I can about the careers that use my subject matter. Who do I know that uses my subject? What can I learn from them to pass on? Would that person be willing to speak to my class?
2. Drawing connections with the "real world" is well worth the time. Many times the question gets asked in the middle of note-taking and I don't feel that I have time to answer it well. Maybe I can purposefully fill those extra minutes at the end of class (see previous post) with talk and/or videos about math careers that fit with the current unit.
3. I would like to answer the question before it gets asked. These connections should be integral to my lesson plans, rather than haphazard replies.
4. The internet can provide a wealth of inspiring answers to the question. Here is a great video from a website I need to explore more: http://weusemath.org/.
As you look over your lesson plans this week, take an extra moment to add significance to your content. Remember that you are not making this up! The connection exists, but as teachers it is our job to sell it. Try it, and see what you can learn.
Monday, April 8, 2013
There are certain inevitable truths about lesson planning and running a classroom: a) you can approximate closely and do your best but you never really know how long things will last (due to a multitude of reasons), and, b) the amount of free time given is directly proportional to the amount of small fires started/animals tortured/ graffiti on your wall/etc.. (maybe this one is just me).
Addressing the former, however, the frequent default solution for extra minutes at the end of a period is to "get started on the homework" or just "kick it". On one hand this makes sense, but on the more rationale hand, this is a terrible idea. If the minutes you dismiss at the end of a period were only 3 or 4, it doesn't seem like a big deal, but it also doesn't take a math teacher to see what this means long term: 255 - 340 total cumulative minutes by the end of the year. That's almost six hours! Thus, I offer a better solution.
If you keep the attitude that every minute counts, you'll find something to do with those extra minutes do make them count. Here are some good ideas:
- Have a pile of interested FYIs or questions about your subject and pull out as many as time allows.
- Keep some games on hand that students know how to play and require no set-up (obviously, games should be relevant to your subject)
- Some kind of review on hand and go through them like flashcards with your class.
- Teach them a song and then make them sing it during these minutes. (There are thousands of educational songs for your subject, just search youtube and look for the least or most terrible one. Sometimes the lamest ones are the most fun to sing)
- Have them talk quietly while you check email really quick. (Just kidding, this is a bad idea. Your time with students needs to be time with students)
- Read a related book/story/novel over time.
You may see a trend in the list. In short, if you don't have the time to start something new in those few remaining minutes, then you should have one (or really multiple) things immediately ready with which to fill them in. In the foreign language sector here are a few of my favorites:
- Go through the vocabulary cards. I always have oversized vocabulary cards for every chapter (students make them) and keep them in folders by the door. We go through them once during every class but it's okay to go through them again if I find myself with extra time - it's frickin vocab.
- "Salvar al Ciego" (Save the blind man). The logic here is that sometimes communication is in a hurry and we can't go through grammar charts in our head or we'll miss the opportunity to relay an important message so the point is to free associate (or, to tell the blind man a bus is coming before it hits him). I keep a collection of magazine pictures, or just magazines, and tell the students they have only 7 seconds to say whatever sentence they want to a partner, inspired by the picture I show them. This could easily be adapted to several other subjects by changing the requirement
- Round-the-world. It's an easy review game that can go on as long or as short as needed. This can also be used easily for any subject.
I hope the point is clear. After all, it's like I say when students pack up or line up early, "It's a small school. You don't need a head start." Of course, the unspoken part of "It's a big world. You need all you can get" is really the message I'm looking for. A group of students once complained and nicknamed me the "Classpacker" because of my philosophy on minutes. But, I took it as a compliment because it really is the attitude every teacher should have. Give it a shot and see what you can learn.
Other related resources:
Top 10 Time Filler For Your Classroom
5 Minutes To Go In The Classroom
5 Minute Learning At the End of Class
Monday, April 1, 2013
Being a history teacher, one may seem to be set up to be a factual names and dates type of teacher. I have had several history teachers like this in my time as a student. There are indeed some people and specific dates that are good for students to know, but that isn’t really the point of teaching, is it? It may make things easy to assign, and I know some students like the ease of just memorizing facts and spitting them back out.
The question you very well may receive from time to time is the question of: why are we learning this? While seasoned veterans may have developed a crafty response to that question over the years, I attempted to give it an honest look. I do remember having that question as a student, and I figured students may appreciate having an honest answer. This question is admittedly tough when studying self-proclaimed “dry spots” in the wide array of history.
My best attempts to answer this question came when I tried to answer a specific question about a certain time period or event: Why is this significant in the big picture? Though that question might lead to further hair splitting, generally this helps give perspective. At the end of each unit, I try to either answer that question myself, or have the students answer the question.
When students answer this question, I try to prompt them towards ideas such as: how can the effects of this person/event be seen today, how would things be different without this person/event, or what specifically made this person/event so unique/significant? The final history trump phrase is the good ole, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
While it may seem like this may be something that only History teachers can use, the objective of having students relate a topic to the big picture can be applied to all subjects. I also teach geography, and each time there is a term or place that students think seems insignificant, I have them think about things from the big picture. If a science teacher fought issues with student’s concerns of relativity, there are many opportunities to show how important understanding the details of life are. Or for a Math teacher, the dreaded, annoying, and undoubtedly repeated question of, “why do we have to do this?” For this, God has given the ultimate comeback of the word question. The questions that put the skill learned into a direct, “real life” situation. Though some word questions are certainly better than others,the concept of making things more applicable to students is something to give acknowledgement to and genuine thought to. Though many things students learn may be tough for them to grasp the significance, have them think big picture. Try it out, and see what you can learn…
Monday, March 25, 2013
As the end of the school year quickly approaches, I have found myself facilitating an usually large amount of parent emails. "How can my student get his/her grade up?" "My son/daughter said he/she turned in this assignment, can you verify?" "Can we meet asap to talk about my student?"
When these emails come flooding in, we feel frustrated, perhaps disrespected, and maybe even a little defensive. The question remains, "How do we partner with parents in the education of their children?" Teachers may make reference to parents expecting teachers to parent their children. Although this is said in passing, or under our breaths, the fact of the matter is, we must! As teachers, we are not only responsible for the education of young minds, but at times that education involves developing decision making skills, discernment, social interactions, etc.
As teachers, we must implor of our parents to partner with us, rather than combat us when it comes to the education and development of their children. I do not claim to have this figured out, but only see partnership as the answer to teacher/parent battles. Teachers want to be seen as authority figures who care for their students; therefore, uphold their expectations in order to see students succeed and take owndership of their education. Parents want the same things, but I believe get caught between upholding these expectations, and wanting to step in and take care of their children at all costs--even when a learning experience could come from the situation.
The following link provides a great article about what teachers ultimately desire from their parents--support, accountability, communication, respect, etc. http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/06/living/teachers-want-to-tell-parents/index.html?fb_action_ids=579964780488&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=timeline_og&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582&ref=profile_open_graph&refid=17
Today's blog is meant to initiate thinking on our part as to how to engage parents in this partnership. Please feel free to share any positive, or perhaps disheartening, experiences we can all learn from. My challenge, for all of us, is to have this coversation with a parent in the coming weeks, and see what we can learn!
Monday, March 18, 2013
I am a music educator. More specifically, I am a choir director.
Music is an art and music is a science. It uses the right half of the brain and the left half of the brain. It is something that captivates, inspires, convicts, motivates, moves; it can cause rejoicing and can bring to tears. Music is a language all of its own.
I admire those that spend countless hours advocating for the arts in the schools. Their dedication is critical for progress to continue in our country today. I, however, am not going to dwell on music advocacy at this point. I am blessed to work in a school with administrators that are fully behind the arts and so to be honest, I am not as well spoken in this area as other educators. This is what I want you to explore: what can the teacher in classroom 224 learn from the choir director down the hall?
1. Don’t let structure stifle creative energy - Choir poses classroom management issues that are unheard of in the traditional classroom setting. Imagine a classroom of 50 high school students that you are trying to energize and get excited about singing while simultaneously keeping them under control so that the group can have an efficient rehearsal. To make good music, the singers have to have focused energy otherwise the music falls flat making it dull and boring. This fine line that I am still learning to walk is critical in every classroom. Good choirs recognize that they have a single focus and that is to create exceptional music no matter how much energy it takes. Structure and rules are essential to a classroom but don’t ever let those get in the way of creating energy, creating excitement, and creating a singular focus in your classroom. Imagine the “music” your class could make if that was their goal! It takes energy on their part and certainly on your part, but its worth it.
2. Nothing motivates like accomplishing a goal as a group - Have you ever had the student that is suddenly motivated after bombing a test? Or how about the student that is driven to even greater success after acing a test? One of the most effective teaching strategies that I’ve used in choir is recording them. I can hear the groans now as I announce that we are going to record and listen to ourselves. While it can be a painful experience, the focus of the group multiplies following the listening. Each person is motivated to improve the choir as a whole. Similarly, I have seen this motivation following a successful concert. The group realizes their potential and seeks to reach new heights as a choir. How can you set goals for a class? How can you motivate them to reach those? If there are tangible, achievable goals, you will be amazed at the immediate improvement.
3. Music is a gift from God, and so is every other subject - Music is beyond words. There is nothing that can adequately describe the shear beauty or the overwhelming power beyond simple notes played together forming a stunning melody. If I teach my students nothing else, I pray that they can realize the immense power of music and what a gift it truly is. Every single subject that we teach has this same power. While it may not be as easily accessible as music, every subject has the power to stop someone dead in their tracks and create wonder, awe, and amazement. Do we approach every day of teaching with a goal of letting our subject amaze, illuminate, and inspire our students? I want to go to a school where each teacher has that as their goal.
Create focused energy, set goals, let your subject inspire - give it a try and see what you can learn!