Monday, May 27, 2013

Movie Recommend for Your Summer Viewing

Movie Recommend for Teachers: Bully

For the majority of summer posts on this blog, under the assumption that most followers are on break, there will be several recommendations of books, films, videos, articles and whatever else that serve the purpose of sharpening pedagogical skills and/or inspiring us to improve.

Thus, the first one is a recommendation to see the film, "Bully". It's a documentary released fairly recently about bullying in schools. Bullying has since then become a hot topic in the educational world - and for good reason. If you don't know why you should definitely watch this film. If you do know why, you should still watch this film it's available on Netflix.

An added bonus is you'll appreciate your administration so much more after seeing the complete ineptitude of the vice principal featured in this film. See here: If she did not get fired after this film was released... then shame on the entire state of Oklahoma, and probably more.

If you don't cry, say so in the comments section and I will send your money back*. Give it a watch and see what you can learn.

*that is, your money for reading this blog, not for seeing the movie. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Real and Cumulative Final

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:
  •          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.

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

Getting Feedback that Counts

Getting Feedback that Counts

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.