Thursday, November 10, 2016

Discussing Election Results with Our Students

I want to preface this by saying that this is not a political post. This is a post about how I am dealing with the 2016 election in my classroom. If I am going to be honest, some of my views will come out, but I will in no way demean the side I did not support. I do think that 2016 has been particularly challenging for educators, and I think that we will all benefit from discussing it honestly, yet kindly.

This election season was ugly. I cringed during all of the debates. There was name-calling. There was fear-mongering--from both sides.

I live in the deep South, and I teach at a diverse school. I teach children of immigrants who felt vilified by Trump. I teach white students identifying as "rednecks" who felt like Clinton had placed them in a "basket of deplorables." I teach African-American and LGBT students who feel marginalized by both sides. I teach females--and I am one.

This might seem like an odd and somewhat personal place to begin this, but twelve years ago, I had some health issues that prevented me from having children. There are far more difficult things to go through in life, but I was pretty low. My aunt sent me a sermon of C.S. Lewis's called "The Weight of Glory."

I read it each night before I went to bed. It made me cry. It comforted me. It helped me get through a tough time by looking at other people in a new way. Regardless of your faith, there is a valuable message in this sermon.

 Essentially, Lewis argues that we should do more than merely tolerate each other as human beings. We should love each other.

Think about it. Merriam-Webster defines tolerate as "allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference."

Tolerate almost means to disregard. Sure, you disagree, but you let it happen. You coexist, but you don't interact.

Love means "an intense feeling of deep affection." You may disagree, but you care about the person. You interact.

Maybe all the talk of tolerance is part of the problem. Why would you stand up for someone you merely tolerate? They have become "the other," the "out group." We don't mind building a wall around them or putting them in a basket and sending them down the river.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up optimistic. I began to realize halfway through the day that it was because I was convinced that by 10 PM EST, we, The United States of America, would have our first female president.

I grew up in a society that marginalized women. Women were mothers and wives. We had a place, and we should not deviate from it. I always believed that it was a mistake, and it made me angry, but it was the way things were.

When Trump said the things he did about women, it made me extremely angry. We aren't merely decorative and sexual beings. We have intellects. We can be leaders. I am truly, truly indignant that the only value he acknowledges in women is beauty. (BTW, even Lewis in his profound sermon said that women should submit to their husbands--I love you, C.S. Lewis, but I am not a child).

So, when I thought Clinton was going to win, I was ecstatic. When Trump actually won, I was devastated. I actually stayed up most of the night crying and texting my dad (a reluctant Trump supporter). I did not post on social media. It was way too personal for me.

I am still coming to terms with the result. But I have realized a couple of things: 

1. I often feel disenfranchised as a woman. That's one reason I so desperately wanted Clinton to win.

2. Many of my students and their parents obviously feel the same way, which is why they voted for Trump.

3. If we're all feeling disenfranchised for one reason or another (Black Lives Matter, The Wall...) then we should listen to each other. And empathize. And NEVER assume that just because we're not experiencing it that someone else isn't.

I don't agree with Trump supporters, but they deserve a voice. We all do. So we talk about the election in my classroom--from all sides--as long as we can keep it nice. I will not tell them how to think. I love them too much for that.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Managing a Distracted Class

Last year, I had some of the most difficult students that I've ever taught. I wrote about it HERE. I got through it, and so did they. In order to do so, I had to target very specific, undesirable behaviors from individual students and approach it with behavior contracts. Believe me, I tried targeting positive behaviors first, and that was not effective under those circumstances.

I've encountered something different this year. My students are very nice across the board and overall, a pleasure to teach.

But one of my classes is more crowded than it probably should be and full of larger-than-life personalities, including a large portion of the JV football team.

Oh, my, those guys are not interested in sitting still.

If you read my blog often, then you know that I do lecture, but that I try to keep it down to the bare minimum and offer activities that involve getting up and getting active. That's how the kids learn, and that's the goal.

But when I'm talking, I need them to listen. When I turn them loose to work on their Chromebooks, I need them to work.

Here's what was happening in that class:

Me, passionately lecturing about absolute rulers in Europe.

In my periphery, Student A gets up to throw something away.

Student B's hand shoots up, "Can I go to the bathroom?" (And I can't help but respond with my usual, "I have faith that you can." It makes me and only me laugh every time.)

Student C giggles into Student D's ear, as Student E says, "Go back a slide, I missed the last part."

Well, Student E, you missed the last part because you were distracted by Student A's walking across the room and Students' C and D talking, not to mention my HILARIOUS response to Student B.

And....that's not fair to you. So sorry--my bad.

So--what to do when the kids are nice, generally cooperative, but just not quite doing what they should be?

That is the perfect opportunity to target those positive behaviors that they generally display.

There are all kinds of apps and programs out there to help organize all of this, and I love using technology in the classroom, but when it comes to management, I have found that I prefer simple, to-the-point, and low-tech.

Here's what has worked for this class so far:

Give Them Ownership 

Have a candid discussion with them. Say something like, "This is a great class, and I really enjoy you all, but we get distracted a lot. That wastes our time. When our time is wasted, we're not learning, and learning is why we are here."

Ask them what behaviors they should be displaying to make the best use of their time. They may say things like, "Listening...Staying in our seats unless we're supposed to be up...Being respectful of each other...Taking turns to talk...Being on the right website(s)...Doing our work...Keeping cell phones put away...etc." As they speak, write these things on the board.

Then create a class contract that begins with something like. "I agree to do the following...."

Give Them Consequences   

Acknowledge when they are doing right. For years, I was opposed to rewarding students for behaving appropriately. That's what they're supposed to do. Their desire to do right should be intrinsic.

But many things should be that aren't. And with that logic, it would also stand to reason that we should not have consequences for negative behaviors. But we do. We must. Consequences--both positive and negative--are a part of life.

Many of our students are desperate for attention. If the only attention they can get comes from negative behaviors, then not offering reinforcement for positive behaviors will encourage misbehavior among a portion of our students.

Rewards can be as simple as a call home when a student is doing right. Something I've seen teachers do that seems pretty effective is to give students a raffle ticket randomly when they are doing right. At the end of the week, they have a drawing, and a certain number of students win a small prize.

I'll probably try that at some point because I like the immediate acknowledgement of a ticket and the anticipation of a raffle, but what I'm doing now is tied into my class contract.

After I list the behaviors that the students and I came up with, I write, "If I ever fail to honor this agreement, the consequence will be a strike. Three strikes in a week will result in a phone call home, etc."

I print a roster and don't say anything, but I put a mark by students' names for a strike. They usually think about it and know right away that they've gotten one.

Keep in mind that the behaviors that I'm dealing with this semester are mostly distracting, not dangerous or disrespectful, so they start each week with a clean slate. If they make it to the end of the week with no strikes, I spin a virtual wheel (I LOVE these wheels and use them all the time in my classes--find them here, just be sure to create a free account so you can save your wheels). I put each student's name on it, and whoever the spinner lands on gets an assignment pass. Then I give everyone who didn't get a strike a small prize like a piece of candy or a mechanical pencil (these are seriously coveted).

They get really excited about the assignment pass, even though it's not good for tests, quizzes, or projects.

Grab It for Free HERE!
How do you manage "distracted" classes? Leave a comment below, and let me know.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Three Tips For Managing Your Blended Class

One of the most difficult tasks for a teacher is classroom management. Picture the young teacher who can't get a grasp on it and quits in frustration. Or worse--the veteran teacher who never got a grasp on it, but continued to teach anyway.

Some people seem to have a knack for classroom management. Others have to work hard to hone that skill. I fall into the latter category. If it weren't for the tremendous support system of veteran teachers I've enjoyed over the years, I could have fallen into either one of the scenarios mentioned above.

So, I had to work extra hard to "get it." I had to go against my laid back nature. I had to emulate and seek advice from people who did "get it." And I got to be pretty good at it. I still have the occasional issues, of course, but learning takes place in my classroom. And that's the goal.

I had been feeling pretty good about my classroom and myself in it for the past few years, and then a new curve ball flew my way. My district went 1:1.

1:1 is a good thing. It has opened up so many possibilities in the classroom. I have kept what works best with pen and paper and embraced what works best digitally. I have blended my classroom.

But just when I was feeling comfortable with the old system, 1:1 has introduced all new classroom management issues. The good news is that most of the new issues (the one's I've encountered, anyway) are easily solved with some minor tweaking of the old ways.

So, here they are:

Three Tips For Managing Your Blended Class

A blended classroom alternates between technology and traditional pen and paper work. When it's time to work the old fashioned way, there needs to be a procedure in pace for putting away those devices that can be so useful at the right time, and yet so distracting at the wrong time.

Without a specific procedure in place and consequences for failing to adhere to it, blending can be frustrating to say the least. My school has adopted a policy for it this year that I think works well, but you can implement one on your own for your classroom.

1. Have a double-sided sign that is red on one side and green on the other. When the sign is turned to the green side, technology is in use. When the sign is turned to red, technology should be put away.
2. If a student is caught using technology when the sign is red, take the device.
3. Store the device in a "technology time-out" or a "phone jail" (I used the phone jail before my school adopted this policy, and believe it or not, the students got a kick out of phones "going to jail").
4. Have other consequences for repeated offenses. Our school-wide policy is an administrative referral, but before this, I would have a progressive policy beginning with a 15 minute detention (I always play opera music in detention--fit the arts in where you can :) ).

One of the things I love about going 1:1 is being able to tell students returning from an absence to "Check Google Classroom." Technology has alleviated the headache that is gathering make-up work.

But what about the pen and paper assignments--the things that students have to cut, fold, and color? Have a specific place where you keep a set of five folders for each class that you teach. I turned plain file folders into envelopes by writing a day of the week on each, laminating them, stapling the sides, and hanging them on my bulletin board (added benefit--I don't have to decorate the bulletin board, a task I don't enjoy). At the end of each class, drop any handouts into the folder for the appropriate day.

It's not a novel idea, but it keeps everything in place. Get students into the habit of always checking the folder and Google Classroom (or whatever you use) for the day they missed when returning from an absence.

I use tables in my classroom rather than desks. When I was doing all paper-based interactive notebooks, I would keep a bin on each table containing four whiteboards, four dry erase markers, four pairs of scissors, four bottles of glue, a stapler, and a pack of crayons. I know teachers who do this with desks by keeping the materials at the front or back of each row.

I found that when it's technology time, not only are the bins in the way, but they can become a distraction (ironically, just like the technology can when it's pen and paper time). So I started keeping the bins off of the desks, labeled with the table or row number to which it belongs and an inventory list.

Get It Free HERE
When it's time to use them, one student from each table retrieves the appropriate bin. One student is in charge of making sure all of the materials are accounted for and taken care of, and one student is in charge of making sure that any messes are cleaned up. The responsibilities rotate weekly. I made this poster for middle school students to remind them of their responsibilities. I use a black and white version in my high school classroom.

Those are my three simple tips for making a blended classroom run more smoothly. What are some of yours? Leave a comment below to let me know.

And be sure to check out the other Blended Classroom Tips and Tricks in this series:
Submitting Pen and Paper Work Digitally with a Chromebook
Poll Students with Google Classroom
Help Students Stay Organized with the Google Classroom Stream

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Help Students Stay Organized With The Google Classroom Stream

I'm writing all about blended classroom tips and tricks over the next few weeks--those really useful things I've "discovered" as I go hybrid (pen and paper blended with digital). So far, we've learned how to submit pen and paper work digitally with a Chromebook and how to take a poll in Google Classroom.

I'm loving blending my classes so far, but the most important thing when we're going back and forth between digital and pen and paper is that the students stay organized and know right where to find everything.

During the spring, I wrote about helping the students stay organized while blending by creating a printed three column table of contents (I have a free template for it HERE) and then having students create sub-folders in their Google Classroom folder for each unit.

Blended Classroom Table of Contents Sample: Notice the three columns that direct students to where they can find their resources for that unit.
Students creating all those sub-folders is no longer necessary thanks to a brand new Google classroom feature. Now, when we create an assignment in Google Classroom, we can categorize it under a specific topic. I do mine by units so that when students are reviewing, they can click on the unit on the left-hand side and see all of the assignments (and only the assignments) that are categorized under that topic.

Here's how it works:

This is convenient for end of unit and exam reviews. You can direct students to their Table of Contents for each unit so that they know whether to look in their paper notebooks or in Google Classroom for specific questions. In Classroom, they simply click on the unit they need, and it filters the assignments for them. No more creating sub-folders in DRIVE.

Do you have any blended classroom tips and tricks to share? Let me know in the comments!

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Poll Students with Google Classroom

Throughout this school year, as I discover things that I think are really cool or useful for the blended classroom (learn more about blended learning HERE), I'll write all about them. They may be things everybody else already knows, but they are novel to me, so I'm pretty excited. Lewis and Clark wrote all about things that were old hat to Sacajawea, but they wrote about them all the same.

So I'll be Clark here (Lewis, tragically, met his demise in a violent fashion--he's not one I want to identify with). Last week, I wrote about taking pictures of paper assignments and submitting them on a Chromebook (complicated at first and then surprisingly simple). Check it out HERE.

This week, I want to talk about polling in Google Classroom.

I love polling my classes. It's a great way to get the students engaged and a sneaky way to have them reflect. They are always interested in the final results.

Some of my favorite polls, using examples from each of the subjects I've ever taught, are:

-Who is the craziest Caesar in the Julian line? (World History)
A. Nero
B. Caligula
C. Tiberius

-What is the most arbitrary usage rule in the English language? (ELA)
A. Lay vs. Lie
B. Less vs. Few
C. Finished vs. Done

-Which personality disorder best describes Regina George in Mean Girls? (Psychology)
A. Borderline
B. Histrionic
C. Schizotypal

- Flash Mobs can best be explained by (Sociology)
A. Contagion Theory
B. Convergence Theory
C. Emergent Norm Theory

- Truman dropped the atomic bomb in order to (U.S. History)
A. Bring the war to a quick end.
B. Show the Soviets U.S. strength.
C. Punish the Japanese for Pearl Harbor.

Back in the day, my students would answer these polls on mini whiteboards. We already had these on our tables, so it was no effort. The results were more of a quick impression or a time-consuming count, though. Afterwards, we would discuss, debate, and compare our responses.

Then my school went Bring Your Own Technology, and we used the website to get analytics back right away. This is a good program, but it takes some effort to create an account and send the students there. We would discuss, debate, and compare our responses.

Now that we're 1:1 and use Chromebooks, my students are in google Classroom everyday. Last week, I "discovered" a feature that would allow me to take a poll right in Google Classroom. No effort. No redirection to a new site. No taking the time to count or just using impressions.

Here's how it works:


It's as simple as that. The students get to see the class results immediately. And afterwards, we still discuss, debate, and compare our responses.

Do you use polls in your classroom? If so, how? If not, do you think you might like to try? Leave a comment below and let me know.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Submitting Pen and Paper Work Digitally With a Chromebook

I've been back at school for over a month now, and we have officially gone 1:1. Each one of my students has her own Chromebook. No more fighting over technology carts on my hall. No more changing plans at the last second because the technology cart must be used for a "higher" purpose.

It is bliss--well, not quite bliss, but it is nice not to have to worry about having the necessary technology to implement my lessons.

But even though I started blending early (mixing digital with traditional instruction), many kinks still arise, and I still have a lot to learn. That's what this latest series is about. Hopefully, we can all learn from my mistakes with The Blended Classroom Tips and Tricks.

For the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about helpful things I am (often painfully) learning along the way in my school's 1:1 journey. So here it is:

The Blended Classroom Tips and Tricks #1: Submit Pen and Paper Work With a Chromebook

I've written in the past about how I intend to create a digital and paper "hybrid" (or blended) class. I think pulling a digital all or nothing is a mistake because certain things work best on paper and certain things work best digitally. And forcing a really great pen and paper assignment into the digital realm makes no sense to me. I've already written about it HERE. So I love it that Google Classroom offers an option to turn in pen and paper work digitally simply by snapping a picture of the completed assignment.

What I didn't anticipate when I wrote about submitting pen and paper work digitally in Google Classroom as we merrily used our IPAD cart was doing it on Chromebooks, my county's 1:1 device of choice.

On an IPAD, it is super simple--you click "ADD" in Google Classroom, and the IPAD gives you the option to take a picture.

The Chromebooks are not so simple. The first time I asked my students to do it, they were all hopelessly confused, and so I made a tutorial that I'm about to share with you now. Once students get used to it, it's simple, but don't approach it without clear guidelines for them. Hands will shoot up. Chaos will break out. Chromebooks will go flying. Trust me--I write from experience.

So here are the 11 Steps (that's right--11) to submitting pen and paper work digitally on a Chromebook.

Step 1:

Step 2:

Step 3:

Step 4:

Step 5:

Step 6:

Step 7:

Step 8:

Step 9:

Step 10:

Step 11:

Download the free printable cheat sheet to share with your students, and feel free to share the film tutorial below, as well. 

Print it HERE!

I'll be back next week to discuss more blended classroom tips and tricks that a month of trial and error has taught me!

Are you 1:1 yet? What tips and tricks do you have to share? Be sure to leave a comment below to let me know!

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Creating a Positive Classroom Culture

The first half year I taught, I did not smile. I did not suffer excuses. I frequently wrote students up. Granted, I walked into a unique situation. I've written about it before, so I won't go into detail here, but suffice it to say that I took over classes mid-year in a troubled urban school after the teacher had been fired.

I did help bring order to chaos, and it felt good to have "succeeded," but I was miserable. I've recently concluded that I was so miserable because I entered a culture of chaos that somebody else had created and instead of trying to reshape it into a positive culture, I simply managed the old culture to death. That was exhausting.

"Classroom Culture" has become an educational phrase du jour, on the menu right alongside "Growth Mindset," "Flex-Grouping," "1:1," "Blended Learning," "Differentiation," and "Formative Assessment."  In education, we often hear phrases thrown around without a lot of advice as to their practical implementation.

Merriam Webster defines culture (the kind we're discussing) as "a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)."

Merriam Webster defines positive (the kind we're hoping for) as "thinking about the good qualities of someone or something: thinking that a good result will happen: hopeful or optimistic."

So let's talk implementing a positive classroom culture, one aspect of Webster's definition at a time.

We should focus on our students' good qualities. Everybody has them, and we need to find them. Even when they are misbehaving, we should not allow that to define who they are for us. We should address and have consequences for misbehavior, but we should always look for the positive in our students.

They should see that we are optimistic about who they are. On the first day of school, I have students fill out an index card. One of the things they put on it are their interests. I try to ask them about those interests and even bring them into lessons (usually tied into bellringers) and attend extra curricular events when I can.

Here are a couple of examples of how I've tied student interests into bellringers in a world history course:
- Classical Greece: A student mentioned she liked the Percy Jackson novels, so I showed a clip from the film and we discussed how it tied into the mythology we had been discussing. She was a quiet student but ended up leading that discussion.
- Middle Ages: I had a student who didn't have much success in school but competed in archery tournaments explain a demo of the English Longbow that I had shown from YouTube as a bellringer.

Not every student feels good about our respective subjects. If we behave as if we know that they are more than a grade in our class, we are creating a positive culture for them.

I work hard in my classroom. I work to plan lessons that I hope are engaging. I work to have grades posted in a timely manner. I take a lot of pride in my classroom. I work hard because I have hope that a "good result will happen."

I expect for my students to do the same. I am optimistic that if I take the work seriously and do my part, then so will the students.

When my son was three, I went to a talk on parenting led by child psychologist John Rosemond. One thing that he said really stood out to me. 

He said that in his younger days, he used to tell parents, "If you do this or that, you will get positive results."

He said that he wished he could take all of his "method" talk back. Equations for good behavior imply that the onus of good behavior is on the parent or teacher and it negates the reality of the child's free will.

All the parent or teacher can do is model for the child and expect to be obeyed. If the child chooses to do wrong, there should be consequences, but no amount of consequences can ensure that a child will choose right.

And so it is with all of us (life, liberty, and all), and so it is in the classroom.

Will they all follow my lead? Will they all think positively? Will they all behave optimistically? Will they all work diligently?

Well, no, they won't. But that doesn't mean that I can't expect them to and model those behaviors for them. That is what creating a positive classroom culture is all about. Oh, and of course, have consequences in place. Consequences are very, very important.

But we should never expect those consequences to control. That is exhausting. And it moves the onus of the students' behavior onto us. That's not where it belongs, and there's nothing positive about that.

Want more insight into creating a positive classroom culture? I know I do! Check out these other posts on the same topic from other classroom teachers.

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