Veteran Teachers: Give New Teachers the Gift of Prep Time

principalThe first year of teaching is difficult.  Every veteran teacher knows this.  Here is an idea for supporting new teachers: give the gift of prep time.

Well-intentioned school districts offer new teachers special sessions in classroom management, policy, etc.  These activities take up new teachers’ time after school.  What those teachers really need is TIME!

For new teachers, everything takes forever.  Prep, planning, grading—it’s relentless and exhausting.  No wonder new teachers regularly pull twelve-plus hour days.  Additionally new teachers are not familiar with the rhythm of the school year, so they don’t anticipate problems and events the way experienced teachers do.

There are many ways to donate time:

Donate your prep time.  Arrange to watch her class for about twenty-five minutes of your half hour special.  The teacher could grade a little, deal with email, call a parent—whatever will take some of the pressure off.

Invite her class to join yours.  Invite the teacher’s class to your room for story time.  An experienced teacher can read aloud to 60 kids (about) as well as 30, particularly if her heart is full because she knows she’s doing a good deed.  After the story ask the students to write a summary, illustrate the story, write a new ending—anything educational that will give the new teacher precious time.

Cover her extra duty.  Once in a while, cover the teacher’s additional duties: before or after school, at lunch, during recess, etc.  Those extra few minutes can make a huge difference to someone who’s treading water.

Help after school.  Wouldn’t we all have loved a veteran teacher (or two or three) to have a grading party?  Help plan?  Make copies?  Create organizational systems?  Many hands make light work.

Organize as a school.  Could your school’s staff arrange systemic help?  Maybe the staff would even be so generous as to exempt new teachers from extra duty for the first year, or at least reduce the burden.  It would be a warm welcome and a gift of time.

These tips are intended to support first-year teachers, but would also apply to teachers new to the district, school, or grade level.  These ideas are a good way to lend a hand to teachers with health problems or those who are facing a personal crisis.  Sometimes it’s difficult to know how to help–but alleviating stress and giving time can make a difference.


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 10

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Ten: We spend time and money on professional development

Teachers keep their skills current by spending time on professional development.  We take courses, attend workshops, read books, and work toward special certifications.

Lately, professional learning communities have become popular.   My grade level team formed our own professional learning community before it became a directive from the district.  We developed best practices that really helped us meet the students’ needs.  In my series of posts, I share our tips with you.

Extremely dedicated teachers pursue National Board Certification, undergoing a rigorous process of evaluation and professional development.  My posts on National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) explain why the certificate is valuable and why having a NBCT in the classroom benefits your child.

Teachers like to read up on pedagogy and child development.  One of our all-time favorite books is Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14.  The book is always helpful for its descriptions of children’s learning styles and thought processes at different ages.  It becomes invaluable when a teacher is switching grade levels.

Teachers like to learn more about the world around them.  They might take college classes or seminars in the content area they teach.  Or they might learn for fun with The Great Courses, videotaped lectures on a variety of subjects.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: teachers are lifelong learners!


 

What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 9

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Nine: We are just one of many teachers who work with your child

A classroom teacher is just part of the educational team.  Also important are special area teachers, resource teachers, and substitute teachers.

I have written many posts about special area teachers: talented people who instruct students in music, art, physical education (PE), library skills, and computer skills.  If your child attends the same school for many years, special area teachers know him or her quite well.

I often Consult special area teachers about individual students.  For example, I might notice a child has trouble paying attention in class, and I want to know if the music teacher or librarian and has seen the same thing.

To help my students get the most out of their special classes, I make sure that they know Special area teachers are EXTRA-special!  Students like to know if their music teacher is also a performer, or if their PE teacher just completed a triathlon.

Some teachers simply drop their kids off at special classes, but in my post on How to work with special area teachers, I share simple techniques for building relationships and helping students get the most out of their lessons.

Developing a knack for working with substitute teachers can really benefit students.  I have posts on How to Help Your Sub and how to prepare Emergency Sub Plans so you never have to go in at 5 am to make copies and write sub plans.

Do you have a degree?  Consider the Benefits of being a substitute teacher.  Seriously, you can learn a lot!  Subbing is helpful for parents who want to learn about the school environment or children’s book writers who want to interact with today’s kids.

My students also work with special education teachers, resource teachers, and other professionals.  I find that students really enjoy Showing thanks with class books.  The kids can reflect on what they have learned from these professionals and provide a nice keepsake.


 

Best Practices for Professional Learning Communities (Part 3)

Part Three: Build relationships with your part-time students

This is part of an occasional series about Professional Learning Communities— I dubbed it Trade & Teach, a practice of assessing all students in a grade level and creating leveled groups taught by different teachers. It can work really well in elementary schools, but I have noticed the trend is to reinvent the wheel in the name of teacher buy-in. Rather than that, I offer Best Practices advice from tried and true implementation experience in real third grade classrooms. If you’re not familiar with Professional Learning Communities, read the Wiki here.

It’s always important to build relationships with your students, but in Trade & Teach, it’s absolutely essential.  The students are disoriented unless you make a special effort to build community.  (After all, we’re talking about Professional Learning Communities, aren’t we?)

**In order to build these relationships, you must have students for a significant length of time.  This is just one more reason to assess wisely—and not too frequently. 

There are definite benefits to building community:

Optimizing the learning climate: If the students feel like they have been thrust into an unfamiliar classroom with a different teacher and different classmates, what do you think will be foremost in their minds?  Not learning! Give the students a chance to get to know you and each other.  Play icebreaker games or just introduce yourselves.  Find out students’ favorites in regard to the subject matter at hand.  Let students form teams based on their homeroom.  This way, they can tackle learning challenges without stressing about working with unfamiliar classmates.

Assessing & Addressing Students’ Needs:  Sure, you have a general idea of what your students need because you know how they scored on the assessment: above level, on level, or below level.  You can prepare lesson plans based on that, but your teaching will be more effective if you get to know the students as individuals.  You might tap into shared interests that can provide structure to otherwise rote practice, such as practicing paragraph writing about animals, cars or whatever your students like.  You might discover that the students are already very good at some skills but just need advice on how to show this on tests.  Test-taking lessons are very different from skills-based lessons.

Forming a Partnership: When Trade & Teach is really humming along, students benefit because they have two teachers who truly care about them.  You are the specialist, and you can coordinate care with the primary provider—the child’s homeroom teacher—and the child’s parents.  For extra games or resources to use at home, communicate directly with parents.  Got a problem or concern?  Go to the child’s homeroom teacher first, then the two of you can decide how best to approach the parent.

Trade & Teach can really help if you think a child needs targeted intervention or testing for a learning disability.  With two or more academic teachers seeing the child, it’s easier to tell if problems are part of an environment or seen across the board.  It’s harder for gatekeepers to dismiss a problem as one teacher jumping the gun if several teachers worked with the child and noticed the same issues.

This series on Professional Learning Communities Best Practices is made possible by Valerie, Donina, Bethany and Heather … an amazing third grade team!

Posted in Professional Learning Communities by Corey Green @ Nov 14, 2011

 

Best Practices for Professional Learning Communities (Part 2)

Part Two: Address students’ needs

This is part of an occasional series about Professional Learning Communities— I dubbed it Trade & Teach, a practice of assessing all students in a grade level and creating leveled groups taught by different teachers. It can work really well in elementary schools, but I have noticed the trend is to reinvent the wheel in the name of teacher buy-in. Rather than that, I offer Best Practices advice from tried and true implementation experience in real third grade classrooms. If you’re not familiar with Professional Learning Communities, read the Wiki here.

In order for Trade & Teach to be successful, the emphasis must be on addressing students’ needs.  Think about the strengths and weaknesses of students in each group, and address them directly.

I have seen Trade & Teach function in the opposite way— students split into leveled groups, but all teachers teaching the same subject—Chapter X.  All students take the same assessment a week later.  What actually happens is just leveling students, then teaching to the middle in each group.  Such a situation can arise as an unintended consequence of violating the rules of wise assessment.

Following are Best Practices for addressing students’ needs.  I have given examples for each of the 3 Rs: Reading, wRiting, and ‘Rithmetic.

Above-level students need a challenge that focuses on synthesis and application.  Regardless of the subject, they should be working on solving problems and functioning as independently as possible.  Try to put these students above their comfort zone.  They spend most of school well within it—which is not the best place for learning.

Reading: Compare a novel or short story to research on that topic.  (Examples: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and research on Michelangelo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Or Teammates and research on Jackie Robinson.)  Then show how the book used information correctly in some places and took poetic license in others.  Bonus: Write a short story using information about a certain topic.

wRiting: Create advanced material and be meticulous about taking it through every stage of publication.  Be sure to make the material fit the intended audience.  Example: survey classmates to assess their favorites, then create a newspaper, blog or magazine tailored to the taste of the class.

‘Rithmetic: Apply area, perimeter and geometry in designing a blueprint for a house.  Work within constraints—lot size, budget, time, materials.  Another idea: break a skill down to its component parts and design a small workbook to teach younger children.

***

On-level students need to work on skills maintenance—these are the students firmly based in the “use it or lose it” camp.  Without constant practice, they will slide, not grow.  On-level students also need challenges, but theirs should be scaffolded so students feel successful at every step.

ReadingPractice fluency by performing Readers’ Theater plays.  Focus on skills with workbooks targeted at the components of good reading—comparing, summarizing, finding details, etc.  Read a novel together with scaffolding to ensure comprehension at every step.  Different activities for different chapters will keep things interesting: summarize some, create a timeline for chapters with lots of action, and predict when a chapter ends with a cliffhanger.

wRiting:  Work together as a class to outline and then write a five paragraph essay.  Students should spend ample time at each step and get teacher approval before progressing.  This way, mistakes can be corrected and techniques can be honed.  Children at this level would also enjoy creating comic strips to give directions or teach about a topic.

‘Rithmetic: Work on problems from the grade level standards and textbooks, but stop and remedy problems that crop up along the way.  For example, this group may be fine at 3 digit subtraction, but not if it involves subtracting across zeroes.  Slow down and focus on this skill.  A good scaffolded project would be creating a picture book that depicts multiplication arrays with a fun theme, similar to the cookies in The Doorbell Rang.

*** 

Below-level students need remediation.  I show them that the root word is remedy—a cure.  They need tasks that are like medicine for their skills.  If the kids realize that each task is designed to really help them, not just take up time, these students will work harder.  Whatever the subject, the bulk of the lesson for these students should focus on just one or two skills at a time.  However, a small portion of your time (perhaps 25%) should allow students to work on tasks that require using several skills, techniques or strategies.

Reading: Try to get a sense of what holds this group back.  Is it decoding words?  Or do students look at the first few letters and guess?  You may have to break this group into 2 camps to address each type of need.  The other group can read independently or complete skills sheets while you work with students.  If you want to teach whole-class, have students practice sight words, simple Readers’ Theater scripts, or word families.  May I also suggest the wonderful Little Critter reading series of workbooks?  They are pure magic at this level.

wRiting: These students probably need to practice with basic word families and phonics skills.  They also need lots of practice with writing complete sentences.  I also find that children at this level can benefit from copying fluent but simple writing—they see the patterns and get a feel for the structure.  You can teach these children to write paragraphs or even five-paragraph essays, but you’ll need to scaffold every step.  I would have the class make one outline together, then have each student work from that.  Did I mention that there are Little Critter Writing workbooks, too?

‘Rithmetic: Basic facts!  These students must learn them.  Spend a good deal of time practicing basic facts in many ways—worksheets, copying, games, flash cards, Learning Wrap Ups, computer programs—anything that works.  These students also need lots of help with place value.  I find that sometimes, learning basic facts is a gateway to understanding place value.  As students gain more confidence writing and manipulating numbers, the place value creeps its way into their number sense and your lessons are better received.  My free software, Best Times Tables Practice EVER! and Best Addition Practice EVER! are great for this level because you can scaffold learning.  Start with easy facts and work your way up.

This series on Professional Learning Communities Best Practices is made possible by Valerie, Donina, Bethany and Heather … an amazing third grade team!

Posted in Professional Learning Communities by Corey Green @ Nov 8, 2011

 

Best Practices for Professional Learning Communities (Part 1)

Part One: Assess Wisely

This is part of an occasional series about Professional Learning Communities— I dubbed it Trade & Teach, a practice of assessing all students in a grade level and creating leveled groups taught by different teachers.  It can work really well in elementary schools, but I have noticed the trend is to reinvent the wheel in the name of teacher buy-in. Rather than that, I offer Best Practices advice from tried and true implementation experience in real third grade classrooms. If you’re not familiar with Professional Learning Communities, read the Wiki here.

Trade & Teach looks at all students in a grade, then creates groups based on students’ levels of learning or achievement in a specific area.  For example, if your Trade & Teach focus is on reading, assess students’ reading levels and form reading groups for intensive instruction.  The highest reading group, for example, should be the largest group because the highest  readers need less formal instruction, while lower readers require intensive individual attention, thus mandating a small student-teacher ratio.  Teacher buy-in results from knowing that the group skill levels are clustered, resulting in fewer strategies for student engagement and greater focus on learning. 

In order to assess wisely, you need a clear goal.  Are you trying to remediate a specific skill such as addition, writing complete sentences or distinguishing cause from effect?  Or are you teaching reading, writing or math in general?  Decide what you wish to accomplish, then design an assessment that lets you differentiate among the students in that one area.

It really helps to use just one measurement to sort students based on their learning achievements.  Minor adjustments can be made based on teacher discretion.  Overall, you’ll be glad you only have one variable to deal with for each assessment and learning objective.

After you assess, I recommend creating a spreadsheet or using an online grade book like JupiterGrades to store data.  Input all student test or assessment scores.  Then sort and print.  Draw lines and voila!  You have your rough estimate of groups.

Part of wise assessing is knowing how often to assess.  I recommend that you leave students in their learning groups for at least a month.  Assess too often and you’ll spend more time evaluating and regrouping than actually teaching.  Besides, student growth is often more apparent if you give children long enough to learn new ideas and cement them into long term memory before you assess again.

How often you assess is determined in part by the goals of your Professional Learning Communities.  If your goals are more specific skill-based, you might assess more often.  For example, you might spend a month on place value and related skills, then reassess before forming groups for a very different skill like geometry.

Overall, I like the general-goals plan for Professional Learning Communities.  If you sort students by overall proficiency in math determined by, say, a Star Math score, then you are better able to adjust instruction for students’ needs.  For example, one group might need to spend a great deal of time on basic facts while another group can focus on problem solving.  More about that in the next entry in this occasional series…

This series on Professional Learning Communities Best Practices is made possible by Valerie, Donina, Bethany and Heather … an amazing third grade team!

Posted in Professional Learning Communities by Corey Green @ Nov 1, 2011

 

Consult special area teachers about individual students

This is part of a series of posts about special area teachers, whose subjects include music, art and physical education.

Teachers, do you have concerns about a particular student?  Suspect a learning disability, ADHD, a social skills or behavior problem?  Don’t forget an important resource: special area teachers, especially those who have been at your elementary school for several years.

– Specials teachers can tell you if what you’re noticing is new or part of a long-established pattern of school behavior for a particular student.

– Special area teachers can help you understand the child better.  For example, if you’re seeing behavior problems in class, but the child behaves well in specials, perhaps academic issues are influencing the behavior.

Say your student has difficulty following directions.  Is it academic?  Attention problems?  Difficulty with less-structured activities?  The special area teacher can share what she sees in her class, and you might get a clearer picture.

Special area teachers can help you make a stronger presentation to gatekeepers for testing and referrals for your students.  Information from you, the parents, and other teachers who work with the child can help the child obtain needed services.


 

How to work with special area teachers

This is part of a series of posts about special area teachers, whose subjects include music, art and physical education.  Today I’ll discuss how classroom teachers can optimize their relationship with special area teachers and help their students learn more from every “special.”

It all comes down to respecting the teacher and teaching children to reflect on the day’s lesson.

Before the special area class:

Ask your students what they did during the last session.  What do they hope to get out of today’s lesson?

Take a moment to calm your students, so your students are primed for learning when they begin their special area lesson.  My class usually needs a calming thirty seconds in line before a special area class.  It makes a difference.

Leaving your class with the special area teacher:

Greet the teacher by name.  Smile.  Exchange pleasantries about how much your class is looking forward to the lesson.  Without taking a lot of time, show an interest in what the class will be learning.

Make sure the students are calm and ready to learn before you leave the class with the special area teacher.

Picking your class up from the special area class:

Greet the teacher.  Ask if your children behaved well, and promise to follow up if there were any behavior problems.  Ask one student to recap what they learned.  Remind your students to say thank you.

Special area teachers, do you have any additional tips for classroom teachers?  How can we support you?


 

Special area teachers are EXTRA-special!

This is the first of a series of posts about special area teachers, whose subjects include music, art and physical education.

Teachers of elementary school “specials” —music, art, and physical education— deserve great respect.  Many people don’t know the requirements to be a special area teacher, the work that goes into their professional degrees, or the fascinating extracurricular activities of the teachers themselves.

Special area teachers…
… Perform at Carnegie Hall
… Exhibit (and sell) their work in art galleries
… Compete in triathlons and other prestigious athletic events
… Play in rock bands, jazz bands—all kinds of bands
… Tour Europe with professional music ensembles and acting troupes
… Deserve our respect!

Before I was a full-time teacher, I was a substitute teacher.  When I covered for special area teachers, I was humbled by their curriculum and the challenge of delivering quality lessons to very young students.

I was also struck by how some classroom teachers treated special area teachers with less than professional courtesy.

As a classroom teacher, you have the power to help your students get more out of every special class by teaching them about the talents of special area teachers:
  – Get to know your special area teachers.  Find out what led them to become a music/art/physical education teacher.  You might learn about a childhood spent learning multiple musical instruments, a stint in the minor leagues, or a career in art that led to a desire to teach.
– Communicate this knowledge to your students.  Encourage them to both compliment their special area teacher and learn more from them.
– Communicate this knowledge to other teachers.  You may find that they didn’t know the accomplishments of the special area teachers.

Congratulations, you have made your school a better place!