Running as a Metaphor for Teaching

I was out for my run this morning, and I got thinking about how similar running and teaching are.  I have been running for about 10 years.  I wasn’t a runner as a kid.  I thought it sounded good, but the actual work of running wasn’t appealing, so I never got into it.  I’m a recent convert.  I like to tell people I run, since no one ever asks if I run fast.  I don’t.  I’m slower than a turtle going through peanut butter.

Anyway, I find that teaching has a lot in common with running.  For instance, you have good runs and bad runs.  There’s never a reason behind a run being good or bad.  Yesterday, I went out for my run and felt amazing.  It was cold, windy and early in the morning (none of which are good in my book!), but my running felt good.  I finished and felt so proud that I had accomplished a run.

Then, today.  It was awful.  I had to take a number of walking breaks.  I hated every minute of it.  I was in a  terrible mood when I got back (no runner’s high for me!)  It was just plain yucky.   Beautiful, sunny sky, warmer than yesterday, not as windy, later in the morning.  None of that mattered.

I have those kinds of days teaching, too.  Some days, everything just clicks.  No reason for it to be a good day, but there it is.  Friday was just such a day in my classroom.  Full moon, Friday, big unit test.  All things that should have caused the kids to be a problem.  Even a mix up with the unit test and I gave them the pre-test for the next unit instead of the test we had been prepping for.  None of it stopped them.  They worked hard, were happy to be in school and generally had a great day!

Then there are the days where you’ve planned everything out.  You’ve got an exciting lesson plan, full of fun activities that will lead to those light bulb moments.  Until everything falls apart.  You know how that goes – you expect it to be wonderful and it’s NOT.  Everyone frowns as they leave for the day.

Teaching is like training for a race.  You put in the hours, day in and day out, slogging through the tough workouts, until the day when it all pays off.  Friday, it paid off for me.  I have a student who has been failing my class all year (and everyone else’s).  I’ve been working with him every day to get his work for the week caught up.  Friday afternoon, he had everything done and got to hang out with his friends for the last half hour of the day, instead of catch up on work.  He was so excited!

What else is a metaphor for the hard work of teaching?  What do you compare it to?

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United States Social Studies Ideas

www.mrsfenger.wordpress.comFor the first time in a lot of years, I’m teaching social studies.  It’s actually been kind of fun.  After 2 years of teaching a highly scripted curriculum, the idea that I can plan my own lessons is quite liberating!

We’ve been working on the United States, with a lot of success.  Our book divides it into 4 regions, so we’ve worked on a region at a time.  Before we began, I gave the students a map of the United States and asked them to write down all the states and capitals they could.  Obviously, they weren’t able to do many.

Then, we started with the Northeast United States.  The formula I’ve found for studying each region is:

Day 1 – we watch a video from Discovery Education about the region. These are great because they have discussion questions embedded in the video.

Day 2 & 3 – we read the section from the book and discuss what we’re reading.  While I would like to think they can understand what they read as they go, trust me, they need a LOT of help!

Day 4 – start a project to use what they have learned.

At the end of the second week, we have a quiz over the states and capitals of that region.

After the first quiz, I started giving them the previous quiz(zes) along with the current one.  Research shows the best way to learn information to be tested over it.  So, while they don’t get a grade on the old quiz, it’s a good way for them to pull that information back out of their brains.  Most of them take it very seriously and do their best on the review quizzes, even though it’s not for a grade.

www.mrsfenger.wordpress.comI also started the first quiz handback giving students who got 100% a Starburst (because they are stars).  While it won’t necessarily motivate someone who refuses to study, it’s a nice little reward to those who do.  They LOVE it (I know, what they won’t do for a little piece of candy!)

In my next post, I’ll share the projects we’ve been doing.  It’s been fun to see the creative ways their minds think!

Four Strategies to Get Students to Participate

Getting Students to ParticipateI think every teacher, at some time, has had trouble getting a class to talk, raise their hands, pretend to listen…

When that happens, I often feel like the teachers you see on the movies – standing there, asking a question, waiting, answering it myself, asking a simpler question, waiting, answering it myself………

How many of you have felt that way?  Come on, raise your hand – you know that’s happened!

My class this year is like that.  I have about 3 students who always have their hand raised, begging to be called on.  Then there are the other 28 who sit back, either completely zoned out or hoping I won’t notice them.

Here are some strategies that I have found to be successful *disclaimer – not all strategies work all the time and some strategies don’t work with certain students and using these strategies will not make you rich…

Getting Students to Participate

Getting Students to Participate

First, if it’s a piece of information they’re going to need, like what is a setting, or what is the predicate of a sentence, I have them repeat the definition with me as a class several times.  Then, I ask what it is, and remind them they should all have their hands up.  Then, I call on someone, get the correct answer (I usually stack the deck and call on someone I can be sure will have the right answer), give praise for getting it right, ask it again, call on someone, get the right answer, praise them, ask it again…you get the idea.  Then, throughout the year, I bring that back up and ask the question.  The kids like this method because it lets them feel like they know an answer and because I try to make it fun and silly.  Sometimes I’ll act surprised that they know it (that usually gets a laugh, since they have been drilled on it so many times).

Second, I’ll give them about 30 seconds to check their answer with their group.  I find this is effective because if they don’t know the answer, they hear it from a group member, and if they do know it, they can check to make sure they’re right before saying it in front of the class.

Third, I use sticks to randomly call on students, AFTER having them check their answer with their group.  Then, I don’t let them say I don’t know.  Occasionally I’ll give them a hint, or let them off the hook after some uncomfortable silence.  In those cases, I ask the group if they helped out that student.  If so, it’s a good lesson for them to listen when the group is talking.  *Note – I warn them before talking to their group that they will be called on randomly and I won’t take I don’t know.  Otherwise, it feels like a “gotcha” situation.

Fourth, I have a poster on my wall with things to say other than “I don’t know”.

  •  Can I please have more information?
  •  Can you please repeat the question?
  •  Can I please have more time?

By reminding them that they have other options, they are more likely to try to answer.  Occasionally they’ll use one of those questions and I always praise them for doing that.  We’ve all zoned out during a presentation before, so I try to be understanding about that (but they’re not allowed to zone out every time!)

  1. Finally, I have been known to threaten that if they don’t talk to their groups and participate with the discussion (and pretend to listen to me) they’ll have to write their answers instead.  I know we’re not supposed to use writing as a punishment, but I say “I need to know you’re understanding this and if you won’t talk to your group or me about it, I have to ask you to write your answers down.”  That usually motivates them to be part of the discussion.

One bonus strategy: (and this one takes a while to set up) I also spend a lot of the year building up their confidence and telling them how smart they are.  Often, I find these kids are convinced they don’t know the right answer.  By demonstrating, out loud, that I believe in them and believe they can do this, I find later in the year they’re more likely to try to answer questions.  I also point out times when I don’t know something or when I got it wrong.  I tend to laugh at myself a lot, making them feel like they can be wrong, too.


Pick me!

Pick me!

Social Studies Vocabulary Fun

I’m back to teaching social studies for the first time in about 8 years.  Given the focus on math and reading currently, social studies has kind of gotten left in the dust.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  With so little attention being paid to the social studies curriculum at my school, I have a lot more freedom than I do in my language arts class.

I decided to make it very hands-on, but also focus on the basic foundations that they need.  Since social studies is such a broad set of content, I want to give my students the ability to think about geography, history, economics, etc.

My first project was brief: I gave each student a half sheet of paper that said “Social Studies is…” and tasked them with finishing the statement and illustrating it.  I hung these on the walls of my classroom.  Students got pretty excited about it, since they could write anything from “awesome” to “boring” to “the study of history”.

Next up was getting them a social studies book.  Ours are pretty out of date. so instead of using them, my students are making their own.  I gave them a set of directions Social Studies Vocabulary Book

then gave them 9 sheets of paper and a piece of cardstock.  They folded this in half (a hamburger fold, not a hot dog fold) and I used a book stapler to bind them (which the kids LOVED!)

The students then started working on each page of their book.  Each page holds a vocabulary term, the meaning and a picture.  I had to help with some – absolute and relative location, cardinal directions, physical and political maps.  However, there were others that were no problem: mountain, ocean, valley, etc.  They also used dictionaries for terms like urban and rural.

This is a reference they will use all year.  We left a few pages at the end to add pages, as needed.  It’s been great to give students the chance to learn these terms in their own way.  The creativity, as they illustrate each term is so fun!  I allowed them to do the pages in any order they choose, which also seemed to make them happy (and allowed for mistakes when they accidentally skipped a word).

Do you teach social studies?  What are your favorite ways to make it interesting?

Stopping the Tattling

tattle tale meme

I’m always amazed at how many of my sixth graders still tattle.  While I want them to report certain behaviors, sometimes it’s not really necessary.

We had a counselor a number of years ago who had a really good strategy for helping students decide whether to report a behavior.  He called it the 3 Ds.  The students needed to ask themselves whether the behavior is Dangerous, Destructive, or Disturbing.  If so, it should be reported to an adult.stopping the tattling www.mrsfenger.wordpress.com

I still use this in my classroom today.  I teach it to the students at the beginning of the year.  We discuss what each of the terms mean and then go over examples and non-examples.  For instance, if a student is going to tell me that he saw someone using pen when they are supposed to use pencil, that would be a non-example.  We discuss together why that’s not really dangerous, disturbing or destructive.  On the other hand, if they see a student hurting another student, that would be appropriate to report.

 

no more tattling www.mrsfenger.wordpress.comI also talk to them about the fact that we are a team and we help each other.  Therefore, they need to report anything that does fit the 3 Ds.  Otherwise, someone or something could get hurt or damaged, and since we work together, we don’t want that.  I make a point of dealing with any behavior that is reported.  This builds trust in the students and they are more willing to report problem behavior in the future.

Between building a family kind of feeling and teaching them explicitly what should be reported, the students have a clear expectation that if they report something, it will be addressed.  I often ask students if they believe that I will deal with it, and they always say yes, they believe it.  That’s the real key, is following through after something has been reported.  Sometimes, it takes as little as a quick conversation with the other student (often they don’t realize they shouldn’t do whatever it was).  Sometimes it make require a phone call home.  Either way, the students can rest assured that it has been dealt with.

This has worked wonders with my students.  I get very little tattling, but they are clear that I want to hear about things that fit the 3 Ds.

Relationships Matter: AMLE

Just read an article that reaffirms everything I believe about teaching middle school students:

AMLE publishes a newsletter at www.AMLE.org.  The article is entitled Relationships Matter by Sara Davis Powell.  It’s worth a read!  Simple things we can do to build a relationship with our students and let them know we care.

Click on the link below to see the article:

Relationships Matter article

Increasing Your School’s Likeability

Using Facebook to increase your school's likeability

Using Facebook to increase your school’s likeability

Here are some thoughts I’ve had about using the school’s facebook page to increase community support:

First, try spotlighting a different teacher each week. Maybe start with an elementary, then a middle school, then a high school teacher.  Put a short post about them with a picture.  Towards the start of school, focus on the teachers who will be transition people: kindergarten, 5th or 6th grade, 9th grade.  That way, parents and students who are nervous about starting a new school see a face and information about their teacher(s).
Second, how about doing what some places do: ask people to like the facebook page.  A lot of times, I’ll see someone post when they’re getting close to a milestone number (like 500) and ask for more likes.  We could also ask people to pass the facebook page along to alum who have not liked the page.  The more alumnae we can get watching what we’re doing, the easier it will be to ask for money later on.
Third, maybe a contest here and there?  Ask people to post a picture showing their school pride.  Pictures of people on vacation wearing a shirt showing the school mascot or school colors could get people talking.  The more pictures you post on the page, the more people will want to come back to the page to look at it.  That makes it easier to broadcast other things about your school and get noticed.
What do you do to publicize what your school is up to?