Last week I wrote about “No Opt Out.” I used this a lot last year, but haven’t this year out of my unease with it. But I put it in place again and feel okay about it. We’ll see how that goes.
Two more strategies out of chapter 1 are “Right is Right” and “Stretch It.” Right is right has teachers holding out for the best possible answer when asking students questions. Doug suggests using prompting and additional questions to move a student from a half-way correct answer to a fully correct answer. I really have to watch myself on this as I tend to correct students myself because it is quicker. But if I’m holding students to a higher standard, giving them half of the answer really shouldn’t be a part of that.
Stretch it has teachers build off of student answers to look for a deeper understanding. Doug suggests asking “how” or “why” questions; asking for another way to answer the same question; asking for a better word; or asking for evidence. Considering my finding last week that a lot of students could supply me with a definition but not an example, this seems like a really good way of checking for understanding, rather than just memorization. The problem here is remembering to do it and thinking up those questions on the spot. Of course, as we’ll see in later chapters, I really should be writing out the questions I ask my students in advance…
So I figured the first step to flexible thinking is practice, practice, practice. I have decided that my students need more practice working with the ideas in class. This past week I worked on this in both my US History and my Psychology classes with a mixed degree of success and some (hopefully) valuable insights.
First to Psychology: Midway through this unit I took a day to review. I had them define each of their key terms, then keeping a common topic in mind, create their own examples for that term. This was very illuminating, showing who understood the term and who did not. The good think was I was able to discuss problems with individual students and was able to use examples that were meaningful to them (like cheerleading or music). The depressing thing was how many problems popped up over terms that I thought were very basic. It just proved the point that they can learn the definition but that doesn’t mean they understand it. I think this strategy is very effective (having them come up with examples based on their own themes, so they can’t regurgitate mine).
On to US History: I also did a review midway through the unit. During 6th period I did an “ABC” brainstorm (list all the letters of the alphabet, then find terms and names that go for each letter). This is a Marcia Tate strategy. Then using another strategy (from a book I found gathering dust on my back shelf) I had them create categories out of those terms. Finally they had to write sentences generalizing that category. These last two parts really weren’t very effective. Students came up with categories like “people” and wrote sentences like “Roosevelt and McKinley were both people.” Wow, what an insight! So in the next class I switched it up. After the ABCs I had them make 4 “tic tac toe” grids. They filled their grids with their terms. I then told them to connect three words and turn them into a sentence that relates to the unit. That was much more successful. Students had to think about the meaning of the words and how they related to each other. I got very good sentences out of it. I think I will use this second approach more often, although I have to figure out how to keep them from cheating and making sure their grids have an easy connection somewhere! Also, while the kids like the ABCs thing, it did take a long time. I might just have to have them list a certain number of terms.
Before I go into the first strategy from Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov, I want to say a few words as to why I’m doing this. To be brief I believe this book is an excellent collection of teaching tools and when used together can help me do the following:
1) Raise Test Scores: Should it all be about test scores… no, of course not. But they are a reality in our school system and part of my job is to make sure they are satisfactory (or better).
2) Hold Students Accountable: I want students to feel that learning is not optional in my classroom. I want them to put the work in and learn.
3) Get Students to Think: I think I’ve made myself clear on this one in a previous post.
4) Prepare Students for College: College is hard. I didn’t think so, but I was a super-nerd. I think this has warped my thinking for a while about what I needed to do to get them ready. For most students, college work is challenging and I can’t bear the thought that my students will be ill prepared to meet those challenges.
Chapter One: Setting High Expectations
This is an excellent chapter and I’ll have to devote a few posts to it to do it justice. Doug makes a great point in his intro to this chapter that while we all say we need “high expectations,” most of the time there are few concrete examples of how to achieve this. Not with this book. It starts out with one of the best…
No Opt Out – In this strategy there is no not answering the question. A student can not simply say “I don’t know.” When a student says this, there are many approaches you can take. If their notes or book are open, have them look it up; ask a few scaffolding questions to help guide them to the answer; if all else fails, you can have another student answer the question and then ask it again to the original student.
Why I like this – “I don’t know,” is a student’s way of avoiding thinking. If they can not immediately think of the answer, they decide to stop there. This is exactly the opposite of what I want to teach my students: not knowing the answer is the beginning of the process, not the end. We all have times where we don’t know the answer and in reality we need to figure out a way to find it.
Problems I have with this – It’s hard for me to make my students feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to put them in the hot seat because I feel bad for them. But I really need to get away from this. We all must learn to deal with pressure and I need to keep the long term goal of good thinking in mind rather than the short term desire to make everyone happy and comfortable.
So I’ve identified my problem… now what?
How do you get students to think flexibly?
Some things to look into:
- Thinking routines – to make thinking visible (Google “Visible Thinking” to see what I mean here. Rationale: To see what students are thinking and get them to question why they think they know what they know.
- Use a wider variety of class materials – Students need to see content from a variety of sources, not just me. Perhaps use materials from the textbook package and ask colleagues for their notes/tests. Rationale: To make sure students aren’t just parroting my words.
- Use “At Bats” – This TlaC tactic emphasises the need for students to practice their knowledge as much as possible. Rationale: The more students work with the material in a variety of context, the more they should be able to apply it to new situations.
- Use “Exit Tickets” – Another TlaC tactic that requires an application of knowledge before students can leave the classroom. Rationale: Another way to interact, but also a quick (hopefully) way for me to check for understanding.
I’m thinking that there is way more I could do, but I”m trying to be realistic with what I can do with my time limits. I’m mulling over a way to do these exit tickets to make them part of our class routines, such as having slips of paper that they automatically pick up when they walk in and a place for them to drop them as they leave. Good thing I have all of Christmas break to work that one out.
*This was supposed to be posted before Christmas, but at the time my internet connection would not work with me and I haven’t been able to get to it until now.
A few weeks ago I posted about trying to implement all of the teaching ideas that I’ve studied over the past 5 years. I was unsure of how to incorporate it all and wondered how it could all fit together. After giving it some thought I realized there is a complimentary place for these techniques and they can work together. However it will requre a lot of planning to pull it all off successfully. Here is a summary of what I’d like to accomplish:
Teaching for Understanding
- Set understanding goals for all units and major actions
- Create performances of understanding for all understanding goals
- Use ongoing assessment and make it truly ongoing
- Use reflection often (as part of ongoing assessment)
- Use one board as a “reflection board” for students to reflect upon a common theme
- Explicitly discuss, model, and practice good thinking techniques (use wall displays as prompts)
- At set times evaluate student needs, use interviews and surveys in addition to my own observations
- plan to address at least one need per unit
Teach Like a Champion
- Select certain ones to focus on next year, rather than trying to work on all of them
Somehow it always happens… the class I start out loving turns into the one with the most discipline problems. Maybe its my fault. Maybe because they are my favorites I am unconsciously being easier on them and this is creating the breakdown.
Whatever the case is, I’ve been making it harder on myself by not using my Teach like a Champion strategies. I haven’t been doing “what to do” or “100%.” So I need to regroup.
The plan: First I’m giving them a new seating chart. I will tell them it is for the rest of this month only. If they regain my trust, then on Nov. 3rd they can go back to sitting where they want. I think by doing this it shows that its not me v. them, but us working towards a more civilized class. Second I need to make a list of the strategies that I can put some where to remind myself of them.
We’ll see how it goes!
One strategy from TlaC that I never expected to use was “call and response.” This technique has the whole class answering a question in unison. I thought it was little to strict for my tastes. However today we were going over the Constitution. One problem that I have frequently had in the past is my students not remembering what the Constitution actually is. So I made it a vocabulary word, we had already copied it down and discussed it last week. Today I asked the class what it was. No one in first period could answer me. This was a little distressing, so I made them all turn to their vocab and recite the definition together. Then I made them do it louder, and then louder still. I told them that the Constitution was a hugely important document, so they needed a voice to match that importance. A lot of them loved it, and were exposed to the definition several more times. Will this help? Well, I’m going to ask them again tomorrow, so we’ll see.
Its about a month into school and I thought I needed to step back and assess what I’ve been doing…
- In US History I’ve been doing really well with reviewing (almost) every day. Before any lecture or activity I do a brief Q&A (using “cold call”) to go over past material that leads up to whatever the day’s topic is. I also play a review game in the last few minutes of class that has questions from everything we’ve covered.
- I’ve also done well in USH with the “interactive notebooks” meaning we not only take lecture notes, but process them by creating graphs, charts, cartoons, and such. I’ve also had success by asking students to highlight main ideas from the previous day’s notes.
- In Sociology I have worked on maintaining high expectations by continuing to do higher order thinking activities and mitigating the broad ability levels by scaffolding the steps of the activity.
- In History I have not done a good job of checking every one’s understanding.
- In Sociology I’m worried that the information I’m presenting is disconnected, I’m not unifying to under broader understanding goals.
- I am also not providing enough feedback on my assessments. I have been able to get tests back quickly, but written assignments aren’t getting back soon enough.
- My Pop Culture has turned into a mess because it gets the least attention. Therefore it lacks cohesiveness and rigor because I haven’t planned enough.
The Action Plan:
US History – As Marcia Tate would say, I need to be a sheep and graze. I did this today as they did their “Do Nows.” I got to see exactly how they were answering and who was missing critical points. I also could use occasional “exit tickets” to check up on specific ideas.
Sociology – Plan, plan, plan! I need to do some extra work on our next unit, tying socialization and culture together. I need to work on using the Teaching for Understanding framework to get more cohesion and I also need to work in enough review to make sure they understand the fundamentals of culture (the topic of our last unit).
Pop Culture – Plan, plan plan!!! Once again it comes down to planning. I need to create a TfU unit plan for my current unit and see if it can be salvaged.
Looks like I better go get to work!
One of the Teach Like a Champion strategies is “emotional constancy.” The idea is that you should always have moderated emotions so the students know what to expect from you. Normally I think I do this quite well, as I am naturally a mellow person, but I have been working this year to improve upon those times when students get on my nerves.
Well I failed the test this morning. My history students have a test tomorrow. Now most of them did very poorly on their last test, so instead of playing a review game I made out a review sheet for them to complete and study from. Half of my first period went into serious complain mode. “Why can’t we play the game? I learn so much better with games” etc… I wanted to snap because they were all coming at me at once. But I tried my best to state calmly why we were doing the review sheet. But the complaining continued for almost half of class! And it seemed to be over everything I had them do today, like work in pairs not groups or the fact that I wouldn’t give them the answers at the end of class. So I snapped a little. It was just too much irritation. The question is, what can you do when you’re so irritated you just want to smack someone?
The discussion group for Teach like a Champion is going well. I found out a few weeks ago that we all would get recertification credit for participating in it, so thats exciting. I thought I would post the format we are following, just in case anyone out there was interested. It was really easy to start. We’re using Google groups to host our forum, which is basic, but free. I encourage anyone out there that would like to be part of a group like this to try and start one in their school. All of the teachers in my group have loved the book so far and are starting to use the strategies in their classrooms.
So here is the format we are following: TlaC Discussion Group Format