Posts from the ‘Methods’ Category

Management vs. Engagement

Over the course of my 15 years of teaching in the classroom, there has been a continual debate over management vs. engagement. The argument is that if you create an engaging lesson, then management issues will fade away like a bad stain in the washing machine. The opposite has also been stated, if you have good management then “engagement” (which has been confused with compliance, in this instance), also increases. We need to look beyond the either/or to the both/and.

A classroom should have good student management in place, but it should also include lessons/activities that are engaging. It is very difficult to have one without the other. You can spend hours creating an amazing lesson, but if your students don’t pay attention, then they will not be successful or find value in your plan. If you create your lessons with only you in mind, then the likelihood of students finding it engaging also decreases. In this scenario, you won’t necessarily have open rebellion, after all, your class is well managed, but you also won’t see student ownership of learning, that sparkle that lights up their eyes when they are excited about what they get to work on. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

The Management Side:

It has been my stance for years that each teacher must decide for themselves what type of management system they want to have in their classroom. This does not mean, however, that you should have NO management system in place. That will lead to big problems down the road. Students crave structure. They need to know what they can and can’t do in your class – what’s O.K. and what’s not O.K., and they need to know where the lines are. That is only fair. We all have lines laid down for us in our lives, places that it is acceptable to go or talk about, and others where it isn’t. Students, however, need to have it explicitly stated. Depending upon the grade level you teach, they are developing their reasoning function, their ability to tie action and reaction together. We need to help them function in our classrooms in a manner that is appropriate. Don’t hide your expectations – let them know ahead of time. No surprises. I’ve talked to many students over the years who have gotten in trouble in a class. For many, the answer to the question, “what did you do to get in trouble?” is met with, “I don’t know. I did what I always do and the teacher just blew up at me.” With no guidelines laid down ahead of time, a teacher will reach their boiling point and explode. The student is left standing there with mud on their face, not sure what just happened. A management system that is thought out ahead of time and communicated to students and parents, will mitigate much of this issue.

One final thought on management – there are many different ideas on what classroom management could and should look like (some educators create management plans in partnership with their students), but always make sure it is something that works for you and that you can live with. Taking someone else’s management ideas or style and just copying them can also cause problems. Make sure it is something that you are committed to.

For those of you that are curious, I have a couple of podcasts of my management plan. The first is here: and the second is here:

The Engagement Side:

When we create lessons for our students, we need to purposefully plan for engaging activities. Don’t let it be an accident. You should consider the following questions to determine engagement opportunities: How do I want students to interact with my information? How deep do I want their understanding to be? How often will they need to process my information? What types of products do I want them to create that will show me that they have reached the level of understanding that I desire?

The answers to these questions will help guide your lesson planning. Engagement, as with management, can take on various forms. It might include individual projects or learning opportunities, cooperative learning, a novel experience, or experiential learning, to name a few. Some teachers begin lessons with exposing students to a new idea, experiment, video – something that causes the eyes to widen and questions to come pouring into the brains and out of their mouths. Others allow students to independently showcase their learning in individual ways. Still others allow create structures in their classrooms that allow students to productively engage with the other learners in the class to make the new learning more meaningful. All of these ideas are ways to increase engagement in classrooms.

But, for a bigger picture of motivation (and engagement first begins with a motivation to do something), I would refer you to Daniel Pink’s Drive. It is an amazing book on what motivates people and can be directly tied into a classroom. I’ve embedded a short video that outlines the book graphically for you (and wouldn’t this be an engaging project for your visual/artistic learners to do?).

As with all learning, make it meaningful, make it student owned and centered. That will start you on the path toward engagement.

Together in Harmony

Imagine a well organized and engaged classroom. A place where students feel safe, comfortable, and are willing to take chances. A place that they are excited to be in and hate leaving. It’s not a utopian vision, it can, to a large extent, happen. But it only happens with lots of planning, forethought, instruction, and monitoring. It will also not usually happen for 100% of your students, no matter how you try and tweak and alter and change. As with everything, you will also find higher levels of management and engagement during certain activities or lessons. Your job is to analyze the causal factors of both to help determine how to better replicate the highs and eliminate many of the lows.

It’s a big task and it isn’t easy. But it sure is rewarding…

Coming Soon…In the next week or so, I will write several blog posts specifically on engagement. Topics will include: How do you set it up? What are some good structures? How do you manage a student independent classroom? If there are specific questions you would like for me to address, please leave a comment on this post.

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Fluency

During this summer, I really started thinking about my students’ fluency. As a teacher of LEP and FEP students, increasing their fluency is an important part of moving them toward grade level comprehension. As I always do, I wanted to make the practice of fluency as real world as possible. Luckily, I work in a K-8 building and had developed a relationship with one of the 1st grade teachers. While it probably should have occurred to me earlier, it finally dawned on me that my students could prepare a short book and read it to his class.

After discussing it with the 1st grade teacher and ironing out some details, it looked like it was going to happen. I had decided to piggy back on the concepts and content that he was teaching in class to help us determine which books to read. For example, when his class studied family relationships, my students checked out picture books on that subject to read. This was another way that this project could help build some background knowledge and experiences for his students. In this manner, both groups of kids would benefit. For some topics, my students selected from nonfiction texts, especially when it came to science topics. I feel that it is important for my students to learn how to read both fiction and nonfiction as they require different tones and expressions.

After our first trip, I decided to step things up a notch, and talked to my students about engaging the 1st graders that they were reading to. We talked about asking questions (both comprehension and connecting questions) as we read the book. In this way, the 1st graders would be even more engaged. It also provided a challenge for my students to come up with interesting, relevant questions for the group that they were reading to.

Since my purpose was to focus on fluency, I have videotaped each student read for about 20 seconds each time we visit the 1st grade class. I can then create a video of their clips and track their progress over time. It also allows me to assess how they are reading fiction vs. nonfiction texts.

I must say, my students have really enjoyed this experience. They are becoming more and more proficient and one of the benefits is their progress with not only reading out loud, but the level that they must understand the book and its concepts before they read to the 1st graders. While it is helping the 1st graders build their background knowledge, it is also doing the same for my students.

During the course of the week, my students select a book to read, practice reading it out loud to themselves, practice reading it out loud to their classmates, read it to me, and write down some questions that they can ask. In this manner, by the time we visit the 1st graders, most are proficient at reading their books.

I must say that this project has turned out better than I had hoped. It is an experience that my students look forward to. They do not complain about practicing because they know that a real audience awaits them. At this point, they know that the 1st graders will lose interest really quickly if they don’t perform well, so they always strive to keep it engaging. The first graders love it as well, stopping me during lunch to ask when my class will be visiting them.

Middle school student reading "Anamalia" to 1st graders.

Reading a nonfiction text to 1st graders.

Foldables® – Social Studies Continent Book

I have an old, new favorite.  Foldables.  I was exposed to them several years ago by a science teacher and used them in my Newcomer Social Studies class when I couldn’t find appropriate materials.  I was working on the 7 continents, the countries within those continents, and pulling facts from text.  I pulled maps from the Geography Coloring Book which was great because they were small enough to fit into my book.  I then assembled a foldable that allowed each continent to have its own two page spread.

 

Front cover of Continent Book

Front cover of Continent Book

Each continent had three sets of information:  country names, climate zones, and facts about two countries in that continent.  They were able to choose the type of information that they found on their countries.  They could choose:  animals, landmarks, culture, landforms, or historical events.  I checked nonfiction texts out from the library to help them find the information.  We used an atlas to find the names of the countries.

 

Left side of the continent book with country names.

Left side of the continent book with country names.country facts.

Right side of continent book with climate zones and country facts.

Right side of continent book with climate zones and country facts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the end of this project, my newcomers were able to search for specific information from nonfiction text, pull that information from text, and use it in their book.  As a culminating activity, I had them answer questions using the book as their resource.  I was looking to see if they could pull specific information from their own book.

This activity was engaging, interactive, and students were able to work at their own pace.  A success all around!

Since then, I have discovered that Dinah Zike has created many books on the different types of foldables that you can use in classrooms.  Pictured below are some other social studies examples from her.  I purchased one of her books and am looking forward to incorporating these strategies into my classes.

from Dinah Zike's Notebook Foldable book.

from Dinah Zike's Notebook Foldables book

 

 

 

From Dinah Zike's Notebook Foldables book

From Dinah Zike's Notebook Foldables book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will also be talking about math, science, and language arts foldables that I have created and used in my classrooms.

20 Questions

Last Christmas, my husband and I were invited to a white elephant party and were looking for a nice but fun gift to bring when we came across the handheld game 20Q’s. My husband was immediately addicted and we bought one as our gift. That little bit of background leads me to my current thoughts on an inexpensive but useful classroom tool for English language learners or struggling readers.

In order to play the game, you must pick a common object that most people would know about, be able to read or have someone read the questions for you, and then answer questions about your object’s characteristics. The choices are yes, no, and sometimes. The online game provides more answer choices. Here is a sample question. (I indicated that my object was an animal.)

Q2.  Does it have fur? 

 Yes ,   No  , Unknown, Irrelevant, Sometimes, Probably, Doubtful

Fun for struggling readers:

My nephew turned 15 this summer and I was stumped as to what to give him that wouldn’t just be thrown in his room and never used. Thankfully, I remembered the 20Q’s game and thought that it would be something he would enjoy. I was right. He and my husband played with the game pretty much all day and then again at dinner that night. My nephew is what most educators would classify as a struggling reader due to dyslexia and isn’t interested in reading. However, this “toy” required him to read the questions presented in order for the game to guess his object. My husband commented later that he thought the 20Q’s game would help our nephew with his reading because there were times when he did not know a word and would have to ask for help. 

Reinforcement/Fun for ELLs:

In an ELL classroom (only ELL students such as NEPs or NEPs and LEPs), 20 questions could be used to teach vocabulary and the characteristics of vocabulary. For example, if students are learning English for the first time, it is important for them to learn common school objects. The facilitator (teacher, instructor, para, tutor) will show them pictures of these objects or point them out around the school or in a book. Once the students are familiar with the names of these objects, identifying their individual characteristics creates a deeper understanding of the object and allows the students to then begin comparing and contrasting the objects or categorizing them into groups (comparing and contrasting and categorizing are higher level thinking skills). 

In addition to the content vocabulary such as the school objects, ELLs would also need to understand the academic vocabulary that is included in the game such as yes, no, unknown, irrelevant, sometimes, probably, and doubtful. If the students have no knowledge of these words then it is impossible for them to answer the question correctly. 

In a content classroom with ELL students, this “toy” could be useful as a “filler” (something that they could do after they have finished their work or if there are a few minutes left of class). 

The game is available in stores such as Target, Wal-mart, K-mart, and Toys r Us for approximately $7-$10. 

It is also online at http://www.20q.net/

If you have used 20Q’s in your classroom or have any other ideas on how 20Q’s could be incorporated into the classroom, please share your experiences and ideas with us.