Thursday, September 30, 2010

Guided discussions

I've heard teachers express hesitation over group work and a lot of open discussions ... they feel they are apt to lose control (I hate that feeling too).

One technique I'm using with success so far is a graded discussion - I walk around with a legal pad as we talk and students get full points for participating; half points for paying attention but remaining quiet; and zero points for disruptions.

Tossing around a soft ball from student to student is how we know who has the floor. It's working well so far!

I know some students prefer a silent, distraction-free classroom, but my thought is that life is not a library. The workplace has 35 things going on at once; silence is a rarity, not the rule - so I think it's a good thing that quiet kids are forced to stretch a bit ... and experience different classroom environments.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My first parent call

It was last Saturday morning, 8 am, to be exact.

The student made an inappropriate joke in class - directed toward me - and I thought I'd surprise him (and his mom) by calling.

The call was great actually; his mother was a very bright, astute woman and I think we both ended up enjoying the conversation.

I have to say the student in question was very much on task the following Monday as well. In all, it was a good experience - though I realize not all calls will be so smooth.

Parent calls and discussions with coaches - two arrows I'm keeping in my discipline quiver to be sure.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Seniors - a different species altogether

I assigned a group project to my seniors in British Lit, put them in groups, put the objectives on the board, and spun them loose.

Surely, this was enough direction for young adults; they'd divvy up roles and tasks and get to work. Not so much.

I'd say 90% of students were on task, albeit at a slow pace. At one point, I asked a chatty student which group he was in, and what project he was working on. He wasn't entirely sure. Another young lady told me her group was clueless and needed help. I looked over at her group (she was sitting on the floor quite a distance from them) and in fact they were on task and doing quite well.

It's a confusing age to me, at this point in my early teaching career - these kids are old enough to take a bullet for their country. Yet they often lack the maturity and focus to handle a simple group project. They regularly tell me work is too simple, and frankly beneath them, but then fail to follow through on the next basic piece of work I give them.

So what I'll do differently next time for this project: Set a tight time limit, and assign roles in the groups for them (Jim, you draw, Tina, you are the recorder, etc.).

My classes, at this point, are like dress shirts. I'm continuing to button them up, slowly but surely. I may never (or at least rarely) button the very top button - but I am working with focus toward at least having our classroom shirt cleaned, pressed and cuffed nicely at the sleeves.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Airborne ... product review

I heard new teachers get sick and stay sick all year - so when I started getting sick a week ago I grabbed a box of this stuff during a trip to the drugstore.

The ingredients are pretty straight-forward, and include glutamine ... an amino acid known for rebuilding muscle - but also good for immune support. I'm not sure there's anything in here a good multivitamin doesn't have ... but I didn't want to take any chances.

I dropped a fizzy tablet in water twice a day, and never did get fully sick ... I fought off the cold. Of course, I have absolutely no idea if this product helped or not - but I'd buy it again given I didn't get sick. Hey give me a break, I'm an English teacher, not a science guy.

(Didn't know about the law suit when I bought it, but still glad I did.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Combatting teacher tech overload ...

So my school is getting smart boards - by that I mean we all are getting them. (I already have one in my room).

Today I took a course on Prezi; last week I took a course on Castle Learning, and in between that I set up a blogging account for all of my students. This is all in addition to the classroom blog / website I use every day as my road map / lesson plans.

I can only imagine how overwhelmed my peers feel ... I stare at the smart board and all the features, and can feel a bit shell-shocked.

My advice to other teachers (and to myself) is to take it slowly. Learn a trick or tip, and incorporate it. Just one new trick a week will equal a powerful smart board user by the year's end.

My other thought is these tools only supplement solid instruction; they can't replace it, or fix weak lessons.

I'm sure the veteran teachers in my school will be fine, if they approach this technology with an open mind and easy going attitude. And I'll certainly continue to lean on them for help with teaching fundamentals.

I look forward to us all learning together.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hey, I'll just wing it! And other bad ideas ...

Every day I do something I wish I didn't do. These are small things, but they drive me crazy.

What's worse, as we wrap up the third week of school, is I seem to have a sick inner need to fall on my face in order to learn a lesson. I need to experience the pain of the tumble in order to avoid doing it again.

Case in point: We went to the computer lab for an SAT Prep course. Being a bit tech savvy I figured we'd all create accounts for an online course together, and I'd figure out what we'd all do next on the fly. I also didn't stop to think about rules in advance ... listening to music, visiting other sites, food in the lab, etc.

Veteran teachers are smiling at how naive this sounds, I'm sure. In the end nothing went horribly wrong - we did all jump into a lesson and had a productive class. But I was annoyed at the kids for visiting other sites, and having their little games minimized all sneaky-ish when I walk by. So ultimately I reacted to a situation ... versus planning for it and controlling it from the outset.

Classroom management seems part art, part science. I'm off to see how I'll color outside the lines today, or spill paint, or burn myself mixing chemicals in that lab we call a classroom!