Sunday Panel: Student-taught Lessons

Sunday Panel StickyIs there a lesson that a student taught you this year? What did you learn?

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom:
My students continuously teach me lessons.
I teach throughout the summer (at a camp) and a few weeks ago, a student was misbehaving. He wanted to interrupt, ignore the assignments, overall difficult. I tried giving him more attention, asking him what would make the situation better, everything.
After class, I decided to look up his medical form. Since this is a camp, we don’t have IEPs, etc. Sure enough – a diagnosis on his medical form made me conclude he probably had an IEP. I called him mom and asked her what I could do to make his day easier and she gave me a few ideas – mostly he had trouble with his lunch card.
Always research if you can, always do extra, always ask!
profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:  I teach in a very urban district.  We are in one of the most economically segregated areas.  Over several years of working in that environment, and reading and informing myself on poverty and urban education, I have come to the conclusion that our schools need to be truly integrated. This was reinforced this year by a conversation with a student.
My student after being in and out of foster care for many years, declared herself independent, works, gets SS, but lives on her own.  She has for a few years. She’s now 17 and about to graduate.  One day, she and I were talking about the difference that gives her such a drive to succeed, in the face of so many things against her. She said it was many things (her own internal desire, her church, etc). One thing that she attributed it to was her foster care. She has some bad experiences in foster care, but she says that she got a chance to see how other people live, and what a family can mean, or be.   For me, it was a very thought provoking and eye opening conversation, as well as strong support for at least exposing students to other lifestyles and backgrounds.
AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn, Algebra Simplified: This year I witnessed a student flounder in an IEP meeting when asked to sign his name to paperwork. He asked, “Does it have to be in cursive?” This was a high school freshman in my class. I hid my mortification and decided at that moment I have been too narrow-minded about what I am responsible for teaching my students. Another student voluntarily shared his passion for hockey with me on a regular basis (although I know little about hockey). He also shared his woes from other classes where he felt demotivated about learning. It was as if you could see the flame snuffed out in this kid. His transparency challenged me to think about how I foster the joy of learning in my students. Perspective, that’s what they gave me. I needed some. (P.S. The one kid can now sign his name in cursive.)

Is there a lesson that a student taught you this year? What did you learn?

Easy Add-ins improving Student Engagement

Do you have your preferred teaching style down? So do I.  Are your students reaching academic success? So are mine. Like any good teacher though, I am actively seeking to improve. So are you. Rather than completely overhaul what works, let me take the good base that I have and build upon it.Hand Raising Desk Slapping

What experience tells me: 
Passive students tend to
fall behind in my class.
What do you add into your lessons to improve student engagement?  Here are two, tried-and-true routines:

Hand Raising (non-traditional sense)
Are students really thinking about what is being said in class?  
Force students to commit to an opinion: Raise your hand if you agree. Raise your hand if you disagree. Raise your hand if you don’t know but are participating. It’s good to participate.

Check their pulse:  Raise your hand if you love your momma. Raise your hand if you’re breathing. Raise your hand if you want to go home.   Can you visualize the hands that go up on that last line? What academic purpose does it serve to have students admit to wanting to go home?  Little, unless you value that the majority of students just responded to a verbal prompt and voluntarily chose to be actively involved in the lesson. Perhaps the student zoning out suddenly sees the entire class putting their hand up, raises his as well, and mentally ponders/chides, “Why are we raising our hands? I better start paying attention.”  Perhaps the platform for student voice (albeit canned and highly structured) earns the exercise a point.  Running these type of statements in trios hopefully provides everyone with an entry point. Personally, knowing that students are still listening and processing what is being pushed out is reassuring.

Do you ever sense that your secondary students get tired of raising their hands?   Surely an active response can take other forms.  Our elementary counterparts mix it up with clapping.   Poetry units at the secondary level often welcome snapping.  In my high school Algebra class, a resounding slap of the desk does the trick. Clapping, Snapping, Slapping — it really is all on the same train.

Desk Slapping
In my opinion, slapping requires the least investment of the student (only one hand, no fancy finger configurations), has sound appeal, and is less socially taboo for teenagers (perhaps because of its affiliation with violence).
One rule: No repetitive slaps.
Some of the more refined 9th grade classes give their desk a little love pat.  However, a few classes will truly SLAP their desk with oomph.  This almost in unison thunder clap invigorates both teacher and students.  As I like to say (and my students groan), it supports the learning momentum.  Weak slappers sometimes improve at this request:  Slap your desk if you were right.  A prideful nature should be exploited.  Are you considering trying out the technique for the first time? Use in conjunction with a question that has a high probability of correct response in the middle of a difficult lesson. (Don’t explain, just call it out. Repetitive slaps can be channeled later on. Sales pitches can be given later as well.)

Like any novelty, either of the above techniques overused will lose its charm.

What easy student involvement techniques do you use in your classroom?  

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.
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Making Vocabulary Fun with Quizlet!

Slide1Finding ways to make my English Language Arts class interactive can be a challenge. I like having students up and moving but need to make sure that the movement strongly correlates with the learning objectives for a lesson. One option I came up with dealt with learning the common vocabulary that appears on our state achievement tests.

My students had been working with a long list (50 words) of literary terms that show up over and over on our state test. Many of my students were performing at a non-proficient level so my hope was that if they at least reviewed all the words they’d have a better chance of understanding the questions.

After they had defined the words and found examples I put each word and it’s definition into a set on the website I shared the link with all the students so they could study at home. (You can set up a class and invite each student- there are even apps for the site!) But, more to the point, I was able to project the games onto my interactive white board and have students come up in pairs to race! The game that worked best was called “Scatter.”
Students had to match the word with the term by dragging them across the screen. Each group got really into it and tried to beat the time of the other teams. I think students like a sense of competition. Everyone is successful because you get as much time as you need and if a match doesn’t work you get to try again. I think this helped students who were struggling to still have a sense of success.

We also used the flashcard feature to review as a whole class.

Overall, this technique of studying seemed to work well and was a good way to mix it up. We played other games and did other activities with the vocabulary, but the students got the biggest kick out of this one.

How do you get students up and moving in your classroom?

TPT ProfileSara Fuller is a 5 year veteran English teacher with an MA in literature who has experience teaching students ranging from the middle school to college level. She blogs about her teaching adventures at Ms. F’s Teaching Adventures and young adult books at YA Lit, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly!
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Sunday Panel: School Humor

Sunday Panel StickyShare a humorous story from your year.

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City: Guaranteed to make you laugh! As we were doing our fetal pig dissection, one of my students kept insisting that the pig was her “sister from another mister” and took this picture:sister  
OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:This school year my students and I were having a discussion about a challenging poem. It was during our 5th period class, when the students are often tired, so sometimes they aren’t very involved. Fortunately, on this particular day, students were providing insightful comments. In response, I praised a student because he had “ratcheted up the discussion.” For about a minute, we continued our discussion, and then a girl raised her hand and asked, “Mrs. Patrick, did you just say “ratchet”? I said yes, and she giggled. Puzzled, I asked what was funny, and after a few more questions, I finally realized that they didn’t understand my meaning, to increase the level of discussion. They explained to me that the word meant a woman who was not attractive. In fact, a quick look at Urban defines the slang ratchet as “A diva, mostly from urban cities and ghettos that has reason to believe she is every man’s eye candy. Unfortunately, she’s wrong.” Of course, I had no idea of this new meaning. Needless to say, I learned a new word (they did too) and we all had a good laugh!

Exercise & Stress Relief (and a Freebie)

(This post originally appeared at Science in the City: Student-Centered Science.  Reprinted with permission.)

This is not a traditional freebie, because it is not directly classroom related, however, as the school year is coming to an end (for some of you it has already ended), many of us are focused on goals for the summer, or plans that may or may not involve our classrooms.  One of my goals is to focus more on physical fitness and stress relief.  For me, that means that I want to do more yoga.

I found an amazing site, called that has MANY yoga videos at many levels, focusing on different body areas, for free.

I made myself a calendar (a 30 day plan), that I would like to share with you, in case any of your summer goals are the same.  There are two versions in the file, a calendar (July) and a plan that just covers 30 days. Each week it includes 2 rest days, a 40-60 minute routine, two 20-30 minute routines, and 2 shorter routines.  There is a mixture of stretching and strength.

Anyone want to join me and see if we can stick with it?

DoYoga Clip


profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.
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Active Learning with Stay & Stray

When-we-keep-studentsWhy do so many teachers expect students to sit and listen to lectures when the research shows the strong connection between physical activity and learning? In fact, Eric Jensen, author of the book Teaching with the Brain in Mind, says, “When we keep students active, we keep their energy levels up and provide their brains with the oxygen-rich blood needed for highest performance. Teachers who insist that students remain seated during the entire class period are not promoting optimal conditions for learning.”

Maybe teachers are reluctant because they think it will require more time to prepare lessons that involve movement, or perhaps they are worried student behavior will get out-of-control.  However, in my experience students are often more engaged and well-behaved when they are allowed to get out of their seats in my English classroom.  Here is any easy activity to get students moving and also working together.

Stay and Stray:  Lots of teachers activate background knowledge before starting a new concept, and this is just twist on the traditional KWL chart.  First, students work individually to write a list for what they already know about the topic.  After they write their lists, they then turn to a partner sitting next to them and share their ideas.  Next, they square with another pair of students and create one long list that complies all of their information.  At this point, they choose one student to stray and circulate to all of the other groups in the room, collecting new information from all of the groups.  In the meantime, the remaining group members stay so they can share their lists with the visitors from the other groups.  When the student who has strayed returns to her original group, she adds the new information to the group’s paper, and all read a text on the concept together.  After reading, they do the following with the information on their lists:  put a check next to any information they found to be true, circle any information that contradicts information they thought to be true, add two – three new facts that were not already on the lists.  Finally, the each group chooses at least one thing to share from its list and reading to share in whole-class discussion.

I often use this at the beginning of a unit in American Literature to provide context for the time period.  For instance, my students would do this activity at the beginning of their readings from the Civil War era, and our textbook has several sections with nonfiction reading at the beginning of each unit.  Since our students also take United States History around the same time as they take my class, they often come with facts they have learned in social studies.  It reinforces their learning from the history class and helps them construct knowledge as they prepare for literature in my class!


OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.
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Sunday Panel: Summer Plans

Sunday Panel StickyWhat are your summer plans?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City: Plans for the summer….personally, lots of time with my own family, we are planning a trip to Washington, DC.  Some time scrapbooking, yoga twice a week…..

Professionally…I am planning to get my school webpage set up, get prepared because we are going to be getting chromebooks.  I am going to some PD on using inquiry methods with ELL’s.

So looking forward to the summer starting!

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn, Algebra Simplified: One week of summer school is on my horizon. Other than that, I am looking forward to intense play sessions with my toddler children.  We are already creating our “bucket” list: Catch fireflies, go on a nature walk, have a picnic, fly a kite, play in the sprinkler, and much more.  Outdoors here we come!

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: One the one hand, I try not to plan too much for my summer, lest it end up being too busy or planned.  On the other hand, I have a to-do list of many things I’d liked to accomplish.  There are some flower beds (can I call them that?  They’re being taken over by weeds and hostas) that I want to weed and maintain.  There are some resources for my online classes I want to finish up and prepare to post come fall to help students.  There is a list of items for TPT that I want to create or update (my favorite of the tasks!).  And sleep… I want to catch up on sleep.  I’m hoping for a summer that is productive enough to fulfill that need, but also relaxed enough to be a restful time.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures: I am so excited for this summer!  Thanks largely in part to my growing success on TPT and a lot of saving I am traveling a lot this summer!  First I am going to Monterey Bay, California with a group called Family Nature Summits to hike, whale watch, kayak and more!  Then I am going to Kelley’s Island in Lake Erie for a weekend.  My big trip of the summer is 10 days in Scotland with a fellow teacher!  And then, immediately following my girlfriends and I are celebrating the fact we all turn/turned 30 this year and are spending a weekend at a beach!  Other than that this summer is being filled with decorating my new home and teaching an online class!  I’m busy- but I like it that way!

What about you, dear readers?  What are your plans for the summer months?