Sunday Panel: Study Tips for Students

Sunday Panel StickyWhat study tips do you give your students?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:Many of my students, I believe, don’t really know how to study. I try to use some of the review time in class to introduce and practice study skills. These include websites with practice questions, use of quizlet, creation of a study guide. I also have put a big emphasis on close reading and annotating of test questions, and have given bonus points to students who annotated on their test.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: To trust themselves.  My students consistently demonstrate they know more than their test scores reflect.  During review games, I praise how much they know, to try to build up their self-confidence– they DO know this.  In my classroom, I also have the luxury to keep testing low-stakes.  It’s unfortunate the so much of teaching is turning into testing– after school, there are no test sin life.  No one-off chances to prove what you know.  Jobs rely on hard work, application, and frequently include the opportunity to try again (with little or no penalty.)  So, I also try to remind my students of that– life is not about taking tests, but about demonstrating what they can do with the information.

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom:Students need to study every night (or almost every night) – not cram before the test. They don’t like to hear that, but it is true.

I try to help them model it. I ask them to take out their notes, maybe with five minutes left of class. I ask them to read over the notes, and suggest that they do that every day. Once they are familiar with the material, they can focus on individual points before the test.

Sunday Panel: Assessments for Group Work

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you deal with assessment when students do a project together?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:I tend not to count group projects for a large grade, but for smaller classwork grades. On a small project I will grade the final product. In other cases, I will put three grades together (1) a participation/effort grade based on my observations during their work (2) a grade on the final product, (3) a teamwork grade or peer grade that their group completes. I may use something like this, or change it to fit the particular project.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: I include both true group parts (like assembling a group poster board) and individual parts to a collaborative project.  The weight of the individual parts is greater than the group portion, so the assessment is largely based on their individual work– but they can still collaborate in the process and help each other with the individual parts. I’ve used group assessments, where students rate their own contributions, with limited success– my students are so keen on covering for each other (or at least not “narcing” each other out) that they’ll insist that a student contributed, even if said student slept, was absent, or clearly did nothing.  Including my own assessment with theirs helps a bit with this, as they do their work in class, allowing me to see who is working and who is not, generally.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:I structure group assignments in a way that everyone must do an individual aspect and then they must work together to assemble a larger piece. This keeps everyone accountable for their own work. I also have students self asses and peer asses themselves throughout the project. I can compare what a student feels he/she did to contribute with what his/her peers think he/she did to contribute and assign participation points that way.


Sunday Panel: Keeping Students Focused

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you keep your students focused during cooperative learning?

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom: Before students start cooperative learning, I ask them to brainstorm what it should look like. Chances are that they know the answer and have reviewed these rules before. It is a good chance to remind students and to correct misconceptions.

For classes that frequently work together, a reminder chart (perhaps laminated) of “”what cooperating work is”” and “”what cooperating work isn’t”” helps too.

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 Ellen Weber:
I encourage MI tasks in teams that use and develop student strengths as a way to increase their interest and focus. For instance, verbal IQ develops by communicating more. So I might ask: What if you draft and submit a letter to the editor?

For visually stronger students, I might ask – What if you sketch, photograph your best idea? Visual IQ develops focus by designing images.

We also know that Kinesthetic IQ grows focus by moving & building, so I ask: .What if you build a model of an improved plan?

Those who love the social interaction focus better in teams when I ask questions such as: What if you invite a peer to a lunch discussion?  Interpersonal IQ increases focus by growing relationships that offer meaningful takeaways.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:
One way I keep them focused is by making them all accountable. I used to have them respond in writing on one paper during two of my favorite cooperative learning activities, “numbered heads” and “trashketball.” Now, I ask each student to submit his/her own answers in writing although the group can work together as a team to develop their answers. It helps to involve the students who used to just sit there and let the better students do all of the work.

Sunday Panel: The Logistics of Cooperative Learning

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you handle the major logistics of using cooperative learning (i.e. absences, noise, grouping students, etc.)

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:I often have attendance issues in my class, so, although I use cooperative learning frequently, I rarely do activities that span more than one day. I have a much more successful time keeping students engaged if the groups are constant and made up of the students who are present on that day, and they can start and finish the activity with that group. I use a variety of groupings, depending upon the activity. Sometimes I let students choose their own groups, other times I group randomly (often using Popsicle sticks or a deck of cards, and other times I create groups based on certain characteristics of students that I want. I think because students know they will get to choose at least a good amount of the time, they are more willing to go along with my groupings on the other occasions.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:When students are absent for group work, it can be a real challenge. For instance, when my students are doing literature circles, each group member has a job. If one of them isn’t at the ‘meeting,’ the other students in the group have to do the work of the absent student. Since this frustrates the other group members, I’ve encouraged the students to do their work ahead of time if they know they will be absent, especially athletes who know they have games. Now, with a little positive peer pressure from the group, these students will often complete their work ahead of time to help out their classmates!


AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn, Algebra Simplified:While a huge fan of cooperative learning, I abhor chaos and firmly believe productivity and learning levels drop in its midst. Over-the-top cooperative noise, the main chaos-creating weed, sometimes stems from innocent roots.

Root 1:Students are working with people they love.

Weed-spray: Remove the novelty. Students sit in groups in my class, everyday. No need for long-lost reunions when they’re always together.

Root 2: Students cannot hear themselves over everyone else talking in the room, so they become louder just to communicate.

Weed-spray: Play background music at moderate volume. Seemingly counter intuitive, adding noise to reduce noise, the music acts as a volume plumb line. “If you (or I) can’t hear my music, you are too loud. Bring it down a notch.” Moreover, the music smooths over appropriate communication and settles my nerves.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: Flexibility is required to deal with the logistitics of cooperative learning.  Projects generally include both group effort and individual efforts.  I often include a group grading sheet– though my students are often reluctant to “narc” out a non-contributing group mate.  Since my students do projects in class, I can also keep an eye on who’s working on the project and who is not– and I’ll go up and ask the little dears, “What are you working on?”  I tend to let students pick their group mates, and remind them of this if they get “stuck” with a non-contributing member– and I’ve allowed regroupings, such as leaving a non-productive group to work alone or dropping a constantly absent group member.  Ultimately, I’m not a fan of group work– I’m not convinced that the slackers get much out of it, even under penalty of failing if caught (hard as that is to prove, too) and I’m not convinced that those who carry the group are learning anything other than negative lessons about collaboration– at least not outside the ideal classroom where students are generally all there to learn and succeed.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:Absences, that are not excused negatively impact students’ grades for the assignment. I actually choose to assign groups and do so by putting the most dedicated students together and the least dedicated together. This doesn’t take ability level into account, but does account for work ethic. The four students who rarely come to class can work together. I try very hard to keep groups from having one or two people bring them down.

With regards to noise I recognize it’s unavoidable. If it gets too loud I will stop everyone- refocus their attention, and let them start working together again. A group or two being allowed to work in the hallway is also helpful.


Sunday Panel: Differentiating Instruction

Sunday Panel StickyWhat are some specific ways that you are able to differentiate for the various learners in your classroom or subject area?

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 Ellen Weber:
I encourage students to use their full range of stronger intelligences in class. I suggest tasks they can do to meet rubric criteria we set together.

To understand a new concept for instance, they might play with words, do crosswords, compete in scrabble, debate, search for new ideas on the internet, write a blog, tell their best idea in 140 letters, or offer to speak at a local club.

The choice to differentiate is the choice to grow brainpower and it takes less effort when students come to the table with their strengths as tools.

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn, Algebra Simplified:
A carefully crafted activity that has work geared for more than one ability level makes meeting the needs of all students at the same time much easier. Normally with these type of activities, the differentiation is so seamless that the students don’t even realize that it is happening. On the other hand, when differentiation is just obviously … well…different, student buy-in is key. I start with a class reminder of the benefits, a vote on who would like to experience the benefits, and an ardent request for student cooperation so that all can benefit.

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom:
1. Task cards. Students all have assignments, and only I know which cards are more difficult. If I distribute them with partners, this also helps.

2. Choices/ Goals. If I allow students to have personal choices or make specific goals, they are tailored to their own needs. I must approve of the goals, but as long as a student is working toward improvement, that counts. (This especially works well in public speaking. Students can personalize what will make them better speakers).

3. Specifics to world. Right now is election season. Discussing the class’ interests in advertising techniques, word choice, and picture choice for campaign mailers and other commercials allows students to bring their personal stories to the class. Students have different perspectives, and encouraging explanation empowers students to understand different points of view. Specifically, bringing the world to the classroom empowers students who may not normally contribute.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:
In earlier posts this month, I mentioned using literature circles and choices to differentiate instruction. Besides those strategies, I have a few additional tools. For instance, with students who may need additional support in my class, I make simple adjustments to assignments: providing a word bank on a vocabulary worksheet, reducing the number of exercises on a grammar handout, or shortening the page requirement for an essay.

On the other hand, to provide additional challenges for students, I offer enrichment opportunities. For example, I recently offered extra points to students who took advantage of a vocabulary video contest at The New York Times Learning Network. Furthermore, I always share writing contest information for local and national competitions. Not only do my students benefit from the enrichment, but sometimes they even find themselves winning a contest!

How do YOU differentiate instruction?  Please share your ideas in the comments sections.

Sunday Panel: Addressing Multiple Intelligences

Sunday Panel StickyHoward Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence suggests that people have a variety of intelligences including musical, visual, verbal, logical, kinesthetic, etc. How do you consider multiple intelligences when planning lessons and engaging learners?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:I think multiple intelligences are very important to keep students engaged. I try to think about different ways to practice with a concept. Perhaps students have a choice, or perhaps they move through stations, but they get to practice the same concept through several different ways. It is important for them to see that some students do better at some things than others, but they can learn from each of them.

EllenBrain7 (1)Ellen Weber:My PhD developed an approach to use mulltiple intelligences with upper grades and adults. Called Mita approach, Howard Gardner listed this in his book, “Intelligence Reframed,” and named it pioneer work for MI with teens.

Students start class by completing a FREE survey and every class is built upon using their strengths to apply course content in innovative ways as they learn and engage new facts.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: I started reading our texts aloud to my students to keep everyone together, but in the process, I discovered that a majority of my students were likely auditory learners– hearing the texts, they said, greatly improved their understanding of it.  When I can’t read to students, I encourage those who struggle with reading to consider trying auditory books (lots of stories are available online or off in auditory format).

For many assignments and projects, I try to allow for choices.  Boardwork may include the choice to respond in narrative or comic strip.  Projects allow for creativity and choice– for personal writing, I might give the choice of narrative or multimedia project.  But, there are somethings that only get one format (like essays)– so we discuss that sometimes in life, you get choices.  And other times, you have to just do what you’re given.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:I remember in college learning all about this and practicing making plans that allow students to demonstrate their understanding of the material based off of their intelligence type. Therefore, I have developed several projects that allow students to perform, or do creative writing, draw, etc. However- I keep thinking now- how or why do we do this if the ultimate testing is going to be standardized and completely disregard our students’ learning styles? It’s frustrating to me to say the least.

Now in terms of whether students are auditory or visual learners- I try to present my material most often in presentations so students can read along or listen. Hopefully that helps reach the majority of students.

black T logoJackie, Room 213: I try to be aware of all learning styles and create lessons with a lot of variety.  I’ve been focusing a lot on kinesethic learners lately, trying to get some movement into most lessons.  My favourite thing to do is the walk-and-talk.  When students have a complex idea to consider, or when they are planning their own essays/assignments, I’ll let them go for a five minute walk with a partner–and a pen.  They are supposed to talk about the task at hand as they go.  Sometimes it’s hard to get them moving for every lesson, so if it’s a class that has them sitting for a while, I’ll give them a short walk break half way through.  For the most part, students really appreciate the chance to move and they don’t take advantage of these situations and use them as intended.

Sunday Panel: Addressing the needs of students

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you address the needs of of students from poverty, minority students, or other obstacles to achievement in your classroom?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:My students are mostly from poverty, minority, etc. I have a few strategies that I utilize to try to help them achieve.

1) I try to make the curriculum as relevant to them as possible. In many cases, it does not appear relevant to them at first, but I see part of my job as to help make those connections for them.

2) I try to show them other success stories, or examples of their own success so that they feel that achievement is possible.

3) I try to be flexible with deadlines, and timelines, but still uphold the standard (they have to do the work, but some flexibility may be required in how/when they do the work). For example, homework may not happen if they are homeless, but a motivated student may still find time to come in during a lunch period or after school and complete the work in the next week.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:I try to be culturally aware and promote a respectful, courteous classroom. However, I have definitely made mistakes at times. When I was a younger teacher, I expected my African American students to look at me directly in the eye when I spoke with them individually. I learned that it was a cultural norm for many of them, especially males, to avoid eye contact with me in these situations.

In our English class I have also used the PBS feature, “Do You Speak American?”, to teach students about language. This series is excellent for helping students understand linguistic differences and respect for various dialects. We have had discussions to better understand audience and purpose in communication and the use of code-switching in academic or professional environments.

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn, Algebra Simplified:At the end of the year when a majority of students are looking for the nearest trashcan to throw out their class notebook, I ask for old notebook, folder, and paper donations. (Truthfully, I’d take anything they would give me.) You can find all these used school supplies hoarded in my cabinets. The beginning of school year sales get a little of my business as well. (Maybe I just can’t resist that spiral notebook for 17 cents!) This allows me to freely share with students throughout the year. Students have to have paper and a pencil on their desk when the bell rings. If you didn’t bring any, no sweat; just get what you need from my cabinets and be ready to learn at the bell. While this doesn’t solve all obstacles, a student doesn’t have to be hindered by not bringing supplies.

EllenBrain7 (1)Ellen Weber:
My own teenage encounter with poverty shaped my unique approach to help teens equip their brains to leapfrog past personal disadvantages. Caught on the street alone at 14, after my mother died of cancer, I found on-going inspiration to move past poverty from teachers who welcomed, engaged and included all capabilities that appeared at their tables.
By helping disadvantaged students develop all eight intelligences they literally learn from inside poverty to do what the best teachers helped me to do when I found myself homeless. This method was tested in inner city schools where I saw teens become the change they sought, and developed.


CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: Our school always provided basic supplies, and I always made sure my students had paper, pencils, and a place for their work.  I also bought my own pens and pencils as well as recycled old folders and spiral notebooks.  I even picked up pencils in the hall or parking lot to put in my cup for the next day.

Work that went home wouldn’t come back, so I didn’t set them up for failure– everyone got a folder where they could store their work between classes.  I kept the folders in my file cabinet (and recycled the manilla folders without drawings the next year)  We did work in class and included a lot of projects, to allow them choice and flexibility.

Attendance was one of the barriers to success– we didn’t even have bus service to our program, so students relied on their not-always-reliable friends and classmates or their not-always-reliable parents to get to class.  So if they actually did the work, then I generally did not penalize them  (There were a few classes that, as a whole, were so bad about submitting work, that I implemented deadlines and small penalties to motivate them, and it helped.)  Using free e-texts for most of my readings meant that if a student wanted to work at home, I could send home a printed etext without worrying about if it came back.  My goal, always, was on helping them successfully complete their work– if they don’t do the work, they’re not going to learn.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:I have taught almost exclusively in Title I schools with extremely high levels of poverty. One thing I did was take advantage of any and all super sales on school supplies. I was the queen of Staples penny deals (though I didn’t see them this year). Between myself and my family, I’d buy 100 notebooks for $10 and pass them out throughout the year to students who needed them. I still haven’t exhausted my pencil supply two years later- though I was stingier with those.

With regards to race- I once worked in a school with some students who decided to be very vocal with their racist comments. I always shut it down immediately but it made me very uncomfortable. I just always make it clear that everyone is welcome and safe in my classroom- any race, any religion, any sexual orientation. I have banned “trigger” words (n-word, retard, and gay) and have it explicitly spelled out in my college syllabus. But in my teaching methods? I change nothing. Good teaching is good teaching.

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom:My students are often hungry. I attempt to keep grapes or other perishable, non-messy items on my desk. That way students can grab a handful as they walk by. They are normally excited to get fruit!