Teacher Evaluations

Teacher evaluations are an important part of helping a teacher to grow and develop in their profession. Whether being evaluated by a mentor, colleague, or even a teacher in training, this invaluable process can help an educator see their teaching from a different perspective. Maybe a mentor has some advice to pass down from their years of experience with classroom management, or a teacher in training may have suggestions on how to integrate technology to create new tasks that weren’t previously accomplishable as opposed to simply substituting Microsoft Word instead of physically writing an essay (Technology is Learning); in either case, these insights can help shape the future of the educator’s career.

At my previous school in Vietnam, evaluations for teachers only occurred once in the first year of teaching, roughly two weeks into teaching for that school year. All colleagues were encouraged to attend at least two “open classes” of first year teachers and check boxes for appropriate feedback. Though this encouragement existed, the meetings to follow afterward consisted of all teachers coming together and making comments about each new educator’s performance. It was a very intimidating experience, and only added to new teacher’s nerves for their first observed lesson. Additionally, the forms that we were given to fill out were basic and consisted mostly of yes/no questions regarding use of technology (which only meant the TV), speaking slowly enough, student engagement, etc. Without the ability to meet either one or one, or in at least within a smaller group, there wasn’t enough time to talk about true specifics with individual teachers, such as tips for creating a positive classroom environment or aiding in classroom management. Lastly, it would have been much more helpful to be evaluated throughout the year so a mentor, or mentors, could discuss how the teacher has grown and improved, and continued to give support through advice.

Now, moving to the USA and a very different school system, evaluations are based on three main components: teacher practice and student achievement (which is based on student growth objectives, and student growth percentiles for some teachers) (State of New Jersey, 2015). One much more positive element to the structure in New Jersey is the number of evaluations completed in one year. Each teacher is guaranteed to have at least 3 evaluations throughout the year followed by a meeting with their mentor. This can help a teacher reflect on their practice and continue to improve. Although, I’m sure these evaluations are also pretty stressful, especially considering their results are tied to their students’ percentile growths in different subject. I personally don’t feel that this is justifiable in all cases. If there is one teacher falling behind the rest, then this might be a red flag to observe and evaluate their class more frequently. But what if a teacher is reprimanded for say a 0.02% fall in their students’ marks after one year? Does this necessarily reflect the teacher’s abilities? I will be interested to ask my mentor her opinions on the topic.

As for my own upcoming experience, I hope to develop a positive working relationship with my mentor. I am looking forward to observing a more experienced teacher and how she sets up the classroom in the beginning of the year, specifically her rules, norms, and procedures. I am equally excited to hear feedback specifically in the areas that I can improve. Obviously, nobody is perfect and we can all continue to challenge ourselves in new ways as educators to teach subjects in more innovative ways, keep setting the mark for academic expectations in the classroom in new ways, and learn about new strategies to teach old tricks.

For me, I am most excited to be evaluated on student engagement. I feel this is the most important part of the learning experience. If students are having fun and working with challenging material, then I feel that I’m doing a good job. Other than this, there are a multitude of aspects that I should be evaluated in – classroom climate, classroom management, teaching specific standards, teaching specific content, etc. – and these will all be a challenge in their own right.

Sources

State of New Jersey Department of Education. (August 2015). Teacher Evaluation and Support. Retrieved from: http://www.state.nj.us/education/AchieveNJ/intro/1PagerTeachers.pdf

Technology is Learning: SAMR Model. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://sites.google.com/a/msad60.org/technology-is-learning/samr-model

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High Stakes Assessments: Are they worth it?

High stakes assessments are certainly a hot topic at the moment. Whether you’re on the side of their ability to narrow the education gap between privileged and less so students, or in favor of the Obama Administration’s decision to cap the number of standardized tests (and subsequently, he opted his own children out of high-stakes testing), there are a lot of questions worth considering in this weighty topic.

In my personal experience working in a Korean primary school, I have seen a lot of the negatives associated with high stakes assessments. Though according to the OECD, Korean schools score highly across the board in Math, Science, and Literacy, at what cost to the students? Our entire school year was based around teaching to the test. Whether as the teacher I made my class feel as if this was the case – trust me, I tried hard not to – each and every minute core concept reflected specifically to what would be tested on their midterm and final exams.

Each lesson was built specifically around the Korean curriculum tests, and if a teacher strayed but a little, a meeting would be called amongst the grade to immediately switch tactics, or even at times, rewrite the textbook immediately to reflect what SHOULD have been included initially. Needless to say, that lead to a lot of long nights and headaches to the educators who had, in doing their job well and attempting to make engaging and thought provoking lessons that taught beyond the book in advance, now completely change gears, redo lesson plans, and quickly make up for any loss time in each of those lessons.

A question, do you think these new on-the-fly lessons were nearly as comprehensive and provided that intersection of deeper understanding, analysis, synthesis, and production of new learning as the originals? I can say that the teachers tried to do this, but that certainly wasn’t always the case.

Pressure, unsurprisingly, is also huge issue surrounding these tests for both the students and educators. The students are reminded of them almost daily leading up to the exams and asked to study for the assessments for weeks prior as their parents put a lot of pressure on them to perform well. Educators are also accountable for their students scores and if a class performs poorly, the educators will in turn need to have a meeting with the Principal with possible incursions to follow. In fact, this is the first year at my school where bonuses at the end of the school year will reflect student reviews of the teacher, peer reviews, and possibly, midterm and final scores, depending on the first two.

Beyond looking at national scores, it’s hard to say whether student achievement in my particular school was at all linked to this pressure and testing. Not shockingly, students did well on the assessments and that can’t be a surprise given teachers were teaching the tests to them. Additionally, from my personal experience, the English core subject tests were not challenging and asked for nothing more than multiple choice answers in straightforward ways. The Korean tests were more difficult, but overall, I have heard time and again that the school scores are high and impressive, but at what cost? The students go to school in the morning, they go to school in the afternoon, and they go to school into the evening. They have very little time to enjoy their childhood or make friends and isn’t this destructive to their social and emotional well-being?

I contacted my friend who was an educator in a primary school in New Jersey to find out if she had a similar experience, and in some ways, it sounds like she had a much better experience with testing than I had in a Korean school, however, still not perfect.  

In describing the pressure students face, it seems that New Jerseyians are faring better than their Korean equivalents. Additionally, as opposed to negative test scores having a negative impact on the elementary students individually, she explained that students found to be struggling may be entitled to getting additional help from a support teacher. This would lower the student-to-teacher ratio and give students that need additional attention just that. However, she went into much more detail on how the test scores can affect the teachers and schools.

She wrote, “In New Jersey, student performance is one of a number of categories which contribute to the teacher’s overall ‘effectiveness’ score which is calculated at the end of each school year. I believe that student performance accounts for about 20% of the score, so even if students perform poorly, if the teacher has great scores in other areas, it will balance out, but it can still bring scores down significantly.  I think the issue with tying teacher’s performance scores to their students is that teachers are scared about keeping their jobs, rather than take on a group of poorly performing students, they might be inclined to want to teach the “gifted” class a particular year instead, when the struggling students are the ones who need the most support. Even a wonderful, kind-hearted teacher can’t be faulted for worrying about job security and supporting their families, so it is understandable that a teacher could begin to view teaching lower-performing students as undesirable, which is unfortunate and detrimental to the kids who need us most” (M. Maher, personal communication, April 29, 2016).

Clearly, this also meant that teachers were teaching to the test to secure their jobs. She further explained, “A huge issue within the testing process lies within the preparation for the tests, which for all grade levels, usually consists of months of instructional time. Teachers know the expectations are high for these children, and that their performance will also reflect on the teacher’s ‘effectiveness.’ So of course, they want their kids and their school to perform well on assessments, so they do as much as they can to prepare their kids. In many cases, this involves weeks of practice tests, just to prepare children for the format of the tests, which is typically unlike other assessments given throughout the year. Additionally, since the structure of state testing is very formal (children sitting in rows, not allowed to talk, expected to stay seated for extended periods of time) teachers need to prepare their kids for those experiences as well, since that is not what a typical American classroom with elementary age children looks like on a regular day” (M. Maher, personal communication, April 29, 2016).

Considering all of this time is being spent on testing, teachers and schools performances are being judged by testing, shouldn’t these tests be linked to overall student achievement? Achievement and education is our goal, is it not?

Unfortunately, the link to achievement is slim to none. Though No Child Left Behind mandated nationwide standardized testing and lead to a test-driven school system in the USA, the statistics do not prove to have increased student achievement overall. Some studies show small gaps closing between African American and Hispanic students and Caucasian students, though note that the achievement gap has not raised enough in comparison with the pre-existing gap (Pettett 2012). Additional research conducted by Arizona State University, shows that there is little evidence to support any claims that high stakes testing has any correlation to student achievement or outcomes, and actually negatively affect student graduation rates (Nichols, Glass, Berliner, 2012).

So there is clearly another gap that needs to be addressed. The gap between teaching to the test and actually teaching for student development, growth, and achievement, and yet still nationally assess students to measure important data and ensure they are learning the skills they need in order to succeed.

There are a number of alternative strategies available that range from submitting portfolios of students work, stealth assessments, interactive computer assessments, game based assessments, etc., (Kamenetz 2015) that are available to track the data that we can use to measure students in a simpler way and can help to alleviate the pressure that we’re putting on students, teachers, and schools. Assessments can be the end of the story.

But, there is another thing that is abundantly clear. Student assessment scores don’t say everything and teacher’s performance can not be based only on student results. Measures need to be changed so teachers are not in fear of losing their positions because they had students struggle with a section of a standardized test.

There is a call for a complete overhaul of the system so we can move education into future, and educators, parents, and policymakers will need to work together and help decide what that path looks like.  

Sources

Fast Facts. (n.d.). National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=1

Kamenetz, A. (2015, January 22). The Past, Present And Future Of High-Stakes Testing. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/01/22/377438689/the-past-present-and-future-of-high-stakes-testing

Nichols, S. L., Glass, G. V., & Berliner, D. C. (2012). High-Stakes Testing and Student Achievement: Updated Analyses with NAEP Data. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 20(20), Retrieved from http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=4b6b1046-3469-4e35-a21e-b5e3258d3c1f%40sessionmgr103&vid=4&hid=102

Pettett, W. R. (2012, January 1). The Impact of the No Child Left Behind Act and School Choice on Student Achievement. ProQuest LLC, Retrieved from: http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?vid=3&sid=86904e69-25be-46e1-97d3-f7d8ec01d884%40sessionmgr107&hid=102&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=ED548126&db=eric

Serrano, R. A. (2015, October 24). Obama proposes capping standardized testing at 2% of classroom time.” Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-na-obama-testing-policy-20151024-story.html

Strauss, V. (2015, April 7). How the Obamas opted their children out of high-stakes standardized tests.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/07/how-the-obamas-opted-their-children-out-of-high-stakes-standardized-tests/

Formative Assessments

Of course assessments are important in teaching as they help the teacher know what information is getting through to their students and what information is slipping through the cracks, but saving all assessments to the end (summative assessments) that don’t allow for teacher feedback and student revision to help with improvement aren’t nearly as important as checkpoints that a teacher and student can build on together (formative assessments).

Formative assessments are an excellent way for teachers to help steer students on track and plan lessons that address the difficulties that students are having. As Rick Wormeli addresses his video on formative and summative assessments (2010), the former allow teachers to:

  • Provide descriptive feedback to students to help discover a concept or tool, or when necessary, to point out the concept or tool that the student has missed
  • Re-explain the main goal or objective and explain where the student is in relation to the goal
  • What the student and teacher can do together to close that gap

These are all great ways to give all students a chance to achieve their potential instead of trying, not finding out what they’re doing wrong until the end of a unit, and then essentially saying, “Better luck next time.”

As a huge fan of formative assessments, I am going to propose three examples that I would use when teaching a writing lesson in which the overall goal is for a fourth grader to produce an organized and well supported opinion piece.

Lesson Topic: Link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (e.g., for instance, in order to, in addition).

  • Objective 1. Be able to identify opinions and reasons, and use their own through speaking.
  • Objective 2. Communicate link words and phrases to other students and to the teacher.
  • Objective 3. Write sentences in which they link opinion and reasons using words and phrases.

Formative assessment: Circle Writing

This is a fun in class formative assessment that will give the students the ability to be really creative and serious or playful (their choice) with the linking words we’re using. The teacher will break the students into groups and give them a prompt for what to write at the beginning of the sentence and the students to complete the sentence in any way they want. Then, the teacher will ask the students to fold the paper over so the first sentence is hidden and pass it along to the next person in their group. The teacher then gives another prompt and again writes the prompt and finishes the sentence in their own way, folds the paper over, and hands it to the next person in their group. This can easily be done through pairs, groups of three, four, or five, and create some very funny pieces of writing.

At the end, the teacher can ask the students to open up their stories, share them, and talk about how ridiculous they turned out and how they don’t make any sense! Allowing the students to really talk about how one should use linking phrases to support an argument because otherwise, they just sound silly.

This really gives students the ability to feel ownership over their personal understanding of how to use linking phrases and collaborate with one another to discuss what they mean and how to use them.

Formative assessment: Google Drive Diaries

The teacher will give diary topics that involve giving an opinion on a topic and be asked to write at least one sentence with a linking phrase. For example, the teacher will ask the student, “What is the best animal in the world?” You must use a linking phrase in order to develop your answer. THe teacher will ask all students to comment on at least two of their fellow students’ google drive diaries to create a discussion. The teacher will monitor the discussion and assess how each student is doing with their diary as well as their comments as well as comment herself. This type of assessment will allow students to feel ownership over their work and allow the teacher to see where the class is overall and aid in shaping future lessons (i.e. maybe a few students had trouble using for instance, and we need to cover it again in class).

Formative assessment: Tiered Exit Cards

In this assessment, students are asked to use one of the linking words or phrases in a sentence before they are able to transition to another activity or leave the class. Me, as the teacher, would tier the cards based on which linking phrases are easier to use and which are more difficult. I will gather which students need the less challenging linking words versus which students need more challenging cards by continuously walking around the room and monitoring student performance. One thing we all know is that owning the room is huge, and I always plan on owning it. I think this is a great way to know where your students are with the material you’re covering. From that I will deduce which students get which linking phrase exit card. This is a great way to make sure that each individual student is able to write and use the linking phrases on their own. If they don’t, I can work with them individually and give them the feedback they need to learn how to use linking phrases correctly. 

Sources

Barchi, M. (n.d.). Daily Assessment with Tiered Exit Cards. Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/student-daily-assessment

English Language Arts Standards » Writing » Grade 4. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/W/4/

Wormelli, R. (November 30, 2010). Rick Wormeli: Formative and Summative Assessment. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJxFXjfB_B4

Understanding and Applying Standards

I thought this unit of module five was very informative. It was the first time I felt that we were really getting into the nitty gritty of everyday teaching. Clearly, not as much as when actually completing clinicals, but practicing activities that we will be completing on our own when we’re actually Teachers in the real world. So, I wanted to take advantage of this practice and working on something that I haven’t in my experience before – writing.

I selected a writing topic because I have never designed a writing class using Common Core Standards. In fact, the most common writing classes that I have had to design focus on a fiction, creativity, and fun, and generally way more geared towards using a specific grammar point. I thought this would be great practice to think of lessons that address the different elements taught in fourth grade to write an opinion piece instead of say, using the past tense when describing a memory.

So below is the standard that I have been exploring further.

“Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information” (English Language Arts Standards).

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.A – Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.B – Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.C – Link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (e.g., for instance, in order to, in addition).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.D – Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.

Reflections on Unpacking a Standard

In the beginning of this unit, I immediately felt a little bit like being dropped into the deep end. Though I have a lot of experience planning objectives and lessons to meet those goals, it isn’t always easy to break down standards into succinct ways that you can then map your lessons around. There are a lot of main ideas that we need to include and it can be overwhelming especially when you consider how much time you have available to teach over the course of the year.

While I was thinking of lessons to incorporate and achieve the goals that were in the Unit/Standard that I was attempting to break down, I don’t really know how my lessons would completely fit into the school schedule as I don’t have any idea how many periods per week I would have to dedicate to writing lessons that specifically meet those goals. That’s why, in the lessons I hoped to teach, I tried to think of ideas that could be interdisciplinary and work on multiple skills at one time.

Additionally, as in unpacking the standard with the skills that need to be taught (verbs) and the big ideas (nouns), there’s a whole lot hidden in that standard! For example, in the standard two skills include students writing pieces and supporting opinions. To me, while that sounds not so difficult, there is clearly a lot more packed in there. Students will need practice with introducing topics, stating opinions, thinking of and providing concrete reasons and information to support their ideas, etc. So this activity really showed me how much is really involved in even just one “itty bitty” standard.

Reflections on Standards and Backwards Mapping

I see VERY CLEARLY how much backwards mapping can really help. I think breaking standards/objectives/assessments down into these more achievable and measurable chunks make it easier to plan lessons (and not freak out!). While there is a lot teach in each of these standards, it has to be achievable in the time we have, right? So, we know it’s doable, and this is a great way to help me focus my lessons more and make sure I’m hitting all of the different skills and big ideas that I need to hit over a series of lessons.

For example, in this standard specifically, there are a lot of different elements that the students will need to practice and develop in order to really understand and eventually produce their own strong work, so it’s good for me to think about all of these different goals across subjects. That way, I could propose a writing piece on a Social Studies topic that has students writing an opinion (i.e. Is recycling a good thing?)

Reflections on Objectives for Students

Though I enjoyed writing the objectives for students, I struggled with making the words specific enough to my overall plans. Maybe I should have shown more examples of how I would achieve these goals instead of just stating the objectives themselves. Overall, I guess I found this activity easier than the others but maybe I misunderstood the activity (I thought the goal was to simply identify objectives, and only do that). I also thought I added additional reasons how these goals addressed a lot of different elements (the human dimension, critical thinking, creative thinking, etc.) in more further addressing how these objectives were SMART.

For the most part, I was attempting hit the different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (i.e. starting with identifying topics and reasons in other pieces, communicating those topics and reasons to the class and the teacher, eventually producing and creating their own work). I find it difficult sometimes to simply state objectives and somehow convey my specific goals without supporting it through my lesson plan. In activities such as this one, I have a lesson or lessons planned in my head and think about how I could describe that lesson through the terminology recommended in the required materials.

Reflections on Everything

I found the unit to be very helpful and pretty informative. I was excited to work on each part myself and to start honing in on more specific Teacher skills. I am eager to continue with this module and refine each of the skills related to planning.

Sources

English Language Arts Standards » Writing » Grade 4. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/W/4/

Clark, D.R. (January 12, 2015). Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains. Retrieved from http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/bloom.html

Effective Use of Performance Objectives for Learning and Assessment (For Use With Fink’s and Bloom’s Taxonomies). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ccoe.rbhs.rutgers.edu/forms/EffectiveUseofLearningObjectives.pdf

Standards and Backwards Mapping

I will be teaching a fourth grade class writing skills from the Common Core State Standards. The unit will be on writing an opinion piece. I’m specifically interested on working with writing as I have been teaching outside of the USA for five years and writing has not been my focus. I have generally been asked to focus on speaking and listening first, reading second, and writing as a very faraway third. So, in order to really tackle the writing aspect in my clinicals, I would like to give extra time to thinking of the best ways to teach writing (while of course, making it fun).  

According to the common core standards, the unit is to specifically, “Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information” (English Language Arts Standards).

In order to show that students have achieved these learning goals, students should be able to generate ideas for a writing piece, be able to draft their pieces, and be able to write and revise their own drafts to create a final product. As stated on the English Language Arts Standards, additional end goals include students being able to,

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.A – Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.B – Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.C – Link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (e.g., for instance, in order to, in addition).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.D – Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.

I will specifically focus on activities for the first and second sections of the standard above in this blog post (4.1.A and B), but more heavily on 4.1.A, which are the first two sections of the overall unit. I have focused on both because they overlap a bit and it makes sense to not teach one entirely exclusively, but to show instead how they work together and intertwine. This is about introducing a topic clearly, stating an opinion, and creating an organizational structure in which the ideas are related to the writer’s purpose. Sounds like a doozy to me! Students will have to accomplish the following proficiencies by the end of this unit:

  • Identify a topic that they have enough knowledge to support
  • Understand the difference between fact and opinion, and think of ways to support their topics using both
  • Create an organizational structure without the use of prompts to make their piece coherent
  • Support their overall topic or thesis by using their own ideas/reasons

Identifying a Topic

In order to identify a topic, and introduce the overall topics of writing opinion pieces, I think we should get reading. Scholastic.com offers a range of texts (for free) that are geared to elementary students. They have different themes and they have a range of writing styles, including persuasive writing styles whose topics are great for fourth graders (i.e. Should kids have a TV in their bedroom). I know my students could discuss that for hours! In reading, we can start to identify the different elements of the articles and preview all of the different skills. Following this, students can brainstorm with another about topics they might find fun to write about. We can move this into a class discussion and have students write about their topic ideas on the board and discuss together how we might support one topic with reasons, and then move back into class discussion.

Understanding the Difference Between Fact and Opinion

We can’t read about everything, or students will get bored, so it’s time for a game. This is a fun way to review fact vs. opinion from PBS Kids Pinky’s Fact or Opinion Game. Fact vs. opinion is something that is also covered in Grade 3 according to the Core Curriculum Standards, so most students should have pre-existing knowledge of what this means. After explaining it myself, I will let students watch this video in groups or pairs (depending on the tech available at school) and play the game to identify whether it is fact or opinion. It’s nice because this includes a quick review as well as assessment, so it shouldn’t take up too much time, and will allow us to move into…

Organizational Structures

At this point, we can review what we have covered through “Develop a thesis statement,” by Rebecca Hipps (2012). This video reviews what we have covered so far – identifying a topic, fact vs. opinion – and goes on to describe how we can use our facts and/or opinions to provide supporting reasons for our selected topics. It also does a great job of modeling do’s vs. don’ts. Following this students will fill out a graphic organizer that specifically asks for topics and reasons. The students can then work together to discuss their topic ideas and reasons for picking this topic. They will be asked to give feedback to one another to help one another begin forming strong topics.

Creating an Organizational Structure on Their Own

Though I will use graphic organizers again to help students visualize how to structure their writing pieces into a logical writing assessment, I will test them through a puzzle game to see if they can organize paragraphs. I will type up topics and supporting reasons and laminate them and leave them on desks. I will then group the students and have them move around through the stations and try to put the short paragraphs in order as quickly as they can. Though there won’t be any prizes for the fastest teams, the students will be asked to work quickly and sit down when their team thinks they are finished. I will then walk around and make sure their team is ready to move onto the next station.

Reading an Article To Confirm How To Use Your Own Ideas to Support Your Topic

We will read more articles, students reading on their own, to circle the main topic and underline supporting reasons. The lesson will be differentiated in that some students will read more articles based on their reading ability, and some will read fewer if they are struggling to get through the text. There will be at least four articles available so students that work more quickly have additional articles they can read and continue practicing the skill. The work will be handed in to the teacher to be marked.

Assessments

There will be assessments along the way to that will help me gauge if the students will be able to meet the desired end goals for 4.1.A and B. They will also allow me to give students feedback to help support the standard goals and make sure students are understanding the material and on the right track:

 

  • Read, Circle, Underline. – Identify the elements. The teacher will have students read a short article on their own and identify the topic by circling it, and underlining the three supporting reasons for the author to use that topic.
  • Arrange the Argument. – After the puzzle game, the teacher will ask the students to arrange sentences into a logical order on their own. They will have to arrange the topic and supporting sentences by putting them in the correct order. I will have them do this for at least three texts.
  • Write It Out! – Students will be asked to complete a short writing that introduces a topic and gives three reasons why they support that topic. The teacher will use a writing rubric to mark how well they are doing so far. This is an assessment that is just a stepping stone to the overall goal so that I can gain a better idea of where the students all are, and what we need to work on.

Each of these activities and assessments are on the road to reaching the overall goal: each student being able to write, Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information” (English Language Arts Standards). All of the activities will continue to build on one another to eventually have the students writing their own texts with confidence.

 

Sources

Arthur . Games . Binky’s Facts and Opinions | PBS Kids. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://pbskids.org/arthur/games/factsopinions/

Connell, G. (2015, March 4). Graphic Organizers for Opinion Writing | Scholastic.com. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2015/03/graphic-organizers-opinion-writing

English Language Arts Standards » Writing » Grade 4. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/W/4/
Hipps, R. (2012, October 23). Develop a thesis statement–Lesson 2 of 6 (Common Core W.4.1a). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8Gu3Md5r-M

Applying Rules and Procedures in the Classroom: Thanks Class Dojo

Classroom management comes together and sets the tone when the teacher is clear and direct. To create and maintain classroom management throughout the year, I feel that the teacher needs to keep these specific ideas in mind:

  • Start classroom management strategies from day 1
  • Include your students in the process
  • Be “with it,” occupy your space, and be proactive (Marzano 2007)

Not one specific classroom management style is better than the next, but it’s important to use strategies that work for you.

Decision Chart Diagram (<–Click Me)

Here is a look at how I have and will make decisions in my class. It provides an overview of rules and procedures, and how they are implemented.

Class Dojo: A Behavior Tracking System (Life Saver) 

So, first and foremost, I am a firm believer in students having a strong role in classroom management. For that reason, in the past, I have asked students to describe what their ideal classroom looks like, what behaviors they feel are acceptable in class, and what behaviors they feel should not be accepted in the classroom. I also think that all students need to have a good understanding of what I expect from them, and for this reason, I like to use this activity in the beginning of the school year in conjunction with Class Dojo.

Class Dojo is a program that ties behavior management to a reinforcement and consequence system that is illustrated through attractive avatars and a point system. The program is completely visual and makes it really easy to understand when a teacher is either adding a point for good behavior, or taking away a point for class disruption.

This program is a great asset as it incorporates a lot of different strategies to get students involved in their own behavior management. For one, it is incredibly visual, and students get to create their own avatars to their liking, getting them involved with the program itself online where they can track their own behavior, and giving them ownership over their own behavior. It also allows for the parent contingency, as teachers can send out codes to parents to get them signed up and tracking their student’s behavior online anytime they want.

For parents without internet access, the teacher can print out a clear and colorful behavior progress chart for each individual student to be signed and sent back the next day. This chart details all of the plus points the student has received and for what (i.e. three points for raising hand before speaking, two points for working hard), which might give the parent incentive to praise their child for their good behavior. Alternatively, if a student had a rough day and has lost points, the parent may aid in punishment by asking their child to try to work harder when at school.

Another great element is the ability to use the group contingency. The teacher can use this in one of two ways. First, the teacher can group students if they are working collaboratively with one another and award or take away points from the whole group at one time. This will give group members incentives to do well, as they don’t want to be the weakest link, and disappoint their fellow group members. Second, a teacher could use the group contingency to affect the whole class. For example, if a portion of the students are being noisy, the teacher could provide two options. If the class is quiet, listening, and attentive for the rest of the day, the teacher will award the whole class a point however, if a few students continue not to listen and talk over the teacher or one another, everyone in class will lose two points. Similar to the first example, more often than not, one student will not want to be the reason for the whole class to lose a point, and the rest of the students that are listening, will help the teacher enforce the quiet and listening rule for the rest of the day.

As if I haven’t praised Class Dojo enough yet (yes, it does deserve a sticker), there is one very important element that I have left out. Tracking behavior over the course of the day, a week, a month, alerts the teacher to trends in positive and negative behavior, and helps the teacher be proactive in their praise or consequences. For example, while recording behavior, I might notice that a specific student is getting a lot of minus points for talking out of turn. This now signals me to a potential problem I may have throughout the week, and I can stop the behavior before it happens by making sure I’m “occupying the room” by spending more time around that student’s desk or keeping my eye on the student so he/she knows that I’m on it.

Receiving Points: Acknowledging and Praising Good Behavior

Some examples of positive behaviors that I would praise and award points for throughout the day  are as follows:

  • Raising hand before speaking
  • Working hard
  • Helping another student in the class
  • Completing homework
  • Transitioning from one activity to another quietly and quickly

I will use this program to show students their point values throughout the day by putting it on the screen in front of class. This will keep the students aware of how their behaviors are being monitored, and show them their daily progress. In conjunction with giving points to individual students or groups of students, I will also use verbal and nonverbal cues to praise good behavior. For example, if a student is working hard, I may give them a thumbs up or a smile and a nod to show that I have noticed their great work. Or if the class lined up quickly and quietly, I might say to them, “You have lined up really well, thank you,” to praise them for their good effort. Not all positive behavior will make it into the Dojo system (i.e. respecting one another, good work with class jobs which will be discussed further below, etc.), so it will be important to employ additional strategies (specifically verbal and nonverbal cues) that praise students for good work.

Lastly, I will try to message one student’s parent per day, to praise one of their good behaviors. This will give me a chance to get to know the parents and let the students know that their good behavior isn’t going unnoticed.

Losing Points: A Series of Graduated Actions Addressing Negative Behavior with Direct Consequences

Some examples of negative behaviors that would lose points are the following:

  • Talking out of turn
  • Didn’t complete homework
  • Fooling around in class
  • Fighting (which would be weighted for minus two or three points)
  • Bullying (which would also be weighted for minus two or three points)

While simply receiving a negative point works well for some students, others will need additional consequences to fully understand that they’re current attitude isn’t acceptable in the classroom. In addition to subtracting points, I will use the following series of graduated actions addressing negative behavior in the classroom:

  • One minus point on Class Dojo: Looking at the student (Disapproving teacher look)
  • Two minus points: Moving Toward the student
  • Three minus points: Verbal warning
  • Four minus points: Private discussion with teacher
  • Five minus points: Move seat away from buddies and next to teacher

Any loss of points beyond here will have to be dealt with depending on the student’s behavior issue. For one, I would send home the student’s individualized Class Dojo behavior pie chart to the parents, and ask for it to be signed and returned the next day, ensuring that the parents knew that today was rough, and in hopes that they would have a chat with their child. If the behavior was very severe, I would contact the parents either via phone or directly on the Class Dojo private messaging service to discuss the next steps for fixing the issue.

For any ongoing behavior issues, I would work with the parents and student to create a behavior contract, agreed to by all parties, and use an individualized checklist appropriate for the students behavior issue, to work on changing that behavior over the course of the year.

Procedures: Additional Strategies to Help Keep Students Engaged and Promote Positive Behavior

While losing points are an easy way for students to visualize specifically when their behavior is inappropriate, and needs to be changed into positive behavior, there are other strategies that I would specifically employ to get students involved and amped about positive behavior.

One way to promote responsibility in class is to create class jobs. It allows for students that feel the need to get out of the chair more often, the opportunity do so in a constructive and helpful way. Additionally, they feel responsibility over their job and making sure that they complete their it well. For example, some great classroom jobs as noted in Classroom Jobs for All Your Student Helpers (Wolfe), I would like to incorporate the following jobs that help to provide “positive interventions to limit negative behavior in difficult students” (Possible Classroom Consequences):

  • Paper Handler: passes out and/or collects class work, homework, blank paper, and so forth.
  • Alphabetizer: puts stacks of notebooks or papers in alphabetical order so record-keeping is easier and faster for the teacher
  • Messenger: delivers notes to other teachers or to the office
  • Nurse Buddy: accompanies students to the nurse’s office if they are sick or hurt
  • Librarian: keeps library neat and recommends a favorite book during a morning meeting
  • Ambassador: helps visitors or new students learn their way around and keeps them company at lunch and recess; explains classroom projects or displays to parents or visitors with questions
  • Recycling Chief: ensures bins are emptied regularly and reminds students to recycle whenever possible
  • Pencil Patrol: sharpens all pencils that need to be sharpened at specific times during the day

It All Comes Together

Using all of these procedures for promoting positive behavior, praising the good and giving out consequences for the bad, work together to create a happy classroom with consistent class management rules. They provide clear direction to the students on good behavior and give the teacher the ability to track behaviors over the course of the year in case any need to be corrected.

Sources

Class Dojo. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.classdojo.com/

Consequences Hierarchies for Elementary – 3 Samples. (n.d.) Retrieved March 7, 2016 from http://www.consciousteaching.com/web/wp-content/uploads/Hierarchy.ELEMENTARY.pdf

Lucidchart. (n.d.). Retrieved March 07, 2016, from https://www.lucidchart.com/

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Possible Classroom Consequences. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2016 from http://flpbs.fmhi.usf.edu/Modelschools_08_09/Artifacts/Collier/Veterns%20Memorial%20Elementary/Classroom%20Consequences.pdf

Wolfe, S. (n.d.). Classroom Jobs for All Your Student Helpers | Scholastic.com. Retrieved March 07, 2016, from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/classroom-jobs-all-your-student-helpers

Looking at High Performance Learning Environments

In a world with increasing amounts of technology and distractions for students, we need to up our game as teachers. We have to figure out ways to keep their attention while making sure that they learn the knowledge necessary to keep up with the world around them. Below I will analyze three videos that illustrate different teaching styles that attempt to address the skills that students will need when they, one day, become adults.

 

3rd Grade Chinese–Math Class

It’s tricky to address the academic expectations in this video. The teacher uses engaging call and response techniques – especially inclusive of actions and singing – that clearly captures the students’ attention.

However, from the naked eye, it doesn’t seem that much precedence is being put on their independent thought. It appears that the majority of the math skills represented here are learned through rote memorization. After reading, Explainer: what makes Chinese maths lessons so good?, there seems to be a lot of pressure put on Chinese students specifically for the academic achievements in math (2014).

In reading more about Chinese societal norms, pressure to perform both academically and behaviorally in school are ingrained in the culture from a young age. These qualities are are taught by families and society and thus, issues don’t arise in the classroom as frequently as they do in Western countries (Campbell & Henn, 2015).

So what is really happening in this classroom? Though the students are learning mathematics through song, to me it seems that the focus is too heavily placed on math and memorizing facts. Students aren’t actually engaging with the content beyond repeating what is being said. There is something to say for it though, as Chinese students’ math scores blow American student’s math scores out of the water (Bidwell 2013). I think we would have to delve deeper into their instruction to know what is working for Chinese students. From this video and the article, it seems that pressure is the biggest element.

 

Whole Brain Teaching Richwood High – The Basics

When first watching this video and and seeing Whole Brain Teaching in action, I felt that it addressed behavior expectations more thoroughly than academic. The teacher is consistently using call and response, and action and response techniques to engage students. When delving deeper into this idea of pedagogy, the teacher is attempting to stimulate different areas of the brain – specifically the hippocampus, the motor cortex, the prefrontal cortex – by gaining each student’s attention first through call and – response, then engaging the students’ motor cortexes through motions and gestures, and finally the prefrontal cortex through teaching and explaining concepts taught in these ways between the students (Teachers tap into brain science to boost learning).

By addressing all of these different elements of the brain while teaching content, the teacher attempts to associate feelings and motion to achieve deeper understanding. The argument is that words and concepts are associated with these feelings and leads to a better knowledge of what each different concept or word means (Teachers tap into brain science to boost learning). We can see this in practice in Whole Brain Teaching Richwood High – The Basics, where students are chanting along page numbers, what they are meant to discuss on each page, as well as the speed reading techniques that are also accompanied by gestures.

Though I can understand how these techniques work well with students that need to move around and feel stuck when having to sit in one place, I also feel that this learning method could be distracting to other students. There is so much movement involved that there is very little time to sit and focus on a specific task. Personally, I think integrating bits of this method could be beneficial, but using it religiously throughout the day would be overwhelming and excessive.

 

Roller Coaster Physics: STEM in Action

Overall, I felt that this video exemplified the most rigorous level of expectations for both academics and behavior, as well as norms and procedures that had obviously already been set in place. It is easy to see when a classroom is operating like a well oiled machine during difficult activities that involve high levels of thinking as well as varied academic skills. In each of the video sections, all students were completely engaged with the activity as well as one another.

Throughout the students’ discussions on potential and kinetic energy, they also consistently used 21st century skills to achieve their overall goal: create an awesome roller coaster. Students collaborated as a team and let their skills determine what role they would play (i.e., accountant, organizer, engineer, etc.). They all worked together to problem solve the best strategies to create the roller coaster that they were working to build. Students also used ICT and Technology to help in creating their roller coasters and in creating a series of videos to film their final outcome.

The norms and procedures that were in place in this class were evident through the way the students addressed one another, spoke to the teacher, and stayed focused throughout their roller coaster lessons. At all times, students spoke about what they were aiming to accomplish and how they were planning to accomplish goals using terminology specific to the lesson, which leads me to believe that one of the teacher’s norms includes discussing a topic using academic terminology appropriate for the lesson.

Additionally, the students collaborated in such an open way with one another that I imagine the teacher has norms and procedures that relate to listening, respecting, and trusting one another. Not once during the video, did I hear another student talk over one another, sound exasperated, or seem frustrated. I know this happens in every classroom from time to time, but it was evident here that students really take the time to listen to each other, believe in what their peers have to say, and value sharing ideas.  

 

Summary

In my fourth grade class, I hope to take different elements from the latter two and steer very clear of the first. Though songs and repeating are fun to do every once in a while, I would not make them part of my everyday practice. I would much more like to incorporate the strategies used in the Roller Coaster Physics video. Here, we didn’t see students, we saw miniature adults taking charge of their own learning in a professional manner! They didn’t need to be cajoled into performing. Instead, they were able to have fun and take part in gaining knowledge through an activity that was interesting and informative.  

Granted, everyone needs to take a break from hard work sometimes. I think this is where Whole Brain Teaching comes into play. Completing activities while moving around and accessing different layers of the brain is an excellent way to get students out of their seats, having fun, and moving or dancing around. But personally, I also wouldn’t rely on this technique too heavily. While it might work for specific students, it could be very distracting to others. Focusing instead on activities that they enjoy that support their academic needs is the clear and obvious winner.

 

Sources

3rd grade Chinese–math class.avi. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7LseF6Db5g

Bidwell, A. (2013, December 3). American Students Fall in International Academic Tests, Chinese Lead the Pack. US News and World Report. Retrieved February 27, 2016 from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/12/03/american-students-fall-in-international-academic-tests-chinese-lead-the-pack

Explainer: What makes Chinese maths lessons so good? (2015, March 25). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-makes-chinese-maths-lessons-so-good-24380

Critical Practices for Anti-Bias Education. (2014) Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved from February 11, 2016 from http://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/PDA%20Critical%20Practices_0.pdf

Framework for 21st Century Learning – P21. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2016, from http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework

Henn, S. C. (n.d.). Chinese teachers blame WELFARE STATE for lack of British pupils’ discipline. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/595616/Are-Our-Kids-Tough-Enough-Chinese-School-BBC-education-Shanghai-classroom-behaviour

Roller Coaster Lab. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://pilotrobertmace.edu.glogster.com/roller-coaster-lab/

Roller Coaster Physics: STEM in Action. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/teaching-stem-strategies

Teachers tap into brain science to boost learning. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/teachers-tap-brain-science-boost-learning/

Whole Brain Teaching Richwood High – The Basics. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iXTtR7lfWU