Monday, March 31, 2014

Perfecting Procedures

Moving students to a new activity can create challenges.  Whether I need to transition to a new lesson or take my class to another part of the building, the procedure needs to be clean, or precious instructional time is wasted.  

No matter how well a teacher describes what a transition should look like, many students still don't share the same vision. To help with this problem, I designed a poster that illustrates what each procedure should look like. The procedure is shown on the poster using a rubric of performance from a 1 (poor) to a 3 (excellent).

As the students get ready for the procedure, I hold up my hand indicating where they are in their performance (1,2, or 3). They know we don't move on until they reach a 3.

These posters are displayed in my room in places that will remind the students of what is expected during that procedure.  I make these posters every year with each new class, and the students LOVE being the stars in each poster.  

I use music or another signal to begin these transitions.  It's exciting to watch each class work as a team while running the procedures. Periodically during the year I may find the class getting 'relaxed' with the procedures, and that's the best time to review them. Procedures are like any skill taught at school; they should be reviewed and practiced when needed. When procedures run smoothly, I have more instructional time, and more learning takes place.

I am a huge fan of cooperative learning, and I use Kagan strategies daily in my instructional planning.  I find that students who are used to working in groups, sharing responsibilities, and listening to others are better able to complete tasks and run through daily procedures with less problems.

Individual procedures such as lunch count can take away precious moments from instructional time as well.  By using a chart like this one, the students each mark their own lunch count as they arrive that morning. I am able to quickly see who is absent and figure the lunch count without asking questions to the whole class.  The students are working, the procedure is done, and we are on our way to something great that day!

These are just a few of the ideas I have for running procedures.  Next up - line up 'cheers'! 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Finding the Best Strategies for Herding Cats

Classroom management can be one of the most challenging parts of teaching.  I have found it's all about the expectations I set and how consistent I am with those expectations.  For me, classroom management isn't just a lesson you teach once in a while.  It's a set of strategies you 'pepper in' while teaching every lesson during the day.  I am often asked to share some of the strategies I have developed over the years.  I am a huge fan of Rick Smith, author of Conscious Classroom Management, and Harry Wong, author of The First Days of School.  Many of my ideas were inspired by these two great educators.   My next few blogs will cover some of the strategies I use in my class that help me so I don't feel like I'm herding cats all day.

Music Transitions

I enjoy using music as a signal for procedures.  These kids have heard my voice all day, and I am sure it ends up sounding a lot like the teacher on the Peanuts cartoon.  Rather than telling my students what to do repeatedly, I use music to signal transitions.  This takes some time at the beginning of the year to teach, but once the procedure is practiced and mastered, the results are amazing.  Transitions are smooth, quick, and calm.

Here are a few of the procedures I use music for:
  • Morning starters 
  • Quick writes in journals
  • To begin or end a group or partner activity
  • Class clean up
  • Rotating tables or centers
  • Lining up for lunch
  • Leaving for a break such as recess
  • End of the day reflections

The music I choose has to have clean lyrics, obviously, so I use a lot of oldies.  Classical is also a must, along with any other instrumental music that fits the intensity of the activity.  I'm a big fan of classical guitar.  A clean up song is going to have a strong beat, while a journal writing song is going to be more soft and reflective.  Any song involving movement needs a beat, but also a message that's positive and in control.

The playlist on my iPod is long, but here are a few of my favorites:
  • The Hustle (my favorite clean up song)
  • Listen to the Music
  • Help!
  • Like to Get to Know You Well
  • We are Family
  • Respect
  • Takin' Care of Business
  • Sweet Home Alabama
  • ABC
  • Celebration
  • That's The Way I like It

The list goes on, but those are just a few of my favorites.  For me, transitions go well with music.  Next blog... visual signals for transitions.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

2014 Utah Teacher of the Year

This blog is my chance to express my passion for teaching and learning.  I love to teach, but I'm the first to admit it - teaching can be tough.  There are so many elements that make up the science of instructional practice, and it can be difficult to put the elements together in the right combination. Some days are smooth, the energy is amazing, and I feel incredible.  Other days are more frustrating, the elements are off, and the results I wanted are out of reach. Those days teaching can seem like a riddle that can't be solved.                                            

As I embark on the journey of representing the teachers in my state, I want to begin sharing some of the ways I have solved the riddle.  I have seen so many amazing changes in education in my 26 years in the classroom. Innovations in technology, printing, school architecture, even basic classroom equipment have all helped make teaching easier. All of that is worth nothing, of course, without a great teacher in the classroom.  Here's to the joy of a day spent working hard and having fun in the greatest profession in the world!