Monday, August 15, 2011

First Days of School

Most of the people close to the teacher side of me would probably agree that classroom management is my biggest struggle.  Notice, I didn't say biggest "problem" because struggle is a better word for trials, failures, and successes I've found in my first 9 years of teaching.

In my ideal world, students respect me because they admire my content knowledge.  They are studious students because they want to attain knowledge.  Instead, I've learned that students respect me when I show concern and respect for them and build relationships.  But building relationships is such a broad topic, that I'll focus first on the things I can do or avoid doing during the first days of school.

Keep kids busy from bell to bell at the beginning.  Show them that we've got things to accomplish.  I saw great success with a class when, for the first week or two, they came in to find materials already on their desks.  They knew I meant business.
Use your personal sense of humor.  If that includes sarcasm, go for it, as long as students aren't the target of the humor.
Call out behaviors in front of the whole class.  Kneel down to address them, or take them to the hall if necessary.
Joke around with the jokesters.  It blurs the line so that neither of you know when the relationship got out of hand.
Poke fun at students.  Instead, poke fun at yourself.

I was once told by a principal that I needed to sit down with the class and establish a list of norms.  I tried and it failed miserably.  As I tried to find out what "setting norms" looks like, most techniques seemed to elementary, too artificial, and (worst of all) could probably be taken to a level of manipulation and terrorizing by students inclined to do so.  I did an opening activity with 8th graders once where they brainstormed what the teacher should/shouldn't do and what students should/shouldn't do.  Possible reasons for the chaos and failure that ensued?  Handing over power to 8th graders before any relationship had been established?  Whatever the reason, I found the following article, and it sounded much more like my style.

Are Classroom Rules Needed?
  • I love that the author spends the first weeks forming relationships and building a team atmosphere.  He actually makes more headway on the curriculum than the teachers who raise an eyebrow at the beginning.  A good class really does learn more and has fewer distractions.
  • He doesn't make a list of classroom rules.  He tells his students "I only create rules if we need to have them. We only have them in my classes if students can’t respect one another and me."
  • Once you know your students, you can address problems with questions like "“I know you’re better than this” or “I know you aren’t really acting like yourself".  You can't ask questions like that if you don't know your students.
  • When it is time for the "Come to Jesus" talk with a student, it may go like this:
Me: Why are you here?
Student: Because I have to take this class.
Me: Why do you have to take this class?
Student: ‘Cause it’s required to graduate.
Me: Why do you want to graduate?
Student: ‘Cause I want to get a good job.
Me: Why do you want a good job?
Student: ‘Cause I want to make money.
Me: Why do you want to make money?
Student: ‘Cause I want to buy stuff, and I want and to take care of my family.
Me: That’s your goal. That’s the dream. This class is not what you’re after — it’s the family and money. This is just a step on the way. What happens if you don’t complete this step?
Student: I don’t get to my goal.
Me: That’s your motivation. Close your eyes and picture the dream and think about that while you’re here. You don’t have to like me or the class, but you do want to reach your dream. Let’s do it together. I’m here to help you reach your dream, but I need you to help me, too.
  • I often have trouble finding the right wording during these talks, but this sounds like something that would fit in my comfort zone and be believable.

Part of our beginning-of-the-year PD is PBS (Positive Behavior Support).  I'm really hoping that what I hear gives me more ideas for building relationships and handling misbehavior.  I'm nervous that it will be another annoying acronym presented in a theoretical, feel-good way that doesn't transfer to teaching my students.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Algebra 2 Intervention

I have the exciting opportunity to be one of the first teachers at my HS to lead Algebra 2 Intervention this coming year.  Another teacher is doing Algebra 1 intervention, and together, we will invent this new class which is designed to support students who have a likelihood of struggling in their math class.  Students are enrolled in intervention before the main class even begins.  I've decided to try to bring together all of my thoughts and ideas about the class here before I begin planning with my colleagues.

Personalized Computer Instruction
The district is shelling out a good chunk of money for a computer program called PLATO Learning that will be our resource for remediation on pre-requisite skills that individuals are lacking.

Having taught many of the students on my class list in 8th, 9th, and 10th grade, I know that building a relationship will be essential for having them buy in to the intervention class.  I want them to know that I am their coach, cheerleader, and fan.  And they are a team.  This will likely be slightly easier with the Algebra 2 kids than the Alg 1, which is possibly why I'm so eager to experience this new support class.

I know this class CANNOT be students sitting in front of their computer clicking away (most likely disinterested, possibly angry) for 50 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  In order to make sure I provide enough variety, I'd like to have a plan which is (necessarily) flexible based on the students needs.  A sample weekly plan is included below.

Weapons of Math Intervention
     Preteaching/Previewing  I've always preached to my students to spend 5 minutes previewing an upcoming section from the textbook.  I doubt anyone has taken my advice.  I see using this idea in the form of a rapid-fire intro to several upcoming lessons in their main class, including actual example problems.  The goal is not for them to come away from the session with any skills (an interesting concept for me!), but to build confidence and some vocabulary for the presentation of the "new" material in their main class.  *They have an advantage for likely the first time in their math career.*
     Journaling  Self-reflection is a main theme of many of the articles I've read on this topic.  I see the journal being used in a once-a-week, prompted writing session combined with short entries throughout the week.  Possible entries/prompts may include:
  •  Safe, opinion questions such as "Is it important in this day and age to be able to compute a 20% tip in your head?"
  • Reflection on homework, note-taking, or participation habits from the week
  • Reflection on what has helped in Intervention
  • One new thing you want to try next week, reflection on something new you tried since last time
  • Do this problem and explain your thinking step-by-step
  • Quickly jot down 3 things you caught during the Preview Lesson
  • Name one type of problem you feel confident about, one you need more practice on, and one you really don't understand.
     Grouping  Partners-of-the-week solve a warm-up problem from the curriculum together each day.  Small groups (halfs or thirds of the class) solve problems at the board while talking through their thinking (as the rest of the class does PLATO).
     Celebrating   Possibly a box where students can brag about successes, indicating whether they want their name shared or not.  On Fridays, have a "brag party" to share and celebrate with the class.  Noisemakers?  Snacks?  This is so stepping outside my box! 
     Skill Building  Explicit instruction on skills successful students possess (for use outside of math class too!).  For example: note-taking, test-taking, test anxiety fighters, study skills, homework skills, self-advocacy, class participation.
     Sentence Sense-Making  I prepare sentences such as "The discriminant of a quadratic function tells us how many real roots it has" and "Since 10 cubed is 1000, the common log of 1000 is 3".  Students rate each sentence on how much sense it makes to them.  I can pull small groups based on their answers to remediate.
     Correcting Errors  I make up a homework assignment completed by some fictitious and goofy-named kid.  Students must find the pre-determined number of errors on the paper.  Bonus "Packer Pride Points" for finding extras.

Weekly Sample Lesson Plan
Each day, a warm-up problem from the current curriculum.
Mondays: Review in the form of... "Tell me everything you know/remember about ________."  Brainstorming as someone records ideas/examples on the board.  PLATO for remaining time.
Tuesdays: Preview/Preteach, Journal, then PLATO
Wednesdays: PLATO, then Sentence Sense-Making
Thursdays: Small groups presenting problems at the board/PLATO
Fridays:  Celebrations, Correcting Errors, Skill-Building, weekly Journal entry

Other thoughts
I have a student teacher for the first semester.  This will make small groups so much easier!
The schedule will depend on what I learn about PLATO.  I have zero experience.  If it's a pain to get into the program and get started, I'll likely have 2-3 days per week for just PLATO.  I like that Friday is PLATO-free.  They'll probably welcome the break.
I don't want to give any time for homework from their main class.  It sends the message that they'll have unlimited time to get homework done, and that I'm there to make sure they get everything right.

Things I read that inspired my ideas
Teacher Interventions-To-Go Series, Intervention Strategies for Mathematics Teachers, Math Intervention at Cascade MS, Samantha Douglas - Give 100%?