Thursday, January 2, 2014

Resolutions for 2014: Four Must Dos for the Classroom.

Are you trying to make a decision about what you should focus on in your lessons? You should be.
How could I best help my students?
We all make New Year's resolutions. Why not one about four "Must Do's" that will help you help your students the most. No matter what programs are out matter what some guru wants to sell you...No matter what the political arena believes about efficiency and teaching...Experience, working with school children and driving change in schools, has shown me that if we focus on the following four concepts...our students, our kids, will do so much better at all levels. So what am I talking about?

1. Formative Assessment

It is important when delivering the instructional content to find out what the kids know or don't know. The teacher has to make time to create assessments that are non-graded that provide information about whether the child understands. The teacher then uses that information to make adjustments to instruction. This is all purposeful, not random or by accident. It is useless if the information gathered is not used to adjust the instructional process.

2. Feedback

It is extremely important to provide instructional, not judgmental, feedback to your kids. They have to know what they do not understand or have not done correctly. Feedback is an art. It needs to be timely and informative. Timely, by the way, is not a week later or after the next test has been administered. Instructional feedback explains, whereas judgmental feedback is...good job, best work ever, try harder, yuck... Hopefully, you get the picture. It is also important to point out that an X is not instructional feedback.

3. Vocabulary in the Content Area

If a child cannot read or use the essential content vocabulary then he will fail. The kids have to be able to understand the words. That means the teacher has to use vocabulary strengthening instructional strategies like, identifying the essential vocabulary, creating and using interactive word walls, previewing, pictures, graphic organizers, reviewing, Frayer models, etc. This does not mean memorization of massive lists of words. It does not mean that the kids are working with the words out of context. It takes time and once again vocabulary instruction is purposeful.

4. Grading Practices

Finally, have you had someone else analyze your grading practices? I mean look critically at what you do? Are your weights of your assignments out of balance? Do you use toxic practices like zeroes on a 100 point scale? Really, do the almost never can be overcome and a child will give up. Do you rely on averages? Why? Does it matter to you that the child is performing better toward the end of the unit but his grade is low because he did not get it in the beginning? Do you have many, many grades therefore making them worthless? Do your grades include behaviors (tardies, disruptions, subtractions for late work,etc) as well as points or percentages for the academics? If so, it means that you have ameliorated your grades by combining different information. Grades like these do not represent the student's level of understanding the content. How about grades for group work, projects and notebooks? Ask yourself. Who is doing the project? Does the notebook grade reflect understanding of the content? Group grades are just not right. The kid has no control of the other group members.

In designing your plans for the rest of the year, you will have better success if you institute these four "Must Do's": Formative Assessment, Feedback, Vocabulary in the Content Area, and eliminate toxic grading practices. You will have a greater understanding of what the children know, don't know, and need. Try it. It costs you nothing and, if you are true to using these tools, you will be able to drive the kids to greater understanding and hence, success on the road to graduation and after graduation.

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