Public schools gear up for new standards | standards, victorville, gear – Victorville Daily Press

“This is going to be my restaurant,” the fifth-grader said proudly, without breaking her focus. “All my tables are different shapes.”

Ulloa, who attends Eagle Ranch Elementary in Victorville, created detailed plans for a pizza restaurant, which was just one of many group assignments that she and her peers have been tasked with doing in their GATE class.

According to Eagle Ranch Principal Peter Livingston, the school has started to implement the Common Core State Standards, an instruction method designed to teach students to develop higher-level thinking skills, especially in English, language arts and math. Livingston said that group-work is one of the trademarks of the new Common Core standards.

via Public schools gear up for new standards | standards, victorville, gear – Victorville Daily Press.

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Discovering Type with Teens (Book Review)

If your school is like mine, you are struggling to keep classroom control at this stage in the year. We have just finished our state testing and the kids are thinking about Summer vacation every day. I am integrating Science more into the curriculum which is helping a lot. Weaving many different objectives into the day can help when the kids are “done” with their year, mentally anyway. We need a special ingredient to keep our lessons effective.

As with objectives and subject matter, psychological type is an important thing to weave into your plans. A new book just released, Discovering Type with Teens, is an amazing resource when looking into the different ways your students process information. Mollie Allen, Claire Hayman, and Kay Abella are the authors. They offer excelling assessment guides on learning exactly what “type” of kids you are teaching. Knowing this information can help through all parts of the year but certainly the last few weeks.

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Three Areas of Student Assessment – a modest proposal

1619_131794753693811_1561166653_nToday on my Facebook, I reposted (shared) this photo of Bruce Springsteen and his quote. One of my friends challenged me to share what I would do differently so I decided to blog three areas of student assessment I would recommend. These can be used in place of standardized assessments we have now or in addition to. They would give us a less restrictive measurement of success.

1) At the parent conference, create assessment goals. Students all have different gifts and needs. If parents and teachers get together, the best goals can be made for the child. It would probably be impractical to have individual assessments for everyone. At the same time, I think if we tried doing this, a set of assessment “types” would come into focus. Teachers could make a set of open-minded assessments to help a child grow. Part of this assessment should be to test a student’s understanding of real life jobs as they exist now (not 50 years ago).

2) Make music and the arts a requirement in school. I agree charter schools can do a good job at focusing on the arts shouldn’t all kids get that exposure? Forget what other countries do on their tests, we are trailblazers. Only we decide what we want our kids to be exposed to.

3) Academic assessments must be there. Teachers should have full access to the material the kids will be tested on and testing should be. I thought the standardized testing of the CDE was good for the past 15 years but it shouldn’t be the sole assessment. At the same time, this aspect cannot be ignored.

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The Written Behavior Log – A Win/Win/Win

20120817-141710.jpgProbably the best student behavior related advice I ever got as a new teacher was to “Write things down.” Keeping a written record of things students do is powerful when dealing with parents, the Principal, and when seeking to improve the school’s behavioral programs. It carries more weight than your simple “recollection” of events. If Johnny misbehaves, the parent and administration wants to know exactly how and when he did so. This can be a fancy three ring binder you create or just a lined sheet of paper on a clipboard. The only essential is that it must be written in regularly. It’s so important, I say it should be part of any sound classroom management.

3Is2Win 1: The parent. We live and teach in a time where the teacher/parent relationship is constantly being redefined. For one student, you are the “guide,” the “mentor.” This is of course the ideal situation we hope for with all our students. Unfortunately, there are other parents who can be hostile toward teachers. They can complain to no end and even enter the classroom sometimes to share their discontent about their child. These are the ones we must give our full attention. They may have a real concern but in other cases, they may just want someone to hear their complaints. In either case, you need to be a listener #1. Imagine if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you want to be heard? What if your child was being bullied? On the other hand, what if your child were accused of bullying? I have seen upset parents calm down quite quickly simply because I didn’t react or reply, I only listened and gave active listening feedback. If something has happened with their child on the offending end, you will have a much better case if you have a written behavior log. You can examine your well reasoned points if you are lucky. Without a behavior log of the events their child was involved in, you don’t have a leg to stand on and they may try to assault your character, saying you have no proof or you make things up. Let me not here that the goal of a teacher should always be so find a positive solution with parents. We, in a real sense, work for them. We do not, however, have to be at the mercy of ones who seek to disparage us because we are allegedly disorganized or without proof.

With_SupesWin #2: Your Boss. The Principal will greatly appreciate your log as well. I think they have one of the hardest jobs in education. They field complaints all day as well as attempt to foster an ideal learning environment. When they get a phone call about a child in your class, you can get out your log and show your observations. Without the log, it is your word against the parent and that put the Principal in a very precarious situation. We all want the needs of the child to be met. The Behavior log can help us to that end, even if it documents what the child has done wrong. We can look at positive solutions. If you simply try to recall what has happened in class, you run the risk of being the problem! That’s right, a Principal may choose to see you as the problem even when the child has done wrong. The solution? Write it down as it happens. This can also be a great tool to pull out during a time of teacher evaluation.

IMG_0045Win #3: The School. The best reason to have a behavior log is to help constant improvement of the school’s behavior plan. You can bring that information to a school site council meeting (or other meeting) and make informed statements about what behavior problems are occurring. If multiple teachers see trends, it can be possible to brainstorm solutions. You can show statistics at parents meetings as well as any meetings that concern student behavior and safety. This benefits the school and the child as well as the family. Most schools in the 21st century recognize the value of those three entities.

To close, I encourage you to keep a behavior log in your classroom. It will foster your professionalism with parents and administration as well as benefit the school. Sounds like a win/win/win right?

Please leave a comment! This is a blog that thrives on other peoples’ opinions. Thank you in advance for commenting.

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Rethinking Your “Regular Stuff” in a Classroom

What good are the loftiest goals if you don’t have the nuts and bolts. In 4th grade, this means a solid and open instruction space and homework. These are two areas I have opened up lately and done a full rebuild with. When the everyday tasks are available on a daily basis in an accessible way, the teacher can explore into the depths. When they are clogged or neglected, those loftier goals might as well be unsaid because they will never happen. There is hope. Take the time to clear a better space to teach.

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Take the time to clear your workspace. Fill it with only that which you need to instruct.

Hemingway wrote about a clean, well lighted space. I’d change clean to ordered and apply it to teaching. The cluttered mind is far with worry and unreal expectations. Take the time to order your workspace. On my personal blog/online diary, I wrote recently about enjoying the regular road to achieve enlightenment (of sorts). This is also true of teaching. I know are all overwhelmed but I know from experience if you take the time to uproot and replant your regular stuff, like a teaching space and homework, new doors will open up and you will be a stronger teacher than you ever imagined.

What is the “regular stuff” of your classroom. Could it use some rethinking?

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Small Growth is Still Growth

Many of my students just got their reports cards and they included large growth in grades. A few on the other hand, had to see what they have been seeing for years up to now: flat growth or decline in scores. There is only one way to take this: they need to improve. I don’t tell parents of my kids that their children have to be the highest in the class. I just want them to improve. If there was a 2 in one area last trimester, we are looking for a 3 and so on.

The challenge to the high kids is to maintain their high grades. Having said that, the children with lower grades have nowhere to go but up. Small, incremental growth is still growth. When I ran in high school we called it “running your own race” and making a “personal best.”

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Focus on Three Things (or less) Today

tumblr_m8z4yltfxY1qiph2fo1_500If you are a high achiever who has 110 things on her/his to-do list today, this post may not be for you.  If you want to be a high achiever but get overwhelmed at times, this might be more suited to you. I was talking to a new friend, Justin, the other day through emails about how we can get over indulgent in work and actually be less effective.  That conversation made me think up a challenge post to my readers:  I want to tell you to focus on only three things today. You decide what they should be.  You’ll be tempted to focus on more, but limit yourself.

As a teacher, I tend to get bogged down in all the demands from the district and parents.  Sometimes, it can sap my energies.  The professional solution is to focus my energies with an almost tunnel vision on no more than 3 things.  I can still do other things, but my success for the day will be determined on whether I got those three things accomplished.  For example, tomorrow my 3 are: 1) Multiple meaning words, 2) Finalize my parent conferences calendar, and 3) Teach the final 2 math concepts we’ll be testing next week.  There are many other things I could/should be worried about, but these three are the most important.  I will name the day a success when these three things are done.

It is the regular attention to goals that makes me feel like a great teacher.  I wasn’t born great and I do not remain great just because of what I have done.  My puritan upbringing cringes at calling myself “great,” but I am simply referring to the data that says: I set goals and achieve them.  To me, for any occupation or endeavor in life, that is success.

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Diary Entry 7/7/2017 – I Love to Feel the Rain in the Summertime

A few cool things to share this morning, this:

My wife’s friend at work picked this us at a record store since my wife shared I was a big Alarm fan. I’m in awe!

And this …

Sarah and I went to the movies last night.

Oh and one other thing, I got called up to be on the panel Sunday on the LAMBcast. My good friend MovieROB is Leading because he won MOTM with Saving Private Ryan. I watched it yesterday while eating buffalo wings. I don’t mean any disrespect, but they were so good!

Life is good! I’ll be wise to not fly too high as it isn’t how high you jump but how straight you walk when you hit the ground again. An old church quote I picked up that has served me well.

Damien Scott

 

 

Power of Icon

Power of Icons in ClassroomKids get icons in their face every day on tv and the internet. My kids must see Spongebob in their sleep since their tv watching time seems to consist mostly of him. When they heard the song or see the icon on a fast food cup, they are dialed in waiting to take part. It’s trust built over time. Teachers have some of that power and we can use it to our advantage. Why not fill their heads with some different ones, with valuable meaning? On my desk I have a carved buffalo statue. My students walk by me every day and see it. I share with them the buffalo is a sign of gentle strength for me. Sometimes I will refer to him in my teaching, pointing out the characteristics that I admire. I even go so far as to name my student’s “Riley’s Buffaloes.” They know it’s my favorite animal, an icon is on my desk, and we identify with the buffalo by making him our mascot. In this way, I have an unwritten connection with my students. I have even developed a quick line drawing I put on the board and on their papers when I grade highly.

It’s the “stamp of Midas.” There is a power in icons visible and emphasized in class. I’ve even been looking for a buffalo puppet. I still remember icons on the wall of my childhood classrooms. One was a cat and dog together that read “Be Kind.” What a powerful icon that it stays with me even now at 45 years of age. Besides that, what a great message! That brings up my second point, to drive an icon home, you must have a worthy meaning assigned to it. As a student of linguistics in college I learned a lot about the sign and the signified. It could be a sports banner of your favorite team that gets kids to rally around your lesson. It could be a figurine or a poster. It really doesn’t matter as long as it has value to you. Kids will sense it and soak it up like a sponge. If you can tie the icon into your teaching you’ll find the power is quite noticeable, even at the beginning. The next time you are vacationing or at a sporting event, think about an acon you could add to your classroom to attach meaning to. The greatest meaning is a thirst for learning.

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Circle the Keywords

Unraavel is an acronym used by many teachers I know. It was created by Larry Bell and it has a specific goal to increase test scores. The second “a” stands for “Are you circling the keywords” and this step of Unraavel is really the most important when it comes to reading comprehension questions. Of course, I can only speak from my experience and my classtroom. My students are about half English Learners and almost 100% socioeconomically disadvantaged. Circling the keywords in the test questions guides their focus on “what to look for” back in the text.

I tell my students they have a better chance of hitting a target than just shooting with no target. The keywords may be chosen incorrectly at first, though the kids get wise quickly, but at least they are traveling back into the text with a compass of some kind. Choosing the right keywords can be fun when kids are rewarded for choosing good ones. Here is an example:

After reading a piece of text about the Incan Indians, a question on the test asks,

About how old was the Incan pottery?

The students would circle “how old” and “pottery.”

Now they are armed to go back into the text looking for these two keywords. I tell my kids they have most everything they need by finding keywords in the text. At that point they can find the exact answer in that context.

Unraavel is just one way to teach test taking strategies for standardized tests but I have found with my students in this given demographic, it is a very good one ideed.

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Teacher Tips for Relieving Anxiety

Teachers sometimes experience high levels of stress. Of course, all professionals do to some degree. Usually it doesn’t last long but when it does, it should be addressed. It can be a small deal or something that prevents you from relaxing at work or at home. Everyone has some measure of anxiety. When you are anxious, it is difficult to relax and when you can’t relax it can produce ill side effects. Mental health treatment centers are best avoided since you have to be at work each morning teaching your students! I am a big proponent of “mental hygiene” to keep one mellow.  For me that includes a fairly regular habit of relaxation. I try to get in 10-20 minutes a day in addition to exercise. Here are some healthy tips my doctor gave me for coping with everyday anxiety. If you are not able to relax, talk to your doctor:

Control your worry. Make a time to worry each day for 30 minutes. Try not to dwell on what “might” happen but rather focus on what is happening. Then let go of the worry and go on with your day.

Learn ways to relax. These may include yoga or deep breathing.

Use muscle relaxation.

Exercise.

Get plenty of sleep.

Avoid alcohol and drug abuse.

Limit caffeine to 1-2 cups of coffee a day.

Steps to deep breathing: 1) Lie down on a flat surface. 2) Place one hand on your stomach, just above your navel. Place the other hand on your chest. 3) Breathe in slowly and try to make your stomach rise a little.

Meditation and relaxation has medical healing benefits just like exercise. These are some tips for coping with anxiety.

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Father Damien of Molokai

One character from history, biography, and film has always held my attention: Fr. Joseph Damien de Veuster.

Tell us about a favorite character from film, theater, or literature, with whom you’d like to have a heart-to-heart. What would you talk about?

Source: It Builds Character | The Daily Post

“Damien of Molokai” is a low budget movie about a real life priest who self-exiled himself to a leper colony to care for their souls. Lepersy was 100% deadly when diagnosed back then. To be sent to the island was to receive a death sentence. What’s more? No one could ever return to the mainland.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Damien. I’d love to meet with him and discuss what it was like finally choosing to go to the island and sealing his earthly fate. I’d ask him about experiences paying the sick visits. How horrible was it? How did he manage to encourage people in such a state? I know his stories or wisdom would help me be a better teacher and person in general.

The Best Behavioral Strategy is a Dynamite Lesson Plan

My vision of the: “Dynamite Lesson Plan” aka great Behavior and Classroom Management. I started this blog in early 2007 and it’s evolved to something I am quite proud of today. I named the blog after something my master “teacher-school” teacher told me after observing me the first time. My class was out of control and it was borderline embarassing. I asked him for strategies to keep their behavior under control and he said:

“The best classroom behavior management is a dynamite lesson plan.”

It’s been years since he told me that and it is still the most true thing I’ve ever been told about teaching.

People are drawn to passion and form like a moth to a lightbulb. If you tell a kid he has to learn math he might buy in. If you tell a kid that every chair in the world will fall apart if people don’t learn math, you’ll have buy in.

A dynamite lesson plan is a direction. It simply inspires a plan. After that, the effective teacher must get creative and use a method. I use EDI as my lesson template but there are other good ones. This blog has become a place where I explore ways to create dynamite lesson plans. I appreciate the input I have in the comments and I hope to get more teachers and students involved in what I do here. My hope is it will inspire teachers and empower students to be great and score high.

Here’s to a dynamite future as we continue to discover the parts of a dynamite lesson plan.

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A Teacher Should Strive to be Great Just as any Butcher, Baker, or Candlestick Maker

When the Secretary of Education, Jack O’Connell, visited our school, I was asked to do an EDI lesson. This is me teaching “cause and effect” with the board members, Sec. O’Connell, and other honored guests.

There is much being said about this article where a Judge in California has deemed teacher tenure “unconstitutional.” A few people have been kind enough to ask me what I think. I thought I’d blog my response to all that here rather than in a confining comment box on social media. Here is the news article I am responding to if you haven’t read it. Below is my reaction to the article:

Teacher tenure has been a popular issue in the media for about ten years. Unfortunately, most the people writing, talking, and making movies about it are jumping to conclusions and setting up a straw man fallacy. Like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger did, I believe in unions. In the 1950’s that may have pigeon-holed me as a communist. When I think of unions I think of the part of the constitution that reads basically this: “Each individual in endowed with … inalienable rights … the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I have seen teacher’s unions help people keep those rights. If we are to destroy unions, we destroy something good for humanity.

Please know that I feel, to become and stay a teacher, you must have a deep care for the development of young people. Those young people, namely students, should be the reason you teach. Because the profession has a “human” product and not a monetary one, I think there should be a way to get rid of bad teachers who under-perform consistently and don’t care about the human side. The first 2 years a teacher is evaluated and observed 3 times a year. After that, every other year once a year. If the teacher gets a substandard evaluation, they are re-evaluated the following year. In addition, a tenured teacher is not immune from discipline, at least not in the schools I have worked at.

I feel a teacher should strive to be great just as any butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. Next year will be my 16th year in teaching and I have never viewed tenure as a “protection” for me to under-perform. I am always working hard to be the best teacher I can be for my students. Sure, there are under-performing teachers out there but there are also under-performing butchers, bakers and … well you get it. How we weed them out of teaching is a very good question.

Anyway, non-union people may disagree but that’s what I think. I think we should make working with kids a more attractive profession so there is more competition. Then, the best will be hired. As a teacher I don’t feel as if my profession is as respected as it once was in society. Some stuff I read these days, mostly from conservatives, is downright hateful and ignorant about teaching. Sometimes I think the confusion about what teachers do leads to hateful monolgues that wrongly vilify unions. Who knows what the future of teaching will hold. I know one thing for sure, society will always need teachers in one way or another with or without tenure. Don’t believe the hype, believe in our need for great teachers.

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