Inspiration for New Teachers: The Tortoise, the Hare, and Personal Bests

This post is dedicated to the new teaching degree students who are feeling the sting of our times in education. Don’t give up! Teachers, especially new ones, are under a lot of pressure sometimes to create the best walls, the best lesson plans, and the best APPEARANCE to the teaching “pack” around them. I remember when I was starting out back in the late nineties when I sometimes felt like all the veterans around me were like the “hare” and I felt like the slow moving tortoise. You know it’s an old fable but it stands up true today in our fast paced teaching career more than ever.  If you do the right things, consistently, and keep at it, you will finish the race strong. Those doing the work for education degrees shall have their “day in the sun.” Best of all, you will make a difference in the lives of children.

It seems sometimes that the fast running hares of the world are enjoying their developed speed all around us, but you can’t let that sway you from the road in front of you, however small. They were once like you and if you keep your resolve, you will be successful as they are at teaching. You may even be better at it. Like my high school track coach Mr. White used to say: “Don’t worry about Jamie Oman, you run your own race Riley and get a personal best!” Jamie Oman was a CIF champion runner, I was simply a point man for the team. Every time I “took a man” I felt pride and I carry that with me today.

Times are tough now in education. Stay strong, we need the best teachers to stay in the profession while thousands are quitting. On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best, stay focused on your own teacher evaluations and you will find much success.

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Backward Map Review – A Great Way to do Test Prep

With about 20 days left to the California Standards Test (CST), it is challenging how to spend your teaching tie. Of course, the free mind of a teacher can analyze similar tests and divine what to reteach. This is only a little useful. The best way to do test prep is to analyze the data of your assessments and then “backward map” reteaching the questions that 50% or less missed. This is when an item analysis report comes in handy.

I have my data and it’s magneted up on my white board. Every day for the past week and now into the next days before the standards test I have been teaching test prep and reteaching the concepts where it appears only less than 50% understood. When direct lessons are happening it feels like the best way to teach. Of course you can’s always teach this way. You need to apply yourself to solid, direct instruction and doing backward mapping will help your teaching be more relevant and of more value on the CST. If you want your kids to feel comfortable with all the material, you need to get them familiar with it now. Using the past test to go over and review with the kids is like gold. (It works!)

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Avoiding Procrustes’ Bed

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If you haven’t heard the myth of Procrustes and his bed, it’s the story of a man who invited weary travelers to lay in his guest bed. Once in, if they were too tall he lopped off their feet and if too short, he’d stretch them to fit. Horrifying I know and yet aren’t we as educators often guilty of trying to get our students to “fit” the curriculum?

One really simple way to avoid this is to make a point and recognize the strengths of our underachievers. Those that don’t “fit” have other talents, why not put a spotlight on them more often. It’s difficult to regularly do this but if we don’t, we are guilty of the same horrors as Procrustes. I challenge you teachers to recognize students that don’t fit in the same paradigm of achievement as the mainstream. In doing so, you help make the world a much more dynamic and interesting place. What’s more? You save lives of those kids who don’t fit in the academic constraints assigned by politics.

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Team Tables Configuration

IMG_2544.JPGI’ve made a few significant changes to the way I run my classroom teams. I’ve added an element that is quite innovative, shared with me by teacher and Adelanto board candidate Carlos Mendoza. We had a great visit sipping Starbucks and telling teacher war stories when he suggested something unique with the help of a pencil and napkin. I started implementing it today. My classroom runs on the concept of competition. I have the kids seated at u shaped tables instead of desks. This is in hopes they will be more collaborative.

Each table is a team with a name. I award table points for everything. Carlos suggested a system where each seat has a name that matches the same position at other tables. At times I will award these seats together as a team. It’s simpler than it sounds and you can probably figure it out from the 3 photos on this post. I will report back more down reality road.

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The Challenge of Making Your Not-so-Favorites Your Favorites

20130401-170518.jpgThere are 30 some odd kids in your class as a teacher. It is so easy to gravitate and focus on the needs of your favorites. They are as such because they fit in to your paradigm. Disclaimer: No teacher should have “favorites” but I am using the term to simply make a point we always need to keep an open mind to all our students. For the purposes of this article, by “favorite” I simply mean ones that are easier to understand and reach. That is m goal with every student. Thank you for understanding my disclaimer. Favorites are natural to your style of teaching and personality. You “get” them and so they often are easier to reach and teach. These are not the students that challenge you to be great. I challenge you to pay more attention to the difficult ones, those who are more difficult to understand. When you reach them, it’s a huge win for you and they.

We shun things we aren’t familiar with. A kid may seem annoying on purpose when her/him is only operating under their home paradigm. Not only can you offer them academic help but they can teach you more about how students perceive and survive in the world. Ring any bells? Please comment.

It is one of my top values for my blog here to host comments. I promise to give you my posts until my dying day but I covet YOUR comments more. Teachers, parents, administrators, edubloggers, and anyone interested. PLEASE leave me a comment. I promise to reply.

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My Word of the Year 2016: Peace

My word of the year is peace. Through the power of intention, I hope to increase peace in my life and others’ in 2016.

Courtyard at the Ayers Mission Viejo

Reading through the #MondayMusings hashtag posts I ran across a blog post regarding a Word of the Year for 2016. The author, a blog friend of mine Corinne Rodrigues, was explaining her word of the year for last year and she offered a link to a worksheet for finding ones own Word of the Year. I thought it sounded cool and since New Years Day is fast approaching, I downloaded the worksheet pdf by Christine Kane and checked it out. I wrote out my responses in my journal and came up with my word of the year:

Peace

It is certainly something I have currently but want to be intentional inwardly about it in hopes of increasing the peace of others as well in the new year 2016. It will look like many things different from now but most are personal so I will choose to keep them off my online diary. Have you chosen your word of the year yet?

Parent Conferences Tip – Listen to Parents About Their Child


Every year about Thanksgiving time, the parent conference occurs. I’ve been scheduling and hosting them for 14 years. These can be fluid and helpful to both parent and teacher but without this tip, they can be useless. You can offer positive parenting tips You may think you know the student very well because you have seen them every day in class since August.

Face the reality however that the parent knows them much better than you. In most cases, they were there with the child at birth. If you have kids of your own, you know the significance of the parent/child relationship. Even if you don’t have kids you can recall your relationship with your own parents. Should a teacher assume to know as much about one of their 25-35 students? I say no. It can be tempting to want to give educational tips for parents but remember a balance.

In my school, there is usually only one mandated conference and then peppered parent/teacher meetings as needed. I have always thought there should be at least three mandated conferences throughout the year and I always try to meet with parents regularly throughout the year. Unfortunately, the business of our culture doesn’t always make that possible.

Anything you can get from the parents about the student is valuable. Unfortunately, sometimes parents get silent in conferences, here are a few ways to encourage parents to talk about their child. Once they start talking, be sure and take note and/or just listen. Note: Most the time, parents will be hesitant at first to share. They will be skeptical so explain hos information about a child can greatly help you as you teach them in the year.

  1. Give the parent a short questionnaire. Just like the doctor’s office, put in some harmless questions about things you want to know to better serve their child. You should send this home before the conference and ask them to bring it. That way it doesn’t take up valuable conference time.
  2. LISTEN. Many parents respect the teacher as a part of their lives. Some don’t and others are reserving judgement. Use this time to show them respect. Encourage them to talk about their child. Don’t bring up anything. Ask them to share everything they think of about their child. I personally am a very bad listener but I plan to “shut up” and hear the parent before my part of the conference begins. How long to listen? As much as possible.
  3. Thank them profusely for sharing. Even if they only share the minimum, this will convey mutual respect and vulnerability. Don’t be afraid of silence, give them time to answer.

Of course parent conferences should include many things including your feedback on a child’s progress toward goals. You should also give teaching tips for parents if they seem to be open to it. Give feedback but remember the child is comparatively new to you so be more of a listener. In the long term, your ability to teach the child will greatly increase when you listen to parents about their child. Here’s a sample questionnaire you can use or modify to suit your needs (docx) format: Conference Questionnaire

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Online Diary 12.21.2015

Mondays are usually ordinary, mine was certainly not! Some might say my diary entry about today is dull so I added photos to make it more interesting.

I wrapped 3 presentsHere I am at the end of the first Monday of Christmas break and it feels awesome. These are some of the things I’ve been seeing and doing in the time since I left work Friday. I wrote yesterday about how I wrapped 3 presents. My wife was a maniacal animal and she wrapped 28 at my last count. I can’t remember when there were so many gifts in the house. 

UntitledI make sure we always have fresh ground Starbucks coffee on hand. We were getting low so I just bought this new pack. My wife tells me she prefers the way I make coffee to buying it at Starbucks. That’s a huge and kind compliment. When I was 26 I worked as a barista while in grad school. I learned a lot about all the espresso drinks as well as the subtle secrets of brewing great coffee. We use a French Press and a Melitta pour through method usually.

UntitledLast night I ate sardines with cheddar cheese and Ritz crackers. Perrier is so good with snacks like this so I bought a 4 pack and I’ve almost drank all 4 in only 24 hours. Good drink I say! 0 carbs too.

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I’m spending a lot of time with my girls. Actually, they are playing and reading and drawing and I just watch in wonder. We’ve seen a couple movies together on Netflix and gone out a few times for some yummy fast food. I haven’t seen a whole lot of my 17 year old son since he’s working a lot but we did watch “Dumb and Dumber to” today before he ran off for work.

UntitledThis is a photo of some of my cord outside. I have been really enjoying making fires all day, into the evening.

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Here’s what it looks like burning. It heats up the house so well. Christmas break is going great and Monday has officially rocked!

#ROW80 Late Goals Post With Much Ambition

Hi #ROW80 folks. I’m checking in over a month late this round … I really hope to keep it up to the end though. Here are my goals for this round. The first hashtag represents the corresponding category on my blog. It may seem like a lot of stuff but I am actually in the habit of doing it already.

    1. #postaday A Daily Post or #NaBloPoMo writing prompt daily.
    2. #Journal tumblr paper & pen journal prompt daily.
    3. #Diary daily #Blog entry.
    4. #ROW80 Checkins Wed and Sun
    5. #Blog Mama Kat’s Weekly writing prompt.
    6. #SoCS Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt.
    7. #PhotoBlog #MySundayPhoto challenge.
    8. #PhotoBlog The Daily Post Weekly Photo challenge.

As you can see, I have my blogging laid out for me. I hope to visit a lot of your blogs and see how your doing. You support as well is much appreciated.

Photoblog Focus: More Fun, Less Text

These check in posts for #ROW80 are great for me because I can make a line to start something new. I’m going to try photoblogging with minimal text for a while and see where that goes.

I really enjoy Flickr and Instagram so I’ve rigged it to where those host the images I make photoblogs of on WordPress. I’m setting out to do 3/day. That will push me to take more photos.

Words aren’t dead just way less important to my posts. I feel like nobody has time to read blogs anyway.

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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