Instructor Gadget is Always on Duty!

Welcome! Instructor Gadget is a place where two teachers offer their favorite tools, ‘eh-hem, gadgets, to help solve the mysteries of teaching. The wordplay in Instructor Gadget is an obvious shout-out to the cartoon detective, Inspector Gadget. Although clumsy and clueless, the Inspector has a tool for every problem he encounters! Instructor Gadget equips teachers with tools to become more effective educators. A continual work-in-progress, Instructor Gadget contains proven ideas and suggestions that make teaching more manageable and fun.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Modifications That Promote Successful Learning

All students can learn.  Some students, however, require modifications in order to be successful learners.  As teachers, we need to figure out how to adapt our classroom practices in ways that help all children feel successful.  Last spring, Dr. Nielsen, our Special Needs professor, brought us to Parents Reaching Out (PRO), a non-profit organization that coordinates with families, caregivers, educators, and state and community agencies to promote a variety of positive experiences for families and children throughout New Mexico.  While visiting PRO, we were given a number of resources, including a booklet called Tips for Student Success.  Included in this booklet is a long list of modifications that promote successful learning in the classroom.  Listed below are a handful of the modifications from that list.  Take a look.  Maybe there’s something you’ll find useful for one or more of the students in your classroom.
Modifications that Promote Successful Learning
Test modifications
Extended time
Oral responses
Take test in another room at the school
Test read to student with oral response
Answer list for fill in the blanks
Answers dictated on essay tests
Provide a study guide

Grading Modifications
No penalty for spelling errors
No penalty for handwriting (use cursive, printing, or computer)
Extended time for major assignments
Reduced learning load (set number of key facts for each unit or chapter)

Classroom modifications
Preferred seating
Provide copy of teacher’s notes or another student’s notes
Tape record class lectures
Allow oral reports instead of written
Color code or underline important concepts
Students repeats directions to check for understanding
Provide student with alternative reading on a topic at an easier reading level

Homework modifications
Allow student to dictate answers to parents.  Parents write dictated work.
Allow student to type homework or use computer
Allow the student to write the word in the blank rather than write the entire sentence
Make sure the student has the assignment in writing

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Searching for Level VI

In our Classroom Management class, Tom Keyes introduced us to a distant colleague named  Rafe Esquith.  Rafe teaches fifth grade in South Central Los Angeles, and has written books about his experiences – There Are No Shortcuts and Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire.

Reading about Rafe and his experiences is inspirational.  He’s one of those teachers who has amazing ideas about classroom management and innovative and interesting ways of running his classroom.  Fully expect that you will be intimidated and think you will never accomplish ½ of what he has in the classroom.  But, it’s okay to borrow just a teensy bit from him.

Rafe has two rules in his classroom:  Be Nice.  Work Hard. 

Guess who made her own “Be Nice.  Work Hard” posters?

In his second book, Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, Rafe discusses Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development and applies them to the elementary school classroom.   He teaches the levels on the first day of school and he tells us that they are a road map and often require a lifetime of learning.  Our goal as human beings is to get to Level Six.  He says Level Six is the most difficult to attain and the way to teach it is to point it out when you see it in others.  It requires an individual to develop his own personal code and to follow it, regardless of what others say or think about it.  The example he uses about a student who achieved Level Six is a girl who helped a fellow student – when the fellow student’s mother came in to ask who had helped a student in order give credit and accolades, the girl refused to admit it was her – she helped but didn’t want credit.  That is Level Six.  Are we there?

Level One: I Don't Want to Get in Trouble

Most students enter school at this level.  They behave because they don’t want to get in trouble.  It is fear-based – instead, we want our students to behave because they know it is the right thing to do.

Level Two: I Want a Reward

Many teachers use this as a management method – if students exhibit good behavior, they are rewarded for it (homework parties, gold stars.)  But, we need to show students that proper behavior is expected and doesn’t need to be rewarded.  We need to continue to push our students to the next level.

Level Three: I Want to Please Somebody
Students want to please their teacher or their parents.  This is a good thing, but should not be why they act the way they do – again, they should exhibit good behavior because they have internalized that it is the right thing to do and they want to do what’s right, not to please someone else.  Again, nothing wrong with this level, but Rafe believes we can push our students to be better.
Level Four: I Follow the Rules
Getting students to follow rules is an important aspect of classroom management and Rafe talks about involving students in establishing the rules as a way to generate ownership.  This level is not a bad place to be.  However, Rafe cautions against staying in Level Four because there are times and places to question rules and that we want to inspire independent thinkers.  Tricky, yes?
Level Five: I Am Considerate of Other People
As Rafe says, Level Five is “rarefied air for both students and adults.”  If we can create a world of Level Five people, the world would be a more empathetic place.  He talks about teaching consideration and empathy for others is difficult.  Yet, as he leaves every level he says, “I think we can do better.”
Level Six: I Have a Personal Code of Behavior and I Follow It
This is the most difficult level to teach.  You can’t model it because it is about an internal code and requires humility.  Therefore, you can’t see, “See? This is how you act!”  Like the student in the example before, she quietly helped someone, not for any other reason than it was the right thing to do and she didn’t want any credit or kudos for it.  Even when pressed!  Level VI is the level that Rafe believes all people should strive to be in.  He admits that it is difficult, but he feels it is our responsibility to push our students to strive to be better.  Even as we push ourselves. Not to much to ask, right?
I highly recommend Rafe’s first two books – great insight about teaching and ideas for implementation in your classroom.  I am inspired.

Put 'Em to Work!

Classrooms are communities.   Everyone within the community can contribute to making the classroom operate smoothly.  One way of doing this is having classroom jobs.  While teachers have different ways and reasons for creating and assigning jobs, common examples of jobs include messenger, line leader, taking attendance, lunch count, and homework checker.  If you’re looking for ideas on jobs for your classroom, check out Maria Chang’s book, Classroom Management in Photographs, which has some unique and clever ideas for classroom jobs. 

Some teachers have students apply for classroom jobs, leading to either a year-long job, or a job that rotates infrequently, say every two to three weeks.  Below, you will find some clever 5th grade job descriptions and an example of a classroom job application, which Ree Chacon uses in her classroom.  Thanks, Ree!  Ree said her students get really creative with their job applications, which makes me think students are more likely to take ownership of their jobs.  Plus, since students apply for jobs at the beginning of the school year, it’s a quick way to learn more about students’ interests, beliefs about their abilities, and writing skills.  

I also like how some of Ree's jobs, like the Recycling Supervisor and Energy Patrol, support the school community in addition to the classroom community.  Notice too that the Shades Supervisor job is unique to Ree's classroom, which the sun beat down on every afternoon.  So, regardless of how you do it, be sure to delegate responsibility to students.  Model how jobs should be done and then trust that students are capable of taking care of the classroom. 

5th Grade Job Descriptions

Fire Chief: Leads the class anywhere we go, including during fire drills.

Administrative Assistant: Helps the teacher pass out papers and other materials.  At the end of the day, sharpens pencils from the unsharpened pencil tub and puts them in the sharpened pencil tub.

Sanitation Engineer: Helps clean up the room at the end of the day; dismisses groups with clean floors to get their backpacks.

Class Emissary: Takes messages; delivers lunch count to cafeteria.

Librarian: Makes sure the classroom library is neat and that books are where they belong at the end of the day.  Alphabetizes chapter books to be put away.

Board Hygienist: Erases the boards throughout the day and at the end of the day.  Cleans boards with cleaner on Friday.

Botanist: Makes sure all classroom plants are watered daily. 


Substitute: Fills in for the job of anyone who is absent that day.

Shades Supervisor: Opens the window shades in the morning; closes the window shades after lunch. **An example of a classroom job that's really based on the classroom's specific needs.  The sun's hot in Albuquerque!

Recycling Supervisor: Responsible for taking classroom recycling to recycle dumpster.  On Fridays, takes office and workroom recycling too.  

Energy Patrol: Monitors the school’s energy use.  During recess, hands out red tickets to classrooms if lights are left on and green tickets to classrooms if lights are turned off. 

CLASSROOM JOB APPLICATION                                  NAME_________________________

Please list the 3 jobs you are most interested in applying for and give your qualifications for each:

1) Job:

2) Job:

3) Job:

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Good Morning! Buenos Dias! Guten Tag!

One of the most important things we learned about and that was modeled for us that I have taken to my classroom is the importance of the Class Meeting.  Both Ruth Charney in Teaching Children to Care and our fearless leader, Eileen, stressed the importance of holding regular class meetings.  As with most things, I probably don’t hold them as often as I would like, but they are a common occurrence in my classroom, and the students understand the routines and expectations of a variety of meetings.  For this entry, we’ll focus on the Morning Meeting.

Every morning, we have an abbreviated morning meeting.  Based on my learnings in Diffily and Sassman’s book, Teaching Effective Classroom Routines and Ruth Charney’s book, Teaching Children to Care, the morning meeting should be short and contain no more than four elements.  The four elements are:  Greeting, Sharing, Group Activity, and News and Announcements.  Students like a set routine and this provides a transition step from the outside world to our classroom community.  It doesn’t take up too much instructional time and builds community and teaches students about respectful communication.  I will show you how I have implemented these guidelines.  Feel free to take what you like and disregard the rest!

I currently have my classroom set up in a horseshoe configuration so my morning meeting does not require any movement of furniture.  The students know we have it every morning and the routine has been established that their desks are cleared and they are active participants.  Before we begin the morning meeting, I check in homework, we do attendance and lunch count and wait for announcements. 

Once the morning “business” is finished, we begin our meeting.

1.      Greeting
We begin our day with a greeting in the “language of the week.”  So far, we’ve learned Navajo, Zuni, German, Italian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Greek, Portugese, and I know I’m forgetting some and I also repeat them every few months to reinforce and remind.

2.       Sharing
We talk about events of the last 18 or so hours since we’ve seen each other last.  Someone may have had a baseball game, the royal wedding, a baby sister was born.  Not everyone shares every day, but we’ve learned to take turns.

3.      Group Activity
This is the one that often falls by the wayside.  We’ve played word games like “name an animal that begins with A” or math games like saying “buzz” for multiples of 3.  We’ve also had a guided sharing activity – stories about pets or siblings where everyone participates, or favorite baseball teams.  On Mondays, this activity is our “job swap” activity where we switch out jobs.

4.       News and Announcements
We go over the agenda of the day, which I always have written on a portable whiteboard. I explain how the day is going to go, what we are going to do and when.  I’ll give them sneak peeks at the day’s lessons, but they don’t get to ask any more details to build anticipation (especially in science and social studies!)  If there are things I need to communicate about upcoming events or if we’re collecting money to save the rain forest or a canned food drive, this is where we handle that class and school business.

These are just how I’ve been trying to implement these guidelines.  I know I need to tweak my group activity – when we first began the morning meeting we had more group activities as I built community and I know I need to revisit those.  I’d love to hear any other ideas anyone has!

Stay tuned for how important class meetings are at other times of the day…

Getting Creative With Scripted Teaching

Today, many school districts require teachers to teach content areas, such as math and language arts, with scripted programs.  These programs can be time-consuming, leaving teachers with little time for creative lessons, such as poetry and art.  Fortunately for us, one of our Monday night seminars discussed ways to include poetry and art into social studies, math, language arts, and science.  The following ideas are great reminders that teachers should and can think outside the box in order to guarantee students have opportunities to be creative and express themselves in various ways.  Our thanks goes out to Ree Chacon, a fifth grade teacher in Albuquerque, who does awesome poetry units with the students who are lucky to be in her classroom.  

Social Studies
Poems for two voices (look for a post on poems for two voices under our social studies label) – these poems work great for topics where you really want students to consider more than one perspective on the same topic, such as the Civil War.
Art: illustrate both voices

Geometry poems, number poems
Art: Tessellations, quilt squares, tangrams, and pattern blocks

Nature haikus, diamantes
Art: nature drawings/paintings (think Da Vinci)

Language Arts
Use poems to teach metaphor, simile, personification, onomatopoeia, and parts of speech.
Art: use different media (pastel, chalk, watercolor, torn paper, tempera, pencil, and crayon) to illustrate poems. 

Other ideas

Poetry anthologies: Collect poetry from students throughout the year and bind them together at the end of the year.

Poetry with spelling: Every week, include poems with your spelling words that have examples of the sound/word family you’re learning.

Poetry Picnic: At the end of the year, celebrate all the poetry your class has learned/written with a picnic in the room.  Clear the desks, put down blankets, invite parents, and let kids share as much poetry as they like.

Pockets full of Poetry: April is National Poetry month – ask staff members to illustrate a book pocket and put their favorite poem inside.  Display on a bulletin board in the library.  Kids can do the same in their classrooms.

Poetry Slams: Hold a monthly poetry slam where students share their favorite poems, which can be poems written by students or poems students have found.  

Oh, Dear....Oh, Deer!

During the course of our studies, we were introduced to a conservation education program called Project WILD.  Project WILD is a curriculum designed for K-12 (and everywhere in between!) and is based on the core belief that as human beings, we need to be aware of the natural world and responsible for our planet.

Once you are certified in Project WILD (by attending a training that you can register for on the website linked above) you receive a fantastic telephone-book sized Curriculum Guide that is jam packed with life science lessons and activities that span PreK to 12th grade.  There is an index by topic for quick reference.  The lesson plans are so detailed and yet easy to read - they are organized with a clear objective, method, materials needed, background and procedure along with extensions, if needed.  Every lesson has a little box detailing grade level, duration, group size and settings.  There is really, something in there for everyone.  I have used Project WILD as a part of a larger life science unit, along with the life science kits and sometimes, as a stand alone lesson for Earth Day.

One of the more popular and well known Project WILD activities is one called "Oh, Deer."  I have always had great success with this game and especially the graphing extension!  The kiddos really like it and it's a very visual and tangible demonstration of the cycle of habitat.  (For the record, I'm almost always FOOD.)

Here are the directions.  Now that the weather is nicer, it might be time for a little Oh, Deer!

Oh Deer! Game Directions

1. Mark two parallel lines on the ground 10 to 20 yards apart. Ask students to count off in fours. The ones become the “deer” and line up behind one line with their backs to the other students. The other students become habitat components necessary to survive (food, water, and shelter) and line up behind the other line with their backs to the “deer”.

2. Explain that the deer need to find food, water, and shelter in order to survive in their environment. If they do not then they will die.

3. In this activity when the “deer” is looking for food, it should clamp its hands over its stomach. When a “deer” is looking for water, it should put its hand over its mouth. When a “deer” is looking for shelter, it holds its hands together over its head.

4. A “deer” can choose to look for any one of its needs during each round of the activity. Emphasize that the “deer” cannot change what it is looking for during a round. It can only change what is looking for at the beginning of each round.

5. The other students are the food, water, and shelter. Students get to choose what they want to be at the beginning of the round. They show their choice in the same way as the “deer” have. Emphasize to these students that they cannot change what component they are during a round. They can only change at the beginning of each round.

6. The teacher should begin the first round by asking all students to make their signs—hand over stomach, mouth, or head. Emphasize that students should choose one of these symbols before turning around to face the other group.

7. When the students are ready tell them to “GO!”. At this time each “deer” and each “habitat component” turns to face the opposite group continuing to hold their sign clearly.

8. When the “deer” see the “habitat component” that matches what they need, they are to run to it. Each “deer” must hold the sign of what it is looking for until getting to the matching “habitat component.”

9. Once the “deer” find their correct component they should take it back to their line, and the “habitat component” becomes a “deer”. Any “deer” who fails to find its “habitat component” dies becomes a “habitat component” on the other side and becomes available as food, water, or shelter to the “deer” who are still alive.

10. “Habitat components” not taken by a “deer” continue to be “habitat components”.

11. The activity should consist of 12-15 rounds. The teacher records the number of “deer” at the beginning of the activity and at the end of each round so that students can graph the results in the classroom.

A Quick Reminder on Positive Reinforcement

Here are some examples and definitions of positive reinforcement, which can improve students’ behaviors, attitudes, and motivation in the classroom.  This list was given to us at a Monday night CDP seminar.  I think it’s a nice, quick reminder of what is positive reinforcement. 

Positive Reinforcement…
  • Should become intrinsic over time (natural consequences with positive behavior)
  • Works best when it’s not “if you do this, then you get that”
  • Is feedback, information, and praise, if it’s genuine
  • Should reward effort and growth
  • Can be a look, a smile, a touch on the shoulder, or a word
  • Can increase a desired behavior or decrease an undesired one
  • Can be from one student or many students to another
  • Should be genuine, specific, and descriptive