Tag Archives: Teaching

Is All Evidence Equal: Weighing Textual Evidence

This week I gave my students a short response prompt based on the propaganda presented in their dystopian texts. Students are reading Animal Farm, The Giver and Unwind. The prompt was as follows:

A variety of propaganda techniques are used throughout the fable in small and incremental measures to confuse, influence, and keep the other animals on the farm under control, as well as to make outsiders think that Animal Farm was successful.

There are six types of propaganda that are commonly recognized: 1) Bandwagon, 2) Scapegoating, 3) Unapproved Assertions, 4) Slogans, and 5) Fear.

Which type of propaganda did those in control use to their advantage most effectively?

Why did that type of propaganda work so well on the members of the community?

In your short response be sure to identify the type of propaganda used effectively with two or more examples textual support. Also include why this type of propaganda worked so well on the others.

Whereas my students know to include direct textual evidence in their writing, the question remains: Is the evidence students are selecting the strongest evidence to support their claim? 

This year I am requiring students to organize textual evidence using graphic organizers I create to use in tandem with the foldables that go in their Interactive English Notebooks. But is not just about students mastering the ability to pull any evidence from the text, it is necessary  students also weigh and debate the evidence selected so that it is the strongest in supporting their claims.

Sonja Cherry-Paul and Dana Johansen address this same topic in their book Teaching Interpretation Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning (Heinemann, 2014).

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Based on the ideas presented in their text, I have created a foldable for my students to remember that not all evidence is equal. To reiterate this idea about evidence, I have taken various quotes about fear from each of the three dystopian texts for students to work in small groups and rank the evidence for use in the short response prompt above: Which is the strongest evidence? Why? Which is the weakest evidence? Why? What makes the strongest evidence the strongest? What makes the weakest evidence the weakest? Which evidence tells? Which evidence shows?

 

 

 

 

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20 Things I’ve Learned From Teaching 20 Years

It is hard to believe that as of September I will have been teaching twenty years. My experiences have led me from middle school to elementary school, and college level teaching across the Northeast. For the past ten years I have been grounded in Westchester County, New York. Just like the posters that highlight “All You Ever Need to Know, You Learned in Kindergarten,” I have reflected in this post twenty key ideas that shape my teaching philosophies.

1. Smile and Greet Your Students at the Door EVERYDAY

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Research reports that positive interactions with students lead to increased engagement. Teachers can interact with students by verbally greeting them or offer nonverbal positive interactions like a High 5 or head nod with eye contact.

2. It’s not about the content, rather building skills

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Everything is Googleable in this day and age. No matter what content you teach, you are a literacy teacher. All that you teach requires students to be better readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and critical thinkers.  

3. It’s got to be relevant and authentic

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Students need to know why what they are learning matters and how it will help them beyond a test score. Students can detect fake as fast as you can detect BS. If it’s not relevant leave it out.

4. Technology doesn’t make everything better

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There are so many great tech tools available and new ones added daily. Integrating and utilizing technology is a thoughtful application. It’s not about using technology for the sake of using technology. Decide what you want students to learn and what the outcomes should be. Then, choose the tool that suits the desired objectives.

5. No matter how you dress it up, a worksheet is still a worksheet

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At the end of the year it’s going in the garbage if not before than. Think about the paper you distribute to your students. Decide what is truly necessary. Utilize Google Classroom and digital tools to help communicate the same ideas and activities. Be earth friendly.

6. Teaching is 24/7  

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I get so tired of non educators telling me how great my job is because I have my “summers off” and am finished working by 3. In fact, I know little to none who don’t work throughout the summer or take their work home daily. Just look at the amazing professional developing happening on Twitter every second of the day, there are millions of teachers online looking and discussing self improvement in education. So, let’s get the record straight, teachers bring their work home – sometimes 100 essays to read and evaluate in one weekend — and work throughout their summer.

7. You learn something everyday and never stop learning

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I love learning. I think a part of me became a teacher so I could never stop learning.  I have grown into the teacher I am today because of the countless professional development opportunities I have participated in. Twitter has only made it cost friendly and easily accessible. Attending conferences and reading professional books expands my knowledge, resources, and inspires my teaching.   As much as I learn from other educators, my students teach me as well. My students have given me great ideas for activities and even remind me to teach in a way that supports all the learners in my class.

8. Students Acting Out are Actually Reaching Out

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If a student is acting out or withdrawn then something is going on. I ask parents to email me when work is difficult or something is going on at home so that I more aware their whole situation. All of our students have baggage and it impacts their behavior and actions in school. Be considerate of this and know that your class is not the center of their world. Also, the support staff at schools are great resources to help with these matters.

9. Students need routines, but tedious repetitive work is just boring

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Scholastic.com states, “When routines and procedures are carefully taught, modeled, and established in the classroom, children know what’s expected of them and how to do certain things on their own. Having these predictable patterns in place allows teachers to spend more time in meaningful instruction.” Be careful, though. Ending every class with an exit ticket becomes rote and boring for our students.

10. Play nice with your colleagues. In life, we often have to deal with difficult people

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My grandmother used to tell me, “Kill them with kindness.” Be nice to everyone, even if they are rude to you. That has been my adopted motto for my entire teaching career. Kindness matters and gets you a lot further than meanness, anger, and rage.

11. Take care of yourself.

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Carve out a little time for yourself every day to do what you love – mediate, cook, exercise, spend time with your family, read. Your health and well being is vital to your success as a teacher.  Stress is harmful and eats away at your health. You must take care of yourself, eat right, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep to be a productive person.

  1. Continuously Build Your PLN – Professional Learning Network

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Who are your cheerleaders? Who are your mentors? Who are the people who inspire you and encourage you to do and be your best? Surround yourself with those people. Use social media to continuously build a professional learning network to help you reach your professional goals and push you to be a better person/teacher.

  1. Classroom Aesthetics Matter

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How you set up your classroom is a reflection of who you are and what you value. Think about what you put on your walls and the arrangement of student desks. If you haven’t changed up the materials on the walls in more than a year, change it up. Color, lighting, air quality, pictures, decorations matter. I am a proponent of brain compatible learning and know that the classroom environment affects learning 100%. It is important to create a classroom environment that is inviting, calm and without clutter for all the learners in your classroom. Bring in furniture, plants, and calming colors that are comfortable and promote learning.

  1.  Tap into Multiple Intelligences

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Ask students to sing, dance, act, build, and illustrate in addition to the reading and writing everyday. Movement is important and helpful to students. Allow students to show what they know in ways that highlight their strengths. Encourage students to act out a scene from a text or create videos that explain how to solve a problem. Students can put into song their understanding of a historical event and even create a dance about cell mitosis. When conducting a survey, poll students by asking them to stand up if they agree. Sitting and listening can be torturous for and at school students are sitting for more than 4.5 hours a day!

  1.   Families can do Without Homework

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As a parent of a middle school student and an elementary school student I see how homework can bring added stress, competition, and anger among families. As a teacher I have removed homework knowing my students are over scheduled outside of school with extra curriculars and family time. My only request is that my students read for 30 minutes or more every night. All my student’s writing and work is done in class. There is less stress on students and parents when homework is eliminated. I know what my students are capable of and what skills I need to address to make them better readers and writers. I see their actual work, not the work of mom, dad, or the tutor.

  1. Would You Want to Be A Student in Your Classroom?

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In everything you plan and everything you do in your classroom ask yourself, “How would I feel if I was a student in my own classroom?” If you are bored with any aspect of your lesson, then so will your students. Now, every lesson does not have to be edutainment. But, think about all those young people looking and listening to you – in addition to tapping into multiple intelligences, make sure your lessons are authentic, engaging, hands-on and minds-on so that your students are actively engaged with the lesson.

  1. Keep a Hugs & Kisses File

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Keep a file for the cards, thank yous, positive notes and warm fuzzies that you collect while teaching. At the same time, I also have an “Asshole File” with emails of parents telling me off because of a grade or score on their child’s assignment – this might make a great book one day!. It is always great to go back to these artifacts every now and again to read the messages that parents, students, and administrators in honor of you.

  1. Learning Happens Beyond the Walls of the Classroom

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Learning is not only confined to the walls of school. Learning happens everywhere and anywhere. In fact, I would say one place I learn the most is when I am driving in my car to and from work listening to NPR (National Public Radio). Listening to the radio shows and podcasts has inspired my thinking and teaching. I have listened to RadioLab so much to deconstruct the format as a five paragraph essay that I wrote about in Teaching Literacy in the Digital Age: Inspiration for All Levels and Literacies (ISTE, 2014).  I am also a huge proponent of field trips and leaving the classroom to learn about the world around us. Visit art and science museums, farms, parks, and research labs with your students. Can’t get out, then virtual field trips or bring the field trip into your classroom.

  1. It’s Gotta Be Fun (at least) 80% of the Time

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If you are not having fun, if you don’t love your job, if you are photocopying the same packets and worksheets year after year, it’s time for a sabbatical or maybe a new career. Amazing teachers I know are passionate, caring, have incredible energy, and their students always look like they are having fun learning. Your attitude is everything. As Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate states, “Teaching in a way that empowers students, develops a love of learning, sparks curiosity, encourages an Innovator’s Mindset, embraces risk-taking, and encourages persistence in the face of obstacles has a LIFE-CHANGING impact on our students.” This is the teacher I strive to be and want to be known for.

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At least once a day have a good laugh – not at the spite of others. Have fun. Laugh often. From the scientific perspective, laughter is an elegant mind-body phenomenon that reduces the production of stress hormones and boosts the immune system.

 

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Genius Hour Wrap-Up, Reflections, & Revisions

This is the second year that I have instituted Genius Hour in my classroom. Every Friday students have one period to explore, learn, create, discover, research a topic that interests them. The only conditions are that student’s choose a topic that is researchable and will “make an impact on the community” with their topic of choice, no matter how small the impact.

Genius Hour stems from Google’s 20% time. One of the perks employees at the Googleplex get is 20% of their time to work on a special project.  One well known product that has come out of this incentive program is Gmail.

To end Genius Hour this June I held a Genius Hour and Passion Project Expo inviting students and parents to view all the great projects students worked on during the 20 week spring semester. There are so many ways students can share what they learned: a Presentation, Prezi, Video, TED Talk, and or Booklet. I was so impressed that more than a dozen parents attended the Expo and were inspired and impressed by all the projects.

Genius Hour has inspired by students in so many ways. Some students created blogs, others started a book drive or helped those who are less fortunate, students created products and some even are pursuing trademarking their Genius Hour idea. Topics addressed music, art, writing, science, the environment, fashion, animation, and people’s prejudices. I am amazed by the hard work that my students put into their projects and yet, there are some students who did not use the time to their benefit.

I am still thinking up ways to hold students accountable to our weekly genius hour class time. Asking students to write weekly reflections, when I have 95 students is too much. I am thinking of creating a Genius Hour classroom blog and each student writes a monthly blog post reflecting on their process at that moment.

Grading is a challenge too, I do not want to grade the product, rather evaluate the process. I am rethinking the rubric to include a section on “use of class time.” 20% of student’s evaluation will focus on the use of class time. For students who use class time for socializing and do the majority of their presentation preparation at home, they could not get higher than an 80 out of 100.  But then should I be grading genius hour at all?

I did ask students to grade themselves in a written reflection on their work and successes in Genius Hour, I was so surprised how many of my students who I felt worked diligently and successfully gave themselves grades of B or lower and students who I observed doing little work during Genius Hour class time game themselves an A.

Teaching is a reflective process. From one semester to the other, one year to the next, I am always rethinking and re-examining my practices, tools, and techniques to better support my students as learners.

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25 Ways to Tell Your Students They Are Great

As another school year begins, I continue to brainstorm ways to give my students positive reinforcement. Below is a list of 25 ways to tell my students they are awesome and what they did is great. If you have additional ideas please post them in the comment section of this blog.

1. Super job!

2. Gold metal performance!

3. WOW!

4. Keep up the terrific work!

5. Intelligence strikes again!

6. Splendid Success!

7. You’re amazing!

8. First class all the way!

9. Unforgettable!

10. Unbelievably well done!

11. I admire what you’ve done!

12. You’re destined for greatness!

13. You always do your best!

14. You’ve exceeded my expectations!

15. Exemplary!

16. You really met the challenge!

17. Nothing is impossible for you!

18. Do it again!

19. Positively peak performance!

20. Your brilliance never ceases to amaze me!

21. Marvelous contribution!

22. Nice going!

23. You just keep getting better!

24. Exceptional!

25. You’re an inspiration to others!

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Asking the Right Questions to Promote Learning & Understanding

There are two types of questioning that teachers employ in the classroom:

Low-level questions tap students’ knowledge. These are the recall questions that address basic knowledge and comprehension of terms, facts, names, and events.

High-level questions require students to expand their thinking and relate to comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These questions typically begin with How and Why. 

Both types of questions are necessary and important. Professor of Education, Dr. R. Ouyang states, “The primary issue is not to be rigid in defining question levels but rather to ask questions at a level appropriate for the learner and learning activities.”

To be effective in the classroom, the questions teachers ask students must be adjusted to fit the needs of the students. 

Prompting is one technique when a student does not answer a question or gives an incorrect response. Prompting questions use hints and clues to aid students in answering questions or to assist them in correcting an initial original question with clues or hints.

When a student’s reply is correct but insufficient because it lacks depth, the teacher can ask Probing questions to initiate the student to think more thoroughly about the initial response. Probing can ask follow up questions such as, “What do you mean by that?” or “Can you tell us more about . . ” or “How does this connect?”

Wait time is always something teachers ponder and can be a powerful question technique. Students need time to think. If teachers wait 3 seconds or longer for the answer to a question, the quality of students’ responses increases.

Here are some other questioning guidelines:

1. Ask clear questions. Ask something in simple, clear language that students can understand. 

2. Ask your questions before designating a respondent. Ask a question. Wait for the class to think about it, and then ask someone for an answer. 

3. Ask questions that match your lesson objectives

4. Distribute questions about the class fairly.

5. Ask one question at a time

As teachers we need to set the stage for meaningful discussions and model our questions so that students can exchange information and ideas with one another, not just for the sake of the teacher or a grade. 

 

 

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Who’s Who? A Detective’s Interactive File & Close Reading

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My students have just started reading Agatha Christie’s murder mystery And Then There Were None.  In the first chapter the reader is introduced to eleven different and central characters. This can be confusion for some. So, in order to help my students to learn and understand each of the characters I created an interactive detective’s file foldable for their English Journal.  Students created the detective’s file and then received a small file card on each of the characters to fill out while reading of the text.  Like a detective seen on television and in movies, students are required to keep a file on each of the characters based on their reading and understanding of the text. The detective’s files needed to contain the following information:

Front Side (To be completed during after reading Chapters 1 & 2) :

Physical Traits

Character Traits

Reason for going to Solider Island

Mode of Transportation to the Island

Inferences that can be made about the character

Back Side (To be completed during reading chapters 3-15):

Crime Accused of

Reactions

Cause of Death

Time & Place of Death

 

After students made the detective file foldable and glued it into their notebooks they were assigned a specific character to study and examine closely.  Working in small groups, students reread specific sections about their character gathering evidence, then developing ideas and making inferences about the character. Using the information from the selected text students were to uncover the following: (1) the character’s physical appearance and age; (2) the mode of transportation the character used to arrive on Solider Island; (3) a direct quote about the character describing the character’s personality; (4) an inference about the character’s personality based on the quote; and (5) how the character was invited to the island and what he/she expects to do on Solider Island. Students created posters to communicate all the above information. 

This activity directly links to the CCLS and close reading for text evidence: “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it” (CCLS R.1). 

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Students presented their finished posters and their classmates filled in their detective files on each of the characters of the text.

Christopher Lehman & Kate Roberts’ book Falling in Love with Close Reading (2014) describes close reading as “following the unfolding of an idea, to hear a text, to attend to language, to question, to visualize scenes, to mentally construct characters can only come from closely paying attention” [to the text] (p.10).  This year I am slowing down my students reading so they practice the skill of reading closely, paying attention to the details, and see the complexity of ideas that are presented in texts and in our own lives. 

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Alternatives to Traditional Vocabulary Instruction

Imagine that you are teaching “Use of Force” by WIlliam Carlos Williams.  As the teacher, your task is to devise a way of teaching vocabulary for this story in a way that does not interfere with students’ enjoyment and interest of the text.  

What ever text that you are teaching the old school concept of vocabulary lists on Monday, definitions on Tuesday, sentences on Thursday, and quiz on Friday are not effective in terms of student retention or usage.

When designing vocabulary “lessons,” keep in mind the following:

1. Avoid presenting a long list of vocabulary words to be learned before students are able to read the text.

2. Choose only those words that are important to the meaning and/or will be likely to actually enter your students’ vocabulary.

3. Consider a way of involving students in identifying their own vocabulary words.

4. Try to give your students experiences in figuring out words in context, rather than simply memorizing them.

5. If possible, devise a way for students to locate and define their own words, rather than relying on your choices and definitions.

6. Consider alternatives to students’ learning definitions of words individually. Think about creating collaborative learning experiences, if possible.

7. Find a way to evaluate what your students have learned without relying on a traditional vocabulary test (multiple choice or fill in the blank).

For more ideas about teaching vocabulary, Janet Allen’s Words, Words, Words and Word Savvy by Max Brand are fantastic resources. 

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