Category Archives: Teaching Practice

Three Classroom Management Tips for New Teachers

A few weeks ago, I was asked by a university professor to speak to a group of student teachers on classroom management.  The topic has been on my mind a ton lately, primarily because I know of several colleagues who are struggling with managing behaviors in their classrooms.

NeONBRAND

So I figured I’d share three tips for managing classrooms that have always worked for me:

Good classroom management starts by carefully structuring your classroom and your activities:  One lesson that I’ve learned the hard way over the course of my career is that conflict and behavior problems are JUST as often a function of mistakes that I make as they are a function of the choices being made by the students in my classroom.

Instead of carefully considering personalities when building my seating chart, I’ve created groups with students who have a history of clashing with one another and conflict happens.  Instead of making multiple copies of a classroom task, I’ve expected kids who are still learning about cooperation to share important resources or lab supplies and conflict happens.  Instead of creating engaging activities to fill unstructured time, I’ve given kids tasks that aren’t all that interesting and conflict happens.

So instead of questioning the choices of your students in moments where your classroom feels like it is out of control or where conflict has occurred between kids, start questioning your own choices.  What could YOU have done to avoid those conflicts to begin with.  Good classroom management requires being proactive, not reactive.

Good classroom management starts by building positive relationships with the kids who frustrate you the most:  Here’s two simple truths:  First, most of the classroom management issues that you deal with are probably related to the actions of a small handful of students.  Second, you probably don’t enjoy those students very much.  In fact, you probably have no patience for them at all — or you probably dread seeing them each day because you know that the chances of drama or conflict are high.

But here’s the thing:  Those are the EXACT kids that you need to build positive relationships with.  Here’s why:  You don’t manage behaviors with rules and consequences.  You manage behaviors with relationships.  If a frustrating kid knows that you love and appreciate them, they are far more likely to cooperate with you when you DO have to correct his behaviors or choices.

What does that mean for you as a teacher?  Find the most frustrating students in your classroom.  Say hello to them when they walk in the room.  Celebrate them when they make it through an entire lesson without conflict.  Give them a small treat or privilege whenever they’ve done something deserving of recognition.  Call on them when you know that they have the right answers to your questions — and celebrate their answers publicly in front of their peers to prove to everyone that you see the value of “those kids” too.

Doing so builds trust  — and trust is the real lever towards changing behaviors in the long run.  Doing so also will reframe your own thinking about frustrating kids.  Instead of remembering every bad thing “that kid” has ever done to disrupt your classroom, you will start to see him/her as something more than their negative behaviors — which will help you to be less reactionary the next time that child misbehaves.

Good classroom management depends on your willingness to assume good intentions of every student — including those who frustrate you:  One of the things that I’ve been wrestling with this year is my own reactions to the frustrating kids on our hallway.  I catch myself jumping to conclusions immediately about the reasons for their every action based on nothing more than assumptions that I’ve made in the moment — and my assumptions are almost always negative.

Those negative assumptions are not only incomplete, they are also almost always inaccurate.  The result:  I catch myself punishing kids without fully understanding the entirety of a situation.

That’s unproductive, y’all.  Your assumptions shouldn’t be guiding your decisions when dealing with frustrating kids because when you are frustrated, your assumptions aren’t all that objective.

To address this weakness in my own practice, I’ve stolen a strategy from Crucial Conversations:  When I see a student behaving in a way that surprises me, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”

Here are some examples:  If I see a student shout at another child, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”  If I see a student with a phone out in a space where they aren’t supposed to have their phones out, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”  If I see two students bickering over something that happened in class, I ask myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”

By doing so, I’m reminding myself that no child comes to school WANTING to get in trouble — and that while there may be no excuse for poor choices, there are OFTEN lots of reasonable, rational explanations for those exact same choices.  By getting curious instead of furious about a student’s behavior — an argument made in this fantastic Edutopia article — I’m far more likely to build a healthy relationship with my frustrating students AND to spot reasons for poor choices that can be addressed in a systematic and deliberate way.

Does any of this make sense?  

I guess what I am arguing with all three of these suggestions is that a frustrating child’s behavior in our rooms might just be an even better reflection of our relationship with that child or the choices that we are making as teachers than they are a reflection of who that child is as a person.

Our job is to do more than “manage behaviors.”  Our job is to take professional responsibility for the impact that OUR choices and actions are having on the behavior of the frustrating students in our classrooms.

#trudatchat

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Related Radical Reads:

Is Your School a “Rules First” or a “Relationships First” Community?

Writing Positive Notes to My Students is the BEST Way to Start My Day.

Second Guessing My Kids of Color

 

Teaching Critical Thinking? These Mythbusters Activities Will Help.

This year, my professional learning team has decided to invest our time, energy and effort into studying the best ways to develop critical thinking skills in our students.

Not only is critical thinking an essential skill for any developing scientist, it is an essential skill for any responsible citizen in a day and age when everyday people are rigid in their thinking and ready to shout “FAKE NEWS” the minute that they are confronted with viewpoints that run contrary to their core beliefs.

Pascal Swier

One bit that has helped us to establish a clear definition of just what critical thinking looks like in action was this piece that we found on Edutopia’s website.  

In it, author Christina Gil offers six solid strategies for helping students to write better argumentative essays — a traditional form of teaching critical thinking in schools.  Our favorite suggestion:  Encouraging kids to be critical of their OWN ideas.

Gil writes:

It’s pretty easy to be critical of others’ thinking, and anyone who has asked students to critique a sample essay or paragraph written by a fellow student has witnessed that. But if students are to learn to be critical of their own ideas and assumptions, they need to be constantly searching for biases and flawed reasoning.

When they see this as part of the process, not a judgment that they are doing something wrong, they’ll learn to improve their ideas by examining them with a critical lens.

We dug that argument, believing that being a good critical thinker really IS dependent on a willingness to question one’s own core beliefs.  Stated more simply, “thinking critically” isn’t just about spotting the gaps in OTHER PEOPLE’s thinking.  It’s also about spotting the gaps in YOUR OWN thinking.

So we have decided to make what we are calling “gap thinking” a more regular part of our classroom instruction. 

Specifically, we are encouraging students to make predictions or take stands and then explicitly identify bits of information that they would need to know in order to confirm their predictions and/or positions.  Our goal is to help students recognize that gaps in thinking aren’t something to be afraid of.  They are something to be openly acknowledged and then addressed through deliberate attempts to gather more information.

This work is happening informally in darn near every classroom conversation. 

We ask kids to explain their initial thinking to a partner and then to follow that thinking up with the phrase “but I’m not sure because ___________.”  That simple phrase is a constant reminder to students that there ARE gaps in our thinking most of the time — and we can’t speak with complete confidence until we identify and address those gaps.

We are also doing this work formally by asking kids to make predictions and to identify gaps in their own thinking while watching Mythbusters episodes.

We show students the first several minutes of an episode — where Adam and Jamie explain the question that they are trying to answer and develop a theory that they plan to test.  At that point, we stop the video and ask students whether or not they think Adam and Jamie’s test will be successful or not.  Along with their prediction, students have to include gaps in their thinking that make it impossible to have the perfect prediction right out of the gate.

All of the thinking that students do with Mythbusters episodes are written down and turned in to teachers.  That provides us with samples that we can use to evaluate the progress that students are making towards becoming great gap thinkers.

Does this sound interesting to you?  If so, you might really dig seeing the handouts that we are using with our kids. 

Here are several connected to a Mythbusters episode on Archimedes’ Death Ray:

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – Gap Thinking Handout – This is the handout that our students complete while watching the Mythbusters episode.  It includes a spot to record both predictions and gaps in thinking.  It also includes sample sentence starters that we hope will help students develop the language of gap thinking.

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – Gap Thinking Exemplars – This handout includes the scoring criteria that we have developed for each level of gap thinking that we see in student responses.  It also includes several exemplars that we have developed to help teachers, parents and students to better understand what good gap thinking looks like in action.

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – High Low Comparison Task – This is an activity that we have developed to help students to practice spotting the characteristics of high quality gap thinking.  It is built on an activity that you can find in Creating a Culture of Feedback — a book that I wrote with my friend and colleague Paul Cancellieri.

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – Revise Once Revise Again – This is another activity that we have developed to help students practice spotting the characteristics of high quality gap thinking.  It also encourages students to revise their own gap thinking statements.

Our plan going forward is to integrate one Mythbusters gap thinking activity into each of the units in our required curriculum. 

That will give us five opportunities to formally teach and assess gap thinking ability over the course of a school year — which should give us plenty of information about whether or not our strategies are helping our students to become more comfortable with questioning their own thinking.  We also plan to start recording moments where we see students using the phrase “but I’m not sure because _________” organically in classroom conversations as another source of evidence of the impact that our practice is having on our students as learners.

So whaddya’ think of all of this? 

Is this an example of good teaching?  Is it an example of what good collaboration around practice should look like on professional learning teams?  Is it the kind of work that you are doing with your peers?

I’d LOVE to hear your feedback on our plans and on our materials — particularly if you use them in your own work with students.  I think they are going to do a great job structuring the process of critical thinking for my students, but I’m not sure because* they might not be approachable for every learner — or even for most of the learners in my sixth grade classroom.  A mistake that I often make as a teacher is developing materials that are more complicated than they need to be.

(*see what I did there?)

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Related Radical Reads:

What are YOU Doing to Help Students Spot Fake News Stories?

People are Definitely Dumber.

Session Materials:  Annual Conference on Grading and Assessment

 

Transferring Facts v. Building the Future Together.

Over the last five years, I’ve really been wrestling to understand the changes that are needed to create the schools that our students deserve.  

For me, that wrestling started when I realized that it was becoming harder and harder to truly engage my students in the lessons that I was teaching.  Instead of being active participants in class — something that I’d never struggled with before — my kids were increasingly passive and disconnected from the work that we were doing.

Sure, they were still playing the “grade game” — turning in tasks that showed mastery of the standards.  But there was little to no real inspiration in their efforts.  It was clear that they saw school as something to be endured instead of enjoyed.

So I started thinking about the differences between ENGAGING and EMPOWERING learners.

The way I saw it, traditional schools stripped learners of any real agency — and learners without agency are uninspired.  What’s more, I want kids to leave school convinced that they can change the world around them for the better — to see themselves as people with both the capacity and responsibility to be a positive influence their communities.

That’s when I started tinkering with purpose-driven learning — the notion that kids are most motivated when they are wrestling with causes or issues or problems that are meaningful and purposeful beyond the classroom walls.  If I could use problems as an invitation to learn the required curriculum — an idea that Garfield Gini-Newman calls “problemitizing the curriculum” -I could meet the expectations outlined in the required curricula while simultaneously creating learning experiences that my kids really WOULD care about.

But I’ve always struggled to explain in clear and simple terms what this change in education should look like — and that’s kept my thinking from spreading widely beyond my own room.

It’s easy to SAY that empowerment trumps engagement and that purpose should stand at the center of the classroom learning experience, but what exactly does that MEAN?  How would learning experiences be restructured if that shift stood at the center of the work we did with kids.

That’s why I was jazzed to stumble across this Erik P.M. Vermeulen bit describing the expectations of millennial learners on Hackernoon in my stream this morning.

In it, Vermeulen writes:

“The world has really changed. Education has become less about the transfer of “fact”-based information/knowledge and much more about exploring and building the future together with the students.”

That’s SUCH a powerful statement, y’all.  Read it again.

And then ask yourself a simple question:  Are the bulk of your learning experiences about transferring facts or about exploring and building a better future together with your students?

Chances are that if you work in a traditional school, you’re still transferring facts.  And if so, chances are your kids are bored.

How do you fix that?

Constantly remember that transferring facts is a heck of a lot easier and more inspiring when it happens as a part of an attempt to explore and build a better future together.

Kids need purpose, too — and all too often, that purpose is missing from the work we do in schools.

#trudatchat

If you want to learn more about using causes as levers for learning, consider checking out Creating Purpose-Driven Learning Experiences — my latest book for Solution Tree Press.

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Related Radical Reads:

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Learners?

How Engaged are YOUR Students?

Why Can’t THIS Be School?

 

 

Session Materials: Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading

Over the next two days, I’ll be working with a group of incredibly motivated teachers and school leaders at Solution Tree’s Annual Conference on Assessment and Grading in Phoenix, Arizona.  Together, we’ll be wrestling with what good assessment looks like and the role that both feedback and grading can play in informing practice and developing learners.  My unique contribution to the conference will be primarily centered around student-involved assessment practices.

Here are my session descriptions and materials:

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Creating a Culture of Feedback

Slides | Complete Handouts

In spring 2012, educational change expert Dean Shareski issued a simple challenge on his blog: “I’m wondering if you’re ready to let your students assess themselves. Not as some experiment where you end up grading them apart but where you really give the reins over to them?” This session introduces participants to the tangible steps William M. Ferriter has taken in his sixth-grade classroom to move from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback as a result of Shareski’s challenge.

Bill discusses the differences between grading and feedback. He helps participants explore simple self-assessment behaviors that can be integrated into any classroom. Teachers learn more about the common challenges of moving from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback in a classroom.

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Digital Tools Can Make Differentiation Doable

Slides | Complete Handouts

If schools are working to ensure success for every student, learning experiences should be customized and aligned to student interests, needs, and unique learning styles. The challenge, however, rests in making differentiation manageable. While few teachers doubt the importance of differentiating, many struggle to make customized learning spaces a reality. William Ferriter introduces participants to a range of digital tools that can be used to 1) track progress by student and standard, 2) provide structure for differentiated classrooms, and 3) facilitate initial attempts at remediation and enrichment.

Bill shows how digital tools can provide quick checks for understanding and tracking progress by student and standard. Digital tools can deliver content and free class time for individualized instruction. Tools can help teachers use classroom observations to show student progress.

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Assessing Learning in a Purpose Driven Classroom

Slides | Complete Handouts

Technology expert Will Richardson maintains that today’s classrooms are failing students. In Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (2012), Richardson says, “We focus on the easiest parts of the learning interaction, …accomplishments that can be easily identified and scored. Learning is relegated to the quantifiable.”

To create highly engaged learning spaces, classrooms must be reimagined as places where students work together to do work that matters. These arguments aren’t new; project-based learning has been promoted for the better part of a decade. How do we assess learning in classrooms where complex projects — rather than accomplishments that can be easily identified and scored — stand at the center of the curriculum?

Participants discuss why project-based learning should play a role in the modern classroom. They examine a planning template that illustrates project-based learning experiences focused on essential outcomes in a curriculum. William M. Ferriter explores simple steps for teachers to evaluate student mastery of essential outcomes.

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How Do We Turn Failure Into Learning Opportunities?

Slides | Complete Handouts

Over the past five years, the notion of learning from failure has become widely embraced. Businesses tout the importance of failing fast and failing often to succeed sooner. Educators argue that failure helps students learn to be resilient and determined, and failure is the first step towards building a growth mindset.

No matter how well-intentioned we are, failure in schools still carries negative connotations and incredibly high stakes—fail a test and your grade suffers; fail too many district benchmarks and you are assigned to remedial classes; fail an end-of-grade exam and you are held back; fail to earn a very high GPA and your college and career choices are limited. The truth is no matter how intimidating failure can be, it can also be turned into a positive learning experience as long as teachers help students analyze their performance and make plans to move forward—a process William M. Ferriter introduces in this session.

Bill reviews four main reasons people fail at important tasks. He examines differences between learners who see failures as dead ends and those who see failure as a starting point for new learning. Carefully structured feedback can play in helping students turn failures into learning opportunities.

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Using Digital Portfolios in Grades 5-12 to Create a Culture of Feedback

Slides | Complete Handouts

Research on characteristics of effective feedback reveals one simple truth time and again—feedback gathered by learners is more powerful than feedback given to learners. Our primary role in promoting learning should be to develop students who constantly reflect on what they know and what they don’t know—behaviors that can be encouraged through the regular use of digital portfolios in the classroom.

William M. Ferriter discuss the role of reflection in developing independent, self-directed learners. He examines how blogs, simple Web 2.0 tools, can play a role in digital portfolio projects. Participants learn how they can launch digital portfolio projects in their own classrooms.

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If this content resonates with you, you might also want to check out my latest book, Creating a Culture of Feedback.  It’s a quick read that will force you to think carefully about the difference between grading and feedback in the modern classroom.

 

Peer Feedback Matters.

Over the last several years, I’ve done a ton of experimenting in my sixth grade classroom with peer feedback — structured opportunities for students to give and receive feedback from one another.  

That’s primarily a function of efficiency.   Teaching close to 120 students with a wide range of skills and abilities every single year makes it darn near impossible for me alone to provide feedback to the learners in my classroom.  If the best feedback is both timely and directive — an argument that Bob Marzano made nearly a decade ago — we need to teach students to look for guidance and support from one another rather than simply waiting to receive feedback from classroom teachers, who are perpetually buried in stacks of papers that need to be graded.

Every time that I pitch peer feedback to other educators, however, I’m met with real skepticism.  Teachers doubt the value of the feedback that students can provide to each other.  That’s a legitimate concern, given that most students have little experience giving feedback to — and receiving feedback from — one another in traditional classrooms.

The solution, though, isn’t to avoid peer feedback.  The solution is to give students lots of experience and practice with peer feedback.  The more structured opportunities that students have giving and receiving feedback with one another, the more skilled they will become.  And the more skilled that students become with peer feedback, the less teachers have to worry about whether or not the experience will be worthwhile.

So how do you ensure that peer feedback experiences are productive?  Start by encouraging students to give each other observations instead of evaluations.  

Statements like, “I really like” , “You’ve done a great job on _________” or “You need to improve your _____, ” are the kinds of comments that students are used to giving to one another.  After all, they are the kinds of comments they’ve long received from the teachers and other adult mentors in their lives.

But they are also evaluative — implying a judgment — and that’s when peer feedback can feel intimidating and awkward.  Sometimes, peers shy away from giving negative feedback to one another because they are afraid of hurting feelings.  Other times, peers are hesitant to receive feedback from one another because they don’t see classmates as authority figures capable of making accurate judgments.  The result is mediocre feedback experiences, hurt feelings, or both.

Instead, teach your students to use statements like “I notice that _____,” or “I’m not sure that I see ______ in your work.”  Those phrases are simply observations.  They don’t imply a judgment at all, leaving the recipient to decide what the feedback means about the overall quality of a work product.

Best of all, encouraging students to make observations instead of evaluations is easy.  Getting started requires nothing more than sharing lots of examples of observational sentence starters with students.  You can also compile lists of samples of comments made during peer feedback sessions and ask students to identify the statements that are observations and the statements that are evaluations.

Dylan Wiliam likes to argue that we need to turn feedback into “detective work.”  His central argument is a simple one:  The best feedback is gathered by — rather than given to — learners.  Well structured peer feedback experiences built on observations instead of evaluations can give BOTH students involved — the giver and the recipient — chances to act like detectives by reflecting on how well individual work products align with success criteria.

That means time spent in peer feedback experiences is time that everyone spends learning.

To learn more about the role that peer feedback can play in your classroom, check out Bill’s newest book, Creating a Culture of Feedback.  


Related Radical Reads:

Is REAL Formative Assessment Even Possible?

What Can the Principals of PLCs Learn from Handwashing?

Turning Feedback into Detective Work