Finding Your Teaching Pal – Tips For First Time Teachers

It’s likely that you will find a veteran teacher that you feel comfortable around and who doesn’t seem to mind helping out a rookie teacher that needs it. Even though you might find some veterans don’t like first year teachers at all, you’ll find that special someone that will take you under their wing. This person, whom will be referred to as your Teaching Pal, is a very important part of your first year success. There will be so many rules for you to follow, so many meetings to attend, and so many multicolored Post-it notes in your mailbox that you’ll go insane if you don’t have someone nearby that’s already been through the trial by fire and made it through intact. Some schools will pair you up with just such a person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do your own friend-making and finding someone that you truly click with.

One quick tip is to have your Teaching Pal look over your student lists when you receive them to point out any students that have exceptionally bad reputations. Those bleeding-heart teacher books say that this is not good practice, with the argument that it causes you to pre-judge the student and expect poor behavior from them, thus continuing the vicious cycle for that student. But if you’re realistic about the situation you’ll want to see the blows coming before the student starts to swing. It doesn’t mean you’re going to treat the student differently, it just makes it nice when their bad behavior doesn’t come as a surprise and you can be ready for it, taking the proper steps to handle the situation.

You should also take this time to find out if you have any local celebrities in your classes. These wouldn’t be kid movie stars, unless you’re teaching in Hollywood. These would be kids that have parents on the Board of Education, their parents could be fellow teachers, or they could be politically connected in some way. When it comes to these students you’ll want to give them a wide berth. Don’t give yourself an even bigger headache by making an example out of the mayor’s daughter – unless she really merits it. If you do, be ready to face the repercussions, they will come at your quickly and furiously.

It is also a good idea to partner up with another fellow first timer. No one will quite understand your pain as someone that is going through it with you. You’ll want someone to share the hardships, the joys, the frustrations, and the insanity with. You also need someone to hang out with on the weekends and outside of school. You can’t do that with your students, even though you spend so much time with them during the week, they can start to feel like coworkers.

Tips for Teaching Young Children

How do we teach in a way that hooks into a child’s natural desire to learn?

Children are naturally curious. They explore, experiment, touch, ask questions, and are motivated to learn. To them it’s all play, and they don’t need adults praising them for their efforts.

Wondering how you can help children succeed? Consider the following characteristics of how they learn to help you teach in ways that improve their ability to make sense of new concepts.

1. Young children learn when subject areas are integrated

Offer children thematic units rich with content and they will be interested and motivated, especially if you can bring real things to touch and explore that relate to the theme.

Basic literacy and math concepts can be taught and reviewed as the theme content is shared. A “winter” theme offers many opportunities to teach the letter W, to count and record the number of mittens on snowmen constructed in an art lesson, or to create patterns for paper scarfs.

A child learning about the life cycle of a butterfly may act it out with creative movement and poetry, paint the process with a large paper and paint, illustrate and label the stages in science and literacy lessons and listen to related stories and songs. Avoid pursuing a theme if the children have lost interest. Ask yourself if you are presenting enough “real objects”. New themes get everyone motivated and enthusiastic.

2. Children learn in lots of different ways

Visual learners watch closely when you demonstrate an activity and like to draw and play with shapes and puzzles. Auditory learners understand ideas and concepts because they remember information they have heard, follow spoken directions well and remember songs easily.

Although all children learn through touch, some learn best combining touch and movement (tactile/kinetic learners). Some children like structure while others learn more easily in an unstructured environment.

If you want busy, happy and on task children, give them a variety of lessons that meet the needs of different learning styles.

3. Children often do not have the vocabulary to express themselves

Inexperienced teachers sometimes misinterpret a child’s unwillingness to participate as stubbornness or bad behavior when in reality, the child may lack the skills to explain himself. Use reflective listening to help children communicate why they are upset.

Sometimes children work well in groups, learning to share and develop ideas. At other times they just need to be alone with ample time to figure things out for themselves.

Do not expect perfection. Relax and have fun with your students!

4. Children progress when concepts are taught in a structured, step-by-step way

When concepts are presented in a structured step-by-step process with each step building on previous knowledge, children learn with less effort.

For example, expecting a young child to understand the concept of a food chain without previous experiences with, and vocabulary about, chains and links is assuming too much.

5. Children’s abilities to observe and process information develop at varying rates

Some four-year old children have superb small motor coordination and draw and cut beautifully, but have delayed speech patterns. Other children may be verbally eloquent but be physically uncoordinated or be at a scribbling stage in drawing.

Just as children develop physically at different rates, they also progress academically, socially, emotionally, and artistically at varying speeds. Effective teaching happens when teachers remember that learning is developmental.

Offer open-ended activities to meet the developmental stages of all students. An open-ended activity involves children at a wide range of developmental levels. Children are less frustrated working at their own level and they do not have to compare their results to a set of identical worksheets.

6. Children learn best when given things, objects, and stuff to explore

When teaching young children, always use concrete materials, as children need sensory experiences when learning new ideas and concepts.

Take advantage of the many educational learning materials available to teach geometry, number sense, pattern skills, symmetry, classification and other math concepts.

Use science materials like magnets, light paddles, scales, weights, and collections of birds’ nests, as well as book character toys and puppets to enhance literacy.

7. Children need instruction, practice and time to learn new skills and concepts

A child doesn’t learn to ride a bike by only looking at the bike and exploring its properties, he/she also needs time to practice and guided instruction.

Practicing concepts and skills does not need to be dull and repetitive. Do not automatically think “worksheet” when you think of skills practice. There are lots of ways to practice skills using puzzles, games, diagrams, art and more.

8. Children won’t learn if they are over tired, hungry, upset or worried

Be flexible and understanding with young children. Check to see if kids are hungry. It’s easier to let a child eat part of her lunch early, than attempt to make a hungry child concentrate on a task.

Sometimes a child needs to be left alone and creating a small retreat space in the classroom can help students who are too overwhelmed by home or other circumstances to cope with their peers or teacher.

9. Motivated children pay attention

Young children are generally motivated to learn about everything. Unless they have often been made fun of when investigating or presenting their knowledge, they have a strong desire to find out and share information.

Reinforce thinking processes rather than praising the child. Saying “That’s an interesting way you sorted your blocks. Tell me what you were thinking” rather than, “Samuel is so smart” will focus the children’s attention on exploring the blocks. Making too much fuss of any one child can result in a competitive atmosphere.

10. Children learn by teaching others

When children have an opportunity to communicate their new knowledge to adults or other children it helps solidify concepts. Some children need extra time to find the correct words to explain what they are thinking so patience is necessary.

To help children share their knowledge, use descriptive words as they play or work and they will copy your vocabulary.

11. Children Need to be Active

If children have been sitting still too long, they will let you know it’s time to move. Even the best, well planned, interesting lessons fail if the children need a break.

Take plenty of movement breaks, go for walks around the school, march around the classroom or jump up and down! You will have more alert and focused students.

Summary

As children experience your love and acceptance and realize that you are willing to help them, they relax and learn. Keep a sense of enthusiasm, wonder and curiosity about the world around you, and your students will imitate your behavior. Your classroom may be one of the few places where their opinions and ideas are valued.

10 Tips For Teaching Middle School Math

As a teacher for 11 years and middle-school math teaching consultant, I’ve seen a wide array of different math programs and classes. I’m sharing here the 10 best teaching tips I’ve compiled over the years.

1. Provide compelling content to study.

Years ago, a colleague I was working with said, “Maybe class can be fun, but I can’t make class compelling. I have to teach math!” It’s an assumption worth exploring.

Take Ron Berger’s middle-school math project to study levels radon in their own homes. Studying radon is boring. But Berger’s class project has got to be one of the most compelling projects in math class history. What if his students discovered dangerous levels of radon in the homes of one geographic area and published the results as they had intended? What would happen to real estate values in that area? What he found is that students were highly engaged in mapping, taking averages, looking at standard deviations- students that heretofore didn’t care one bit about radon or the other concepts.

So what’s the trick? The trick is that there isn’t one. You can’t trick students into finding something compelling if it isn’t. Take a little bit of time to develop a few topics of study throughout the year that you find compelling- the Economy, the Presidential Campaigns, the Human Body, etc. Find an authentic way to present your result- the paper, the web, a magazine. Keep the project small, authentic and do-able.

Students of teachers that do take this kind of time have better outcomes on state tests than students of teachers who only stick to the text. Almost any social studies context provides a backdrop for learning that adds depth.

Even teachers who hold a math “topics” class only once a month see real benefits, so you don’t have to abandon your regular class. And, you’ll find that students are more engaged when regular class is held.

If you want to go really deep and have solid administrator support, look into the school reform movement of Expeditionary Learning Schools who have an excellent approach to thematic teaching.

2. Don’t use extraneous rewards such as candy, purchase points, stickers, etc.

There is nothing more certain than seeing the culture of a math class decline over a period of years when a teacher bribes them. The intent of the teacher, of course, is good. A teacher cares about his or her students and wants the very best for them. “I don’t care how they learn math,” one teacher said to me. “I just want them to learn it so that they are prepared.” The teacher cared enough to purchase candy out of her own pocket, but the real message to students is this: the “positive reinforcement” of candy means “math isn’t worth doing on its own.” The research is clear on the matter too, and shows us that extrinsic, non-relevant rewards hurt learning.

Even if the effects aren’t immediate, over time so called “positive reinforcements” like these mentioned above erode an otherwise high-quality math program. As a teacher, you are much better off trying to create inherently compelling curriculum than buying candy.

3. Build a culture where students teach each other.

For many teachers, one student helping another is called cheating. But I actually found that the better middle-school math programs all encouraged students to team together at certain times throughout the week. The activities were usually graded as complete or not-complete, and when tied to meaningful tasks, such as building a survey together and collecting original data, student comprehension was greater than on individual tasks.

Building the kind of culture that works for student pairs or groups takes years and lots of practice. But before you give up and decide it doesn’t work, determine if you are following tips #1 and #2 first.

4. Give less, but more meaningful work, including homework.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study labels the curriculum in the United States as “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Their review of math texts in middle-school found that some were almost 700 pages long. With heavy pressure to teach to the standards, as a teacher you might be tempted to skip and jump to many topics throughout the text. Don’t. It achieves little learning.

Choose the most important pieces before the beginning of the year, and keep it simple. Teach the concepts you do teach with depth.

The national advisory counsel formed from the study recommended “put first things first” and suggested that indeed, less is more. Take the time to cull the curriculum to a manageable size for your students, and present them with only that. If you have to “cover” standards, find out what standards and document when you indeed teach them in class. You’ll find that teaching with depth often reaches to a broad array of standards.

It’s helpful to know what’s driving the breadth. As the national study panel concurs, publishers are trying to meet demands of hundreds of different districts by including everything that any school might want. And while publishers have been attempting custom publishing, it is just as difficult to create a math curriculum for a small district as a large one. Thus, the challenges of book publishing lead to a single, uniformly created overarching textbook. Often this is a very large text or an entire series.

In the classroom, teachers and students become overwhelmed and unable to handle the scope or breadth of learning in this form. As teachers, we have to recognize that predominantly negative emotions surround math in middle-school, and that anything we can reduce those emotions will go a long way toward gains in learning learning. Placing a 500 page text in front of a 7th grade student is unlikely to help, so use it sparingly and build little, home-made notebooks for daily use.

5. Model thinking, not solutions or answers.

Don’t show a student how to solve something. Instead “think aloud”. For example, you might have a whiteboard with a problem up, and start by saying, “o.k., I notice that the 4 numbers I am to sum are all in the thousands category, and that the first is near 3,000, the second near 5,000, and the third… I am confused about…” Model exactly what you thinking including confusion, emotions, skills, strategies and more.

When you do this, also let your students know how mathematicians think. One piece of research that is helpful to know is that mathematicians spend a long time thinking about how to set up a problem, a little bit of time doing the problem, and a long time “looking back” by asking the question, “Does this make sense?’ Model that for your students, by putting up a complex problem on the board and spending time not just jumping into a solution, but just talking about what strategies you might use to solve the problem.

6. Provide feedback that is immediate, relevant to the task, non-comparative, and leads the way to next steps.

Many teachers believe that grading is a form of feedback. It isn’t. Grading, when done well, can be a form of assessment of learning, but the distinction should be clear. Grades are not an effective tool as assessment for learning. Grades are the end of the road, when you assess what has been learned, but they should not be intended to inform a student where to go next.

Take, for example, three groups of students who received different kinds of “feedback” on math papers they had “turned in.” The first group received only narrative feedback (no score) informing them where and how they made mistakes. The second group received a grade (or score) and narrative feedback. The third group received just a grade. Not surprisingly, the students who received narrative feedback improved when re-tested. Those who had received only a grade did not have the information to improve, and performed the same when re-tested. But here is the surprising part. There was no difference between “grade-only” group and the group that received the grade and narrative feedback. Why? The students who received both a grade and narrative feedback completely ignored the written suggestions and only looked at the score. “I got a blah, blah, blah… what did you get?”

Because we live in a world where grades and formalized assessments are so important, work with the system by differentiating assessment for learning and assessment of learning.

When you are grading, one guide is to reference Rick Stiggins strategies of assessment for learning. That way, when you are conducting an assessment of learning (i.e. grading), you’ll notice that you are momentarily stepping out of the role of improving a student’s learning and won’t have the conflict of trying to do two things at once.

7. Change mimeographed sheets to problems you and your students personally develop.

A pervasive aspect of our culture is to give out page after page of information. In faculty meetings, business meetings and conferences, hundreds of pages of documents are handed out. It makes us look organized and prepared. It’s also a way to “cover” content. But for a middle-school math student, it also makes it hard to determine what is important. Was it the fractions part? Was it the decimals section? Was it the number line? Was it the triangle puzzle problem? Was it the cartoon?

Instead of another mimeographed page, have your student write their own story problems. Tell them to add artwork for comprehension. Give them the latitude to make them fun. Celebrate them by posting them in class. Give them 5 home-made story problems they create for homework instead of a mimeographed sheet with 30 problems, and really dive into improving them through revision.

8. Use story to teach math.

Write a story, a real story with characters and plot, and add the math problem set. Write about wizards that need to use angles for their sorcery. Write about spice trading ships on the deep seas. Write a story that lasts a whole page before even getting to the math portion. You’ve engaged the right-side, or less analytical, part of the brain and you’ll see a powerful effect of enhanced engagement.

9. Get math tutor volunteers once a week for two-months before state testing.

As a teacher or administrator, spend time during the fall months by planning for and scheduling a single day each week during the months of February and March (right before testing) to have volunteers come in to teach math in small groups. But what’s nice is that if developed correctly, these volunteers don’t need to have any special training in math.

Start with a simple plan. Each student has 10 skills they have chosen to work on during the whole class tutoring session and have written down their practice problems in class. The phone calls are made, the specific planning with an administrator is done, and volunteers come in and help the students answer the 10 questions during class with support. Schedule tutoring once every week for two months before testing and see your scores greatly improve.

10. Work with the emotions your students have for math.

10a. Ask your students how they feel about math. Use a bit of class time periodically to gain a better sense of where they are. And, just let them feel how they feel. If they like math, they like it. If they are bored, empathize. If your students can’t stand math, you will gain far more ground by seeing their perspective than trying to prove they are wrong. As a teacher this is hard because we are so accustomed to trying to “fix” the situation, and of course, our ego is tied to student emotion. If our students are bored, we feel like we aren’t doing the right thing. But the larger truth is that there is an ebb and flow in all of us for the topics we are learning. When the boredom, frustration and negativity does emerge, try understanding it. Perhaps class does feel a little boring. That’s o.k. Sometimes it will. And then slowly, over a period of years, build those compelling pieces into your classes so that you punctuate boring times with excitement and joy.

10b. Go slowly. Changing the direction of your math class is like trying to change the direction of a large ship, especially when dealing with emotions. Even once everything is place for the changes to occur, you will notice the “ship’s” momentum going in the same old direction before you sense any real shifts. This is part of the process. It took me three years to develop a coherent math program at my middle-school and even then, we occasionally slipped in to old patterns. Good luck!

3 Legal Tips for Teaching Kids How to Drive

The American culture is full of all kinds of family traditions that are handed down from generation to generation. Sunday dinners, family reunions, summer camps, and secrete recipes are some of the most time-honored customs practiced around the country; but one of the most influential and memorable American customs is teaching your teenagers how to drive.

Unfortunately, letting your teenager get behind the wheel of a car may be illegal under certain circumstances, even if it’s just a few innocent laps in an empty parking lot. In fact, many parents and guardians are breaking the law when they first allow their child to drive, all the while, unaware that they are putting themselves at risk of being charged criminally. If your child is still too young, not legally permitted, and uninsured, you could face criminal charges if you allow them to drive.

So before you decide to teach your teenager how to drive, be sure you have all the information you need to stay legal while doing it. After all, it is a time that should be thoroughly enjoyed, and a memory that should be revered. Continue reading to learn 3 tips that will help you make your moment permissible under law.

1. Obtain Legal Driving Certification

If you are teaching your child how to drive before they take a drivers’ education course, be sure to get them legally licensed to drive. Under a certain age, a teenager can receive their Learners’ Permit, which allows them to legally drive as long as there is a licensed adult who is at least 25 years old (varies depending on state) in the vehicle with them at all times. The age limit and requirements for obtaining a learners’ permit varies from state to state. Check with your local DMV for information specific to your city of residence.

For example, In Indiana:

  • 15 year olds who are enrolled in a drivers’ education program can obtain a learner’s permit;
  • 16 year olds who are NOT enrolled in a drivers’ education program can obtain a learner’s permit;
  • Teenagers who are 16 years and 90 days old, and have completed a drivers’ education program, can obtain a probationary drivers’ license;
  • Teenagers who are 16 years and 270 days old, and have NOT completed a drivers’ education program, can obtain a probationary drivers’ license;
  • An 18 year-old can obtain a full unrestricted driver’s license.

Source: Indiana DMV

2. Get Insurance Coverage

After your teenager is permitted to driver under law, you still need to obtain proper insurance coverage through a valid automotive insurance provider. The policy must be active for it to be legal. Although many states do not require coverage during the learners’ permit phase, it is mandatory everywhere once a provisional license is obtained. Check with your local DMV for specific insurance requirements in your state.

3. Get Your Traffic Laws Straight

The driving laws have changed quite a bit since you learned how to drive, most likely anyway. So before you begin teaching your young one how to drive, be sure to brush up on the current traffic laws. Not only have traffic laws changed, but restrictions for certain types of driving licenses have too. Know all of this information so that you do not pass on inaccurate driving knowledge to your teen driver.

Teaching English Tips: How To Be A Successful Teacher

If you’re interested in moving abroad for a job teaching English, you’ll likely find that it’s quite different than being a teacher or tutor for native speakers. However, before you move to start your new career, consider brushing up on some tips to help you become a better teacher. These aren’t the only ways to become successful, but they can certainly help your students learn the language.

Tip #1: Speak Entirely In English

If you’ve ever tried to learn another language, you know that it can be difficult, especially if you’re trying to go back and forth between your new and native tongues. Studies have shown that immersion classrooms are more successful, mostly because students are forced to switch their brains over to the new language. If your students are just beginners, they may have problems following along so make sure that you write down any necessary information, such as homework assignments. Students may need to look up a few words in a translation dictionary before they truly understand, and having the instructions written down will help ensure that they can complete the assignment at home.

Tip #2: Encourage Everyone To Speak Up

Instructors aren’t the only ones who should be talking throughout the class. Students should feel free to speak to each other, without worrying about being mocked for making a mistake. Learning a new language is difficult and everyone needs to actually say the words in order to be effective in their new language! Don’t let a few outspoken students run the class though. Teachers should make an effort to call on each student at least once a session to ensure that everyone is progressing as they should.

Tip #3: Require That Students Write In English

Have you ever met someone who’s fluent in another language, but they can’t read or write it? These are often people whose families speak other languages, but they learn another in school. To help your students become successful in all parts of speech, make sure they write, as well as read and speak in the new language.

Tip #4: Make Teaching English Fun

Your class will learn better when they’re having fun, even if they’re adults. Nothing will put your class to sleep faster than a dry, boring lesson. Instead, use games and other teaching gimmicks to make the lesson enjoyable for yourself and your class. Pictionary and charades are especially fun, as well as spelling bees and 20 questions. If you notice that your class prefers certain games to others, try to adapt them for different lessons. Or, ask your students to come up with their own game to teach the class — when they’re directly involved in their own education, they’ll be more likely to be successful.

These aren’t the only ways teachers can be successful when they’re teaching English to non-native speakers, but they’re certainly a good start. If you can, connect with others who are teaching English and work together to share ideas and strategies that will help you — and your class — to be successful.