Stamping Out Summer Learning Loss

Stamping Out Summer Learning Loss

Research spanning 100 years shows that all young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities over the summer. More concerning, however, is the effect of summer learning loss on the achievement gap. So how do we keep the "learning faucet" turned on for all students to combat summer learning loss and narrow the achievement gap? 

Tips for Future Teachers: Choosing Your First School

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You just graduated from your Ed school program with lots of ideas about curriculum, classroom management, lesson planning, differentiation, etc. but now you have to find a school...what should you look for? How can you distinguish between the different schools and their philosophies, especially if you are in a huge hiring hall with lots of other applicants?

As a current professor of a course designed to prepare future school building leaders but also a former high school math teacher, I can tell you that the number one most important thing to look for in a school is the level of support from the administration (principal, assistant principals, mentors, etc.) As a brand new teacher, you will need lots of support especially in your freshman year! Teaching is no longer a profession where you close your door and teach your students with little input from anyone else. Rather, it is a collaborative profession where you have the ability to continually grow and learn from your colleagues and your supervisors. You don't want to select a school that has a struggling administration or a weak (or nonexistent) school philosophy. In conjunction with a great teaching staff, the school leaders shape the mission of the school and provide the support and resources to carry out that mission.

Even the best-prepared first year teacher will struggle at a school that has weak leadership. You should spend your first year teaching learning how to craft lesson plans, do backward-planning to meet instructional goals and getting to know your students so that you can figure out the best way to teach them. You should not be spending your time constantly worrying about classroom management because of an uninvolved or unsupportive administration - obviously many aspects of classroom management are the responsibility of the teacher, but you should have a strong support system (deans, mentors, principal) that will help you navigate disciplinary issues and give you the support you need to put strong routines in place that will alleviate many classroom management issues. Similarly, you should not spend your entire first year reinventing the "curriculum" wheel. It is important that you plan your lessons thoroughly and learn the ins and outs of your course(s) but is it NOT necessary that you create every activity or assessment from scratch. Your administrators should partner you with more veteran teachers that will give you resources and share their broader content knowledge. When you interview at a school ask the administration if there is any type of "buddy" system where you will have the opportunity to collaborate with more experienced staff members. Also ask if there is time in the school day specifically devoted to professional collaboration among teachers. This should ideally be part of your scheduled day and not time that you have to find on your own in order to collaborate.

Any administrator will have a prospective teacher come in for an interview and probably a "demo" lesson before hiring. Although I know this will be a stressful experience for a first year teacher, try to pay close attention to the atmosphere of the building that you are visiting. Do students seem overall to be happy with the environment and their teachers? Even though this sounds simple it's actually so important - are students and teachers smiling? Are teachers kind to students in the hallways and in their classrooms and does genuine learning seem to be taking place? Your first impressions of a school are very important and you should trust your instincts. The type of school and administration that you encounter in your first year of teaching can be crucial to your future teaching career and the development of your skills, so be sure to make an informed decision using all of the available information at your disposal. Good Luck!

Danielle Longyear taught high school math (9th-12th grade algebra, geometry, trig and AP Stat) in a low-income, public high school in Brooklyn, New York as a New York City Teaching Fellow. She got her masters in Mathematics Education from Brooklyn College after doing her undergraduate degree at Georgetown University. She also completed her school administration degree from Baruch College in NYC and is currently teaching a School Building Leader course at Hunter College as an adjunct professor in their School of Education.

 

February Flip – Strategies to Make the Winter Blues Better

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February can be a particularly difficult month for educators; it was for me. The rejuvenation of winter break had passed, spring break seemed light-years away, and my 8th graders were already “checking out.” Grading seemed more mundane by the day and teacher morale was low. Here are four ways to make February a new favorite. 1. Give Choices

Giving students choices, whether big or small, can help engage their interest and motivation. Maybe change the way you assess a big unit. In February, I had students give a public speech or debate. Even those that had a fear of public speaking were happy to do something different and engaging. A perk for me: grading a speech was less time consuming and more entertaining than an essay. (And if you have to grade essays in February, that’s where The Graide Network can help!)

2. Challenge Students

Creating healthy competition is a great way to get students engaged in their work. As a reading teacher, in February I began to advertise a March Madness Reading Challenge where students cast a ballot for every book they read. Basketball teams were replaced with authors of fiction or non-fiction books. The entire junior high was involved. The healthy competition motivated students to collectively read more than 850 books in one month. This challenge significantly increased per student reading consumption in the month during the event as compared to non-competition months. Don’t forget to include the teachers in the challenge too!

3. Teacher Potluck

Having a potluck every Thursday in February amongst teachers served as a great midday motivation, it increased camaraderie, and there were always leftovers on Friday!

4. Remember and Reflect

Recently the press has focused on the declining number of enrollment at teacher training programs, teachers leaving the profession, and how the erosion is steady. These trends about our profession warp society’s perspective and our own conviction about the career path that we have chosen. Rather than succumb to the media’s influence in addition to the negativity from the winter blues, we need to reflect on the experiences and remember the passion that led us to this profession. One organization that can guide us towards this focus is Teacher2Teacher. In February, join them in reflecting and connecting about this incredibly rewarding profession. Follow @Teacher2Teacher and reflect (#whyiteach).

May this February be the best one yet!

Please share your strategies of making the winter months better in the comment section below.

Angelina Tracey is a middle school reading specialist and former middle school literature teacher. She is also an avid volunteer, tutor, yogi and dance coach. 

Tips for New Teachers: Practice!

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TIP # 4: Practice Your Lessons

Before I became a teacher, I worked in other jobs and attended school where I frequently had to give presentations. Before every presentation, I would make sure to practice at least a few times to work out the kinks in the presentation. Practicing was enormously helpful – I was usually terrible the first time around.

Then I became a teacher. For some reason or another, even though I was clearly presenting during some or most parts of a lesson, I never bothered to practice my lessons out loud. I thought that because I spent so much time planning the lesson, I would just be able to deliver it according to how I saw it in my head! Unsurprisingly, this led to some horrible lessons. Not necessarily horribly planned, but horribly executed.

In my third year of being a teacher, I became a huge proponent of practicing my lessons. I would get to school a bit earlier each day and practice before the students arrived. It might sound silly, and some of the other teachers at my school would make fun of me, but it made a huge difference for me and my students. Here are some of the key areas I would suggest practicing:

  • The key points or takeaways from your mini-lesson: I think each lesson has one or two key concepts that you want your students to take away and remember. I would definitely practice saying these things out loud. Make sure you get the wording right and that you have the right level of energy and emotion as you’re saying it. There were so many times before I started doing this that I would stumble across these key points, and the lesson was essentially useless afterwards.

  • Writing on the board: If your lesson involves writing on the whiteboard / chalkboard / Smartboard, it is a great idea to write it out at least once. This way you can make sure the layout makes sense and that you have enough space to write everything you need.

  • Giving directions: Giving the right directions is one of the most challenging parts of delivering a lesson. The directions need to be concrete, specific, and concise. You need to frame them in a positive rather than a negative. If you don’t do it right, your students might get confused and find opportunities to do other things, and potentially derail your lesson. Practicing saying the directions you will need to give during your lesson will help you get this right and have your lesson flow as smoothly as possible!

The last thing I’ll say about practice is that it’s a great opportunity to catch some mistakes you’ve made in your lesson. Maybe you thought it would flow a certain way, but doesn’t make sense when you practice it out loud. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments when you realize this. Then practice again! Good luck!

 

Chen Liu spent four years as a New York City high school science teacher. Chen also trained new teachers for The New Teacher Project.

Engagement is the Best Form of Classroom Management

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Tips for New Teachers: Classroom Management

Engagement is the best form of classroom management. That statement still makes me cringe. In my first year as a teacher, when my classroom environment was less then desirable and I asked my principal for support, that’s what she told me. Although that “advice” really wasn’t very helpful to me at the time, I have to admit that it’s true.

A lot of student misbehavior is opportunistic. They’re not sure what they are supposed to be doing, or are bored, so they chat with their friends, check their phones, get up and walk around, etc. As a new teacher, I always interpreted this as defiant behavior, but the majority of the time it wasn’t intended to defy or disrespect my authority as a teacher.

There are many ways to deal with opportunistic misbehaviors, some of which we will cover in later tips, but probably the best one is to avoid the opportunity in the first place through engagement. When students are fully engaged in the lesson, it becomes harder for them to find opportunities to act out. Here are my favorite engagement techniques. Good Luck!

  • Start each lesson with a “hook.” The best time to engage students in a lesson is at the very beginning. Each day, after going over the Do Now, I would spend 5 minutes deliberately trying to engage my students through a hook. I was a science teacher, so often this meant showing them a short video clip that related to the day’s concept, or doing a demo. I actually included this in my lesson plans, so I was actively thinking about it each day.

  • Make it personal. Students often find it hard to engage with material that is abstract or unrelated to their lives. An easy way to make it more “real” for them is to connect the concept or lesson to a real person or narrative. For example, when I taught my students about cell signaling (very abstract), I chose to frame it through diabetes and insulin (less abstract), and would start the unit by reading about and watching videos on two children that actually had diabetes (personal, specific). I found that my students were much more engaged when they realized what we were learning actually impacted the lives of two very real people.

  • Be energetic! Sounds simple, but very effective. If students see your passion and energy come through, they are more likely to be engaged. This is particularly helpful for maintaining engagement through mini-lessons. I moved around a lot, made lots of hand gestures, and even tried to act out some of the concept we were learning.

  • Break away from pen and paper. Students probably complete a bajillion worksheets each year, so a break from that always boosts engagement. As a science teacher, labs were the obvious hands on activity, but it can be way simpler than that. Activities involving markers and chart paper work just as well!

 

Chen Liu spent four years as a New York City high school science teacher. Chen also trained new teachers for The New Teacher Project.

Tips for New Teachers: Assigned Seats

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Tip #2: Assigned Seats from Day 1

I think I was the only teacher at my school to do this, but I stand by it 100%. Setting assigned seats from Day 1 really sends the signal to your students that you’ve thought things through, and like Tip #1, you know what you’re doing! It also saves you the hassle of trying to assign seats once students are comfortable sitting with their friends. If you’ve ever taken physics, you understand the concept of inertia.

So now the question – how do you assign seats before you even meet your students? If your classroom has desks in rows, that’s easy. You can do alphabetical order, or even random assortment if you want. But who does that these days? Most classrooms I’ve seen have grouped desks. I had tables that each sat four students. So what do you do then? I’m sure you’ve heard about the idea of heterogenous grouping in your education coursework. I would use that technique. Here’s an example of how I did it, again for a classroom where students sat in groups of 4:

  • Get some sort of data on your students from your principal or whoever can provide that information. I taught 10th grade so I used 8th grade test scores. If you teach in middle school, you can use the previous year’s test scores. If you teach higher grades in high school, use grades from 9th or 10th grade, etc.

  • Separate each class into four groups and assign them a number based on their performance – the top 25% would get a “1”, the next 25% would get a “2”, etc.

  • Make groups of four (assuming that’s how many students sit at each table) where each table has a 1, 2, 3, and 4.

  • Do a sanity check – make sure tables have a mix of genders, check absenteeism to make sure one table isn’t going to be empty every day, ask last year’s teacher if you have a bad mix at any particular table.

Once I’ve made the groups, the next step is to execute it on the first day of class. Here are two ways that I’ve done it. Both work fine:

  • Have students line up in the back of the classroom on the first day. Call each individual student up and show them where they are sitting. This takes a little longer, but gives you a chance to meet and greet each student briefly, which could be good.

  • Display a seating chart on the projector or board and have students figure out where to sit. This is faster, but make sure everyone knows what they should be doing.

Some important things to watch out for when executing this. Prepare an explanation for how you made the groups. Don’t lie, but don’t give the full truth either. I usually said something like: “I grouped everyone in a way where we can all help each other” or “your teacher from last year help me make these groups.” Have a plan for complaints about seating. You can’t allow anyone to switch seats immediately, or everyone will try to get out of it. My favorite way to address this is to tell students that they can submit to me in writing a request to change seats with an explanation. That eliminates all the people who just want to sit with their friends, but the people who really need to (e.g. for vision problems) will do it. Good Luck!

 

Chen Liu spent four years as a New York City high school science teacher. Chen also trained new teachers for The New Teacher Project.

Tips for New Teachers: Routines

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Tip # 1: Do (some of) the same things EVERY DAY

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but establishing rituals and routines in your classroom is probably the most important way to set yourself up for success as a new teacher. Your students know what to expect, which is always a good thing. But maybe more importantly, you show them that you know what you’re doing.

Unfortunately for new teachers, figuring out the right rituals and routines is hard! You’ve never done it before, so you don’t know what works for you. You might think one routine is what you want, then realize it doesn’t suit you or your students at all (that happened to me A LOT). So keep it simple – not every minute of every class has to be a routine, but figure out certain parts that can be. Also try borrowing from other teachers. From your student teaching, think about what procedures the teachers implemented that you liked or would work with your personal style. And lastly, here are some examples from my own teaching experience (along with whether they worked or not):

1. Entry/Exit routine:

  • Every day I prepared a half sheet of paper. On the front was a Do Now – questions that prepared students for the day’s lessons or reviewed the previous lesson. On the back was an Exit Ticket – questions or an activity that summarized today’s lesson. Students spent the first 5 minutes of class working on the Do Now and the last 5 minutes completing the Exit Ticket. This slip of paper was collected every day.

  • Result: This worked really well! I think mainly because I did it EVERY DAY. It also helped that the DN and ET were together and always collected. A lot of teachers struggle with getting students to complete the Do Now, so the fact that the paper was collected every day kept students accountable. Aside from the routine, the exit ticket was also very informative for me on how my students were doing. After a quick read through of student responses I could modify the next lesson to address some misconceptions or re-teach some concepts

4.5 Do Now

4.5 Do Now

4.5 Exit Ticket

4.5 Exit Ticket

2. Homework routine

  • I had a box where students would turn in their homework on their way into class.

  • Result: Mega fail. I didn’t give homework every day, and would forget about the box when I was supposed to collect it. So basically no one except the top two students would use this box. I ended up having students turn in homework along with their exit tickets (see above) at the end of the day.

3. Reading routine: Anticipation Guide

  • Every time my students did a reading, I would set up an anticipation guide for them. This was usually part of their worksheet. It’s a series of statements related to what they were about to read. Before they started the reading they would guess whether each statement was T/F. Then as they read, they would learn the truth and go back and update their initial guesses. They would also need to provide evidence on why the statement was T/F.

  • Result: Really awesome! Not only is this a great routine, it’s also a great way to encourage more engaged reading in the classroom. Highly recommended.

4. Materials routine

  • As a science teacher, a lot of my lessons involved materials. I tried this routine where each table or group had a “Materials Manager” and this person was responsible for bringing/returning all the materials for his/her group.

  • Result: Not too great. It turns out that sometimes materials require more than one person to collect. Also what if the MM is absent? Then no one wants to get the stuff because it’s “not their job.” I ended up scratching this. I would ask for 1 (or 2) students to come and get the materials whenever we needed it.

Hope this was helpful! Let us know what rituals/routines you like to use in your classroom! More tips to follow!

Chen Liu spent four years as a New York City high school science teacher. Chen also trained new teachers for The New Teacher Project.