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Friday, May 29, 2009

You Can Handle Them All

Classroom management is key to effective instruction. You can't even begin to worry about making your teaching sticky if you don't first have an environment which is respectful, safe, and orderly. For novices and veterans alike, one of the best classroom management websites available can be found at This website, maintained by The Master Teacher, lists 117 problem behaviors, structured by

  • behavior (attitudes and actions of the child),

  • effects (ways in which this behavior affects home and school),

  • actions (to be taken by the adult in dealing with this child), and

  • mistakes (common errors which may actually perpetuate the problem).

A behavior labeled The Smart Aleck, for example, is defined by these characteristics:

  1. Makes "funny" comments that actually go far beyond humor. And the cutting effect is intentional.

  2. Often rude, and usually disrespectful. Different from the smartmouth; the smart aleck's misbehavior includes both word and deed.

  3. Has been overindulged by adults.

  4. Tries to act superior to others.

  5. Attempts to cover an inferiority complex with this type of behavior.

  6. Denies, and hides from facing, the feeling of inferiority. Is fooling him/herself-and possibly others.
    (and so on, for a total of eleven descriptors).

So, does that define your problem behavior? If not, the site offers related behaviors: The Class Clown, The Defier, The Distracter, The Loudmouth, The Show-Off, or The Smartmouth. Yes, these are separately defined behaviors! Step one, then, is making sure that you zero in on the appropriate behavior.

So let's suppose that The Smart Aleck is the proper label. You'd then be able to view the Effects of this behavior. The Effects list helps you realize that that the feelings you're experiencing are a natural outcome of this behavior and not simply you "overreacting." The Effects list can also help you dialogue with the student and parents about the behavior's effect upon others.

Now comes time to take Action. In the words of the site: "Identify causes of misbehavior. Pinpoint student needs being revealed. Employ specific methods, procedures, and techniques at school and at home for getting the child to modify or change his/her behavior."

Perhaps most useful of all is Mistakes, a list of those misjudgments which may "perpetuate or intensify the problem." It's so tempting to respond in turn, yet rarely productive (or mature).

Looking for preemptive strategies and structures to use in the classroom? I highly recommend Setting Limits in the Classroom: How to Move Beyond the Dance of Discipline by Robert J. Mackenzie. If it had been the first book on the topic that I purchased as a new teacher, I would not have purchased any others. He later came out with another title, Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child : Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries which offers solution for more difficult students.

When you visit You Can Handle Them All, be sure to first read the sidebar to the right. It begins: "We are labeling behaviors, not children!" A good sentiment to keep in mind when approaching your discipline problems.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Organizing Thinking

Often in our attempts to do what is best for students, we often forget to simply help them do what is best for themselves. Graphic organizers are an effective tool that allow students to think for themselves, or to organize information when reading novels or texts.

I know, graphic organizers are nothing new. But take a look at what else is out there. There's certainly more than Venn diagrams and Cornell notes. A great first place to look is where you'll find over fifty organizers in pdf format.

From that site:

Why do they work?
Random facts are quickly lost. However, the brain's ability to store pictures is unlimited. And since the brain likes to chunk information, the graphic organizer complements the way the brain naturally works.

When do they work?
Graphic organizers will be beneficial to students whenever they are given new information. They can be used to sequence, brainstorm and organize. During reading and listening students should be encouraged to graphically organize new information.

Need a few more? I doubt it, but here are a few that I've used as well.

ABC's of the Writing Process Links to many graphic organizers.

Enchanted Learning Organizers Printable hand-outs.

Free Printable Graphic Organizers Frequently updated list of organizers.

Graphic Organizer Creator Create timelines, concept webs, Venns, and more for free at this site.
Graphic Organizers HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Extensive excellent list from Region 15 school district in Connecticut.

Graphic Organizers (Links) Links to many types of organizers.

Graphic Organizers for Kids Kid friendly.

Graphic Orgs for Literacy Graphic Organizers for Literature

LATCH Organization LATCH acronym stands for 5 ways to organize ideas.

MOSAIC Listserve Awesome list of organizers in pdf or Word format.

Skills Continuum Different organizers with guiding Qs.

Various GOs Listed by category.

Venn Diagram Interactive Create a Venn Diagram online.

WriteDesign On-Line Some graphic organizers with reasons for using.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

ReSnooze: Another Way to Organize Your Life

I know there are many methods to remind yourself of events and deadlines but Resnooze seems like a cool way to take some of that burden off of you. Resnooze is an online app that will regularly remind you of dates to remember, at whatever frequency you choose.

For example, I might use Resnooze to schedule
  • regular parent contacts
  • distributed assessments and writing samples
  • visits to websites which are updated, but not as frequently as blogs
  • interim reports and end-of-marking-period grades
  • regular family events (doctor and dentist visits, pet meds, etc.)
Demo Girl (I guess she's a really hip, digital-age superhero) provides a nice synopsis of this application (if the embedded video below doesn't run, click here).

Saturday, May 16, 2009

YAuthor: Create Course Content Online

yAuthor is an on-line authoring tool that allows users to create professionally looking interactive content easily. For the teacher, this might mean independent learning modules, self-paced reading selections, tutorials, quizzes, or flipbooks.

This application is fairly new, but the present site features a tour, several demos, and some publicly viewable projects. The interface is extremely easy to use, and allows the teacher to choose among several page formats and quizzing styles (multiple choice, cloze, matching, fill-in-the-blank). Modules instantly provide users with feedback (requiring that they return to wrong answers for correction) and final scores on a page-by-page basis.

One of the better examples at the site is an assessment module on the Civil War. It shows several page formats and quizzing options.

The site is free and looks to be constantly improving with more advanced features. Get in now while the memberships are free!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How to Teach a Novel: The Blog

Since some of this blog's readers are upper elementary and middle school teachers (special shout out to my homeschoolers), I thought you'd like to know that I've launched a new blog over at Wordpress.

How to Teach a Novel is aimed at teachers in grades 3-12 who use authentic literature in the classroom. This blog will attempt to bring you related web sites, effective and efficient practices, and current and relevant articles related to the art and science of teaching the novel.

You might first want to check out my older, static site over at Squidoo which bears the same name. The How to Teach a Novel "lens" (Squidoo's unique name for personal sites) presents a step-by-step approach for the teacher who holds a novel in hand but lacks the resources to teach it. It's the online companion to a popular workshop I've presented several times over the past couple years. (As for the presumptuous titles? They make it easier to find the sites when searching Google).

I'm a longtime fan of novels, I love teaching them, and I feel that there's a right and a wrong way to go about it. I'd love to hear about your experiences as well. Drop me a line and share your favorite sites and books, best practices, and your success and horror stories. We're in this thing together!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Victor Hugo once said something to the effect of, "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come." Teachers are constantly torn between embracing new technologies, which come fast and furiously, and clinging to their traditional methods.

Back in the olden days of 1990 I presented a group project for my Masters in Instruction and Curriculum. Our lesson plan included the use of the Green Acres theme song as an anticipatory set to a unit on rural versus urban lifestyles. The professor was satisfied with the project overall but asked, "Keith, how would the average teacher be able to get the opening song for Green Acres?"

I had stayed up until 1:00 AM and copied it (most likely illegally) from an old rerun, but I answered, "In a couple years they should be able to get it from an electronic library. You know, sign out television shows the same way that people sign out books." (I wasn't being prophetic; I had probably read somewhere that such a capability was just over the horizon). The professor laughed, as did a couple students in the audience, so I added, "Or they can stay up until one in the morning to copy it off an old rerun."

The fact is, many teachers now drown in the tidal wave of new technology. That's why I'm so grateful for sites like Recess Duty, EduTechieGal, and Free Technology for Teachers which give us our tech immersion just one ankle-deep wave at a time. I can handle that.

How about you? Are you feeling overwhelmed? How do you keep up with the latest tech products and applications? What professional development opportunities does your school offer on a regular basis for the average classroom teacher to keep informed about tech advances? Which delivery system has your school or district found most useful in educating teachers in this area? Are there other technology-for-teacher sites that you can recommend? Leave a comment or drop me a line.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Motivating Readers with Movie Scripts

I am guilty of many things, one of them being the use of some nontraditional materials to get kids reading in the classroom. It's no secret that I totally dig picture books for all grade levels, and I also feel that appropriate graphic novels can serve young readers.

Another way to motivate reluctant readers is through the use of movie scripts. For many students, scripts are both engaging and nonthreatening, since the overall plot lines are already familiar (and don't be surprised if students know whole scenes by heart as well). The Internet Movie Script Database features dozens of scripts from current movies and television shows, categorized by genre and fully searchable. These can be read right online, with no download or additional software needed. Simply Scripts has a larger assortment of scripts, from movies, television, radio, stage, and more. Several other sources are available through Google, but I've found these two to be most reliable.

These scripts can be used in other ways as well:
  • Students attempting to write scripts can use these as models for conventional formatting.

  • Teachers working on proper use of quotations can assign a portion of a script to be rewritten as traditional dialogue.

  • Oral expression can be examined through multiple readings of sections, emphasizing different words and varying rate and pitch. For example, how many emotions can be expressed by rereadings of the simple question, "Really?"

  • Students can discuss the use of flash forwards and flashbacks as vehicles for advancing the plot.

  • Speakers of English as a second language can practice reading portions, comparing their diction with that of the on-screen actors. (I suppose you'll have to be careful which scripts you choose for this purpose. Having a classroom full of Nathan Lanes or Robert DeNiros is probably not a desired outcome of instruction).
Some disclaimers:

  • Movies rated R appear here as well, so proper guidance on this site is needed.

  • I am not a lawyer and I don't play one on TV, but my guess is that printing off entire scripts from this source or any other is probably not legal and should be avoidedSnippets of the scripts might be okay, but don't take my word on that.

  • Although the scripts I viewed seemed true to the movie versions, it's possible that some vary from the final theatrical releases.

  • These script sites exist to sell movies, books, DVDS, etc. For that reason, some schools are likely to block them! I recommend you search about a bit and you may be able to find the desired script on an unblocked site.
Have some other uses for online scripts? Email me or leave a comment below.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wisc-Online: Cool Learning Tools

Wisc-Online is the repository for thousands of "learning objects," short, focused slide shows and animations, often accompanied by interactive questions and reviews. These are varied by subject and grade level, and just perfect for whole-group interactive whiteboard or individual review.

You know I like it because I usually steer clear of sites that require sign-ups (even if they're free), but Wisc-Online is totally worth the trouble!