Best Teaching Practice

Best teaching practice has evolved over time. Things that were once in date are now out of date. This category holds all things best teaching practice. Posts here contain small tips and pieces of advice to phase out old practice and focus on the best practice of today. It can be hard to stay on top of best teaching practice so let’s work and learn together!

Weekly Wisdom

It does no good to teach a child to FIX errors if they don't know how to FIND them. Fountas and Pinnell

Weekly Wisdom

The objective of education is not to fill a man's mind with facts; it is to teach him how to use his mind in thinking. Henry Ford

Why We Need to Stop Giving Everything Points

Why We Need to Stop Giving Everything Points

One of my students recently came back from a different class. She ran right in to tell her friends that they had an assessment and she got 20.5 points out of 20. She was so excited about the points that she had earned.

I said, “Oh that’s cool. What did you learn?” She couldn’t answer the question. She could say that she got half a point extra for remembering to put the date at the top of her page. (What is that even assessing?) It got me wondering, how does this assess her learning? How do these points show her progress toward grade-level proficiency? How do these points show her growth over the course of the year?

A Grading Realization

While I was student teaching third grade many years ago I came to a startling though not surprising conclusion. Kids only cared about their work when they knew what it was worth in points. Before beginning anything they asked how many points it was worth. When they were questioned if the work they were turning in was their best work, they asked how many points it was worth. Before any task, during any task, after any task, the question was always the same. How many points is this worth? It drove me absolutely insane. As a person who loves all learning, I couldn’t understand why they were so obsessed with points. Wasn’t it too young for them to be throwing away learning opportunities because they felt it wasn’t worth enough? Are there really moments in the classroom that can be thrown away? Shouldn’t we do something about this?

And so I did. I stopped telling them points and how much things were worth, much to the displeasure of my cooperating teacher. Once they realized I wasn’t going to tell them how many points they had or what “counted” in the gradebook and what didn’t; the learning started taking off. Not taking off too far, don’t get the idea that I was some sort of genius student teacher. But the investment in learning increased and I was happier and they were learning much more. Instead of investing in their grade they invested themselves in the learning. 

Enough With the Points

I’ve luckily never taught in a school that made me track grades with points. When you look in my gradebook there are assessments but instead of measuring knowledge in points, I’ve found it much more beneficial to measure learning in growth and progress towards grade level standards. This doesn’t mean that my grades aren’t accurate or that I don’t know where my students are it means the exact opposite. I know where each of my students are on the continuum of learning for each of the skills that they need to master. I know where each of them has been and the trajectory that they will likely take to get there. I know them as learners and I know that they value learning. 

Standards Based Grading

I use a system called standards-based grading. I grade my students on their progress towards the end of the year standards. This system determines grades based on a student’s progress towards a standard. Often this method uses a 1, 2, 3, 4 method of grading, please see below. 

Instead of giving everything a points value and deciding that a student has a 97%, the progress is determined based on each standard. If you have a 90% what does that mean? What 90% of the content have you mastered? What 10% do you still not know? Here are a few of the differences between traditional grading and standards-based grading. 

Using a standards based grading system makes things easier for me as a teacher. I can more accurately report on student progress to parents and students. I know where my students are in which skills and know what to emphasize with each child. 

I will say that report cards can take a bit longer because you have to enter more grades BUT isn’t it better to give parents more specific feedback? I know in my heart that it is much better.

In the example below you can see the difference in report cards. I just filled in random grades and numbers and this is not based on a student just on whatever number I felt like pressing. 

Reflection

A teacher I follow on instagram shared an end of the year memory page with her followers. It was so adorable. A teacher asked how she grades to memory page. This blew my mind! Why would you grade a memory page? Unless it ties in with your standards we shouldn’t tell kids they got a 94% on their end of the year memory page. 

Do we stop the learning when a grade is given? I feel that students deserve better than what has always been done. They deserve to know that all learning is valuable. After an assessment, skills learned are still relevant, if they aren’t, then why are we teaching them. Kids deserve knowing that all work they complete is valuable but work while they’re beginning to learn a skill shouldn’t count the same as work completed near mastery. What does assigning points to anything really do? I know it makes it easy to spit out a percentage grade at the end of a quarter but what does that say about learning? Couldn’t we say more? Couldn’t we do better?

Are we filling a bucket or lighting a fire? How does your grading system support or hinder your answer to this question? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

Weekly Wisdom

A predictable lesson structure enables you to teach powerfully, it allows you to focus on the facilitative talk and precise language that will lift students. -Fountas and Pinnell

Sharing a Classroom

Sharing a Classroom

I was recently talking to a teacher friend of mine and she was going on and on about another teacher who teaches a special in her classroom. She was beyond frustrated by what happens during that class and was hitting a breaking point. When another teacher comes into your classroom space to teach their class it can become frustrating. In the past I’ve had health, guidance, technology, German, drama, and Polish in my classroom. Iʼm sure any teacher who goes from classroom to classroom also has a hard time managing many different sets of expectations and rules.

Here's How I Navigate The Situation

Set clear expectations with teachers.

In the beginning of the year I clearly explain my expectations to the other teachers. Currently I have health once a week and Polish four days a week in my classroom. I explained to these two teachers that I donʼt mind sharing our supplies (markers, scissors, glue, etc.) as long as they are put back and taken care of. Other teachers in our school do not allow specials teachers to use supplies. I havenʼt had a problem with it so I allow it. I also listen to what their expectations are of me. I explain that I am willing to leave the classroom if they would prefer I was not there. 

Items to Consider

  •  Classroom supplies– Are you going to share? How are the supplies organized? What can and cannot be used by students? What are the clean-up expectations
  • Stay in the classroom or leave– Some teachers don’t mind if you stay. Others would prefer you leave. I try to cause minimal distractions if I stay in the room and sometimes I just need to get out myself and find a quiet space to work. 
  • Space– What space will be shared and what will not be? I have a cabinet in my classroom for Polish notebooks and workbooks but I can’t give up any wall space for Health. (We have very oddly shaped classrooms with limited wall space and lots of windows. It looks great but there’s only space for maybe 3 anchor charts on the wall.) 
  • Technology– I always keep my remote and pen for our interactive TV in the same place and I ask the teachers who use our space to put it back in the same spot. We also don’t have an HDMI cable in my classroom so teachers using my room need to learn how to cast to the TV using ChromeCast. 
  • Cleaning Up– I expect my classroom to look the same way that I left it. The chairs need to be pushed in. There shouldn’t be papers or markers all over the floor.  
  • Behavior Problems– This is a tricky one. Sometimes the teachers who use my classroom expect me to step in as the homeroom teacher and deal with behavior problems. This gets dicey and I don’t like it. I think it takes the authority away from the other teacher and I don’t like responding to behavior problems where I wasn’t the teacher. I explain this to the teachers using my space but at my current school it is sometimes an expectation to step in. 

Set clear expectations with students.

I sit my class down at the beginning of the year and explain the somewhat confusing situation of having two teachers (and sometimes three because of our assistant teacher) in the classroom at once. I explain that I am in the classroom but I am not the teacher. They need to treat the special teacher with respect and they need to follow our classroom rules. I teach them to pretend that I am invisible during another teacher’s class. They shouldn’t come over and ask me if they can go to the bathroom or go fill up their water bottle. Those questions need to be asked to the teacher. If there is an emergency I am always there but I have work I need to get done during that time.

Now, we all can set up clear expectations and things donʼt go according to plan. One year I thought I had clear expectations until I walked back into my classroom to grab something and the kids were going through all of the cabinets in a game of hide and seek! I cannot tell you the horror I felt as I grabbed my notebook and headed back to the meeting I was in. You never know…

When Things Don't GO According To Plan

Assume Positive Intentions- Talk it Out

If you feel that the other teacher isnʼt following your agreed upon expectations the very best thing to do is to talk to them about it. The teacher playing hide and seek figured it out all on his own after seeing my face. He was also a first year teacher and didn’t realize kids going through the cabinets wasn’t ok in our classroom. It was something I didn’t even consider explaining. Make sure to assume best intentions before speaking to them. Iʼm sure people might see snippets of my class and also get annoyed. It happens to all of us.

MYOB- Mind Your Own Business

This has been my most challenging piece this year. I see so many behaviors that I want to correct right away even though it is not my class. Sometimes I hear kids trying to pull things over on another teacher that they wouldn’t try with me or other teachers. It bothers me so much and I want to step in. The problem is that it isnʼt my class and it isnʼt my place to step in. Sometimes I just have to leave my classroom so I don’t overstep. Sometimes teachers have asked me to step in. 

Get Away

Sometimes when the stress and chaos becomes too much I get up and I leave my classroom. I find somewhere else to work. Sometimes I go to the library, the elementary commons, the chairs by the front office. I find a place I can work and I work there. Once last year I just worked on the window sill in the hallway outside of my classroom. If you canʼt handle being in the room, donʼt be in the room. I know this can get tricky because there are some things that we can only get done inside our classrooms but if it is causing you too much stress- leave, get out.

Additional Advice?

Have you ever had to share your classroom space with other teachers or have you floated from classroom to classroom yourself? What other tips and advice would you give? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments below!