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 Things that were once in date are now out of date.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!

What’s the Deal? D.O.L.

What’s the Deal? D.O.L.

Honestly, I didn’t even realize that teachers were still using DOL. I don’t mean that to sound snarky. I mean that as the honest to god truth. DOL otherwise known as Daily Oral Language is a practice from the past that needs to be retired. Research has indicated this practice is ineffective for years. Let’s learn a bit more. 

What is DOL?

D.O.L. stands for Daily Oral Language it is also sometimes referred to as D.L.R. or daily language review. The point of DOL is for students to practice writing conventions, grammar, and spelling skills. It does so in a “fix it” format. Students are shown several incorrect sentences or examples and have to find the mistakes and fix them. I completed many DOL pages as a child. Now they’re even digital but they aren’t beneficial. 

It Doesn't Work

There are a lot of reasons why DOL doesn’t work. Research shows that even though it might look like DOL works to improve grammar and language conventions it isn’t.  

Presenting Incorrect Information

We cannot present incorrect choices more than we present correct choices. Imagine a struggling student in your class. If this student constantly sees the incorrect spelling of words, grammatical mistakes, or punctuation errors they start to internalize these mistakes as correct. This not only confuses your diamonds in the rough but also your English as an additional language learner. These students don’t have much exposure to the language and every exposure they have to English they are absorbing everything they possibly can about the language. If they are constantly shown these mistakes they will begin to internalize them as correct. We don’t want to provide more non-examples than examples. It just doesn’t make sense. 

It doesn’t transfer.

Your average students may be able to do the task but the next problem with DOL is that it doesn’t transfer into student writing. Students who constantly fix where periods go in these jumbled, fix-it sentences are rarely able to apply this knowledge to their own writing. Isn’t the point of teaching spelling, grammar and writing conventions to help students improve their own writing? If it doesn’t even do that, respectfully, what is the point?

This leaves you with your advanced learners. These kids don’t need this practice. They already are able to do these skills so this additional practice doesn’t help them learn in any way. 

Repetition does not mean learning

Completing a task over and over does not ensure that knowledge is attained. If students solve three daily oral language problems a day, how does this help them improve as a writer? Imagine a classroom that has three math problems to solve each day and expects students to suddenly know how to multiply and divide or, better yet, multiply and divide fractions. Repetition can be good for learning but not in DOL. 

It teaches them by showing what they don’t know

Think about the math classroom mentioned above. Can you imagine sitting down each day trying to solve three multiplication and division problems of fractions with no other context or any other knowledge? Students would be frustrated. They would want the lesson to teach them how to do it. They would want the inquiry to try to solve this with more assistance. The same thing is true for grammar.

We can’t just place sentences in front of children with an “of course it should start with a capital letter and have end punctuation” sort of attitude. Such an attitude doesn’t even make sense as an educator. Of course, students need relevant instruction that is tied to what they are doing as a reader and a writer.

What To Do Instead

Grammar… ick. Most teachers are aware that grammar instruction needs to happen in the classroom but they don’t enjoy teaching it and don’t have strategies to teach it. Grammar and writing conventions need to be taught in the context of writing and reading instruction. Gone are the days when it is ok to teach these skills in isolation outside of the context of reading and writing. The skills taught need to be transferrable.

Teach grammar during reading. Notice grammar during guided reading or shared reading. Point out authors decisions and uses of the English language in a strong context. Teach grammar during writing. Help young authors learn that proper nouns need capital letters and sentences should end in punctuation. Teach them in the context of their own writing. Model this during shared writing. Show them over and over. Provide many correct examples and coach them in the use of grammar in their own writing. 

Questions?

Change can be difficult. Eliminating a practice from long ago that is no longer beneficial can be difficult but it needs to be done. Here are a few more articles if you still aren’t convinced. 

Why Daily Edits Aren’t Grammar Instruction: Teaching Grammar Through Guided Reading

Why Daily Oral Language Doesn’t Work

 

Let me know in the comments below how your journey to move away from DOL is going! 

Changing Our Thinking: Assessing, Not Assuming

Changing Our Thinking: Assessing, Not Assuming

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing the importance of not making assumptions about students and using assessment to guide our instruction.

 

How We Discuss Students

Kevin is good at math. DaQuain is good at science. Kara is good at reading. Amaria is good at writing. Teachers used to define students by what they were good at and what they aren’t good at. Recently I heard a colleague say, “And she is really good in math… you know, even though she is a girl.” This came out not even moments after I was praised for including STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) in my class this year. “It is so good for the boys. They really need that time. The girls like it too…” There is a real danger in categorizing kids and then holding kids to the label that has been applied. This becomes sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teachers end up pushing kids harder in the subjects they are good at and creating excuses for them in the areas they aren’t so good at. I’m sure that as a child I was labeled good at reading and not good at math. I knew it. Teachers had lower expectations of me in math and I had lower expectations of myself. 

We need to believe that all students can learn every subject. All students can do challenging things. All students can learn. Our learners might have different learning styles and they might become proficient at different times but all learners can learn. 

What's the Problem?

Recently I completed an addition fact inventory of my students. We sat down one on one and I asked them different facts. What is one plus four? What is six plus zero? I took note of what they did. Could they answer the question? Could they answer the question within five seconds? This is part of our schools definition of fluent. Could they explain how they solved the fact? What strategy did they use? This information was so helpful to me as a teacher. My role in the assessment process was simply to document- yes they did, no they did not, what did they do. I was as objective as I could be. Later I was asked by a peer why I assessed everyone. Why didn’t I just assess the kids who were bad at math? 

The assumption that some of my students are bad at math and some are not is inherently problematic BUT the fact that we would assess students only based on our assumptions is extremely problematic. Listen, there is a saying about assuming things. Do you know it? If you assume you make an ass out of you and me. Just look at the spelling… Ok, inappropriate jokes aside, assuming is so harmful to student learning. 

While completing this fact inventory one of the students who might be considered the highest struggled the most. Had I assumed this student knew because he almost always has an answer first would have meant I missed gaping holes in his understanding of numeracy. One of my students who takes the longest to answer math problems and might be considered low actually had the best strategies for solving. This student consistently structured to five or ten and could always explain how they arrived at an answer. 

In reading, the same applies. I have a student who is quite a high decoder but while reading has very limited comprehension. This child would be considered a good reader and might not be assessed because she can decode. When kids miss comprehension questions while doing B.A.S. I can’t say, “Oh they know. They just made a mistake.” If kids actually know, they’ll do it. Sure, everyone has off days but, is this mistake due to an off day or a lack of understanding somewhere. I always try act as though it is a lack of understanding. Giving the benefit of the doubt during assessments doesn’t help student learning. 

The problem with making assumptions about our students is that we’ll usually get it wrong. When we make incorrect assumptions we are missing out on opportunities to teach. 

What to do Instead

Remain Objective

The most important thing I know about assessing students is go in with an empty mind. Try to be as objective as possible. Notice what students can and cannot do. Act as though this student belongs to another teacher. What do you notice? What can this child do independently? What understandings does this child have? What partial understandings does this child have? Are there any misunderstandings? These are the questions that will assist us as teachers. 

Assess Everyone

Don’t skip over kids because you’re sure they know. Assess all of your students. If you think they have an understanding and then see that they do have understanding- great! If you think they have an understanding but see that there are some misunderstandings- great! Now you can use this information to guide your instruction. Just the other day I noticed a student drawing tallies to solve a math problem but then counting by ones. This is information I can use to teach. I now know we need to work on structuring to fives. What do you know, this student doesn’t know how to count by fives past 20. Ok, now we’re talking. Now this is information that I can use. Imagine if I saw tallies and then just assumed this student knew how to use them. 

Don’t Give Kids the Benefit of the Doubt

Just, please. Recently during reading assessments I had a student who retold every story backwards. The student always started with the ending and then retold back to the beginning. This is something I hadn’t noticed before. I immediately thought, he must know. Why is he doing this today? If had just made an assumption and given him the points on the assessment he didn’t earn I would have missed this opportunity. Later while speaking with him he said he likes to start with what he remembers first. We later read a story about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Being able to retell a story in the order it happened is an important skill. We can work on this skill now. Giving him the benefit of the doubt would have meant a missed opportunity for learning. 

Understand That a Single Assessment is a Snapshot

I know this is totally cliché. I know but I am still going to say it. One assessment is just a single picture of learning in one particular moment and setting. You need to take each assessment as fact but don’t forget to put it back into the larger context of learning. 

Maybe today one of my students didn’t know four divided by two when I asked on the fact inventory but can always do it in class. I watch for the next few days and notice that this student consistently demonstrates proficiency. After observing I notice that the student does know how to divide by two. I can ask him the problem again and see or maybe I just decide he knows based on what I have observed and move on. Just make sure that this decision is based on something concrete and not an assumption. It is never bad to give additional practice just to check.

What I've Learned

Assessing students can be a tricky thing. I know that it is best to try to remove all bias when assessing. Look into their misunderstandings and try to understand where they are coming from. It’s tricky but I know that with practice it gets easier. 

Changing Our Thinking: I Taught It, Now They Know It

Changing Our Thinking: I Taught It, Now They Know It

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing teaching something once and teachers getting upset kids don’t know. 

It Isn't Their Fault

Here are some comments I’ve recently overheard.

“I already told them how to spell the word but they don’t.”

“I told him how to multiply but he just doesn’t do it right.”

“I taught you this yesterday, why don’t you remember?” 

“If you listened yesterday then you would know what to do today.”

Then I found myself thinking this at a recent elementary meeting, “maybe if you paid attention while I am talking you wouldn’t be so confused.” This thought stopped me dead in my tracks. What?! Natasha! You cannot blame the student for not knowing! That is not how teaching works! It just isn’t. Just because something is said does not mean that it was taught. Just because something was taught does not mean it was learned. These are very different. 

What's the Problem?

I want to make it very clear that I am not up on some sort of pedestal talking down during this series. Usually, I notice myself slipping into old habits of thinking and write these posts to refresh my brain. Sometimes I am caught up in old ways of thinking from elementary school. Things that I didn’t even learn as a teacher but learned as a student long ago. Creating shifts in thinking isn’t simple and it takes time. Maybe you’ll read this post and the teaching still won’t stick. It happens.

Let’s review these statements. Telling isn’t teaching. Just because it was said does not mean it was taught. Just because it was taught does not mean it was learned. Learning doesn’t just happen because you decided it would. These are powerful. Sit with them for a moment. 

We know that students learn in different ways. This has been well researched and proven. We know that not all kids in our class are at the same place and they don’t all learn at the same rate. Can we blame our students when they don’t know things? Well, maybe sometimes. BUT… usually… usually when we feel we have taught things a hundred times and kids still aren’t getting it, maybe just maybe we need to reflect upon our own teaching.

Maybe the kids who can’t spell the word you correctly is struggling because he doesn’t understand a spelling pattern. Maybe the child who can’t multiply doesn’t realize that math is built on patterns and if you can unlock the patterns you can solve the problem. Maybe the student who learned something yesterday was having a rough morning. Maybe she didn’t get the point. Maybe the teachers in my meeting didn’t understand what I meant the first time I said it. Does saying something once count as teaching? 

What to do Instead

Instead of becoming frustrated in the moment, take a note of the misunderstanding and move forward. Moving forward can mean doing a reteach of something or reflecting further and coming back another time. Think about how many times and how many different ways you taught this concept. If not a lot comes to mind then add in more experiences for the learner to interact with the learning. If a lot comes to mind then build opportunities to develop a deeper understanding. Don’t get frustrated with the learner. Engage the learner in more learning. Our job is to teach. It isn’t to tell once or twice and become frustrated when the learner doesn’t know.

When a child doesn’t understand what we have taught think about what they do understand. What do they know that you can build off of? If this child doesn’t know maybe there are others who are also struggling. Find them and figure out how to get them to understanding. Demonstrate for them, have them build, give them more practice, have a peer teach them, model the work, explain the learning step by step. Just don’t give up on the learner. Don’t become frustrated. Try again. The beauty of teaching is really all the opportunities we have to try again. 

If a child doesn’t know how to spell a word reflect on the strategies they do know and teach them how to connect those to the strategies they need. If a student can’t solve the multiplication problem teach them a few more multiplication strategies. Give them more time or tools. Figure out what will unlock that learning for them. Work with what your students know. Work with what they know and build off of it to get them where they need to go.

 Teaching takes time and cooperation. If students don’t know right away keep going and keep reflecting upon your own teaching. 

Changing Our Thinking: Teaching for Transfer

Changing Our Thinking: Teaching for Transfer

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing teaching the child not the program. The skills we teach students today should be transferrable to all stories or all writing or all problems. We need to teach for transfer and help students make connections. 

 

We used to teach the book, writing or problem

Teachers used to pick up books like The Sign of the Beaver (one of my most hated whole class texts) and think, “what lessons does this book teach?” Then they would teach the book. I made a map of main out of dough. I had to look up new vocabulary words in every chapter even if I didn’t find any new words. My classmates built log houses out of sticks and the activity list could go on and on. While these activities may have helped me understand The Sign of the Beaver, I couldn’t take those same skills and apply them to another text. When we finished that book we went on to another one and repeated the same process again with no connection to the previous book. 

In writing, teachers would circle mistakes in red pen and students would correct the mistakes. Students would make the same mistakes every time and then the teacher would circle it and they would fix them. This cycle could continue indefinitely. Some kids would receive things that were circled that they didn’t even know how to fix. Worse yet, some teachers never even had their students write for an authentic audience. They just wrote in response to prompts or in other ways but never produced writing on their own. While student writing might have looked nice with all the correct capitalization and punctuation, if the student couldn’t really do it on their own did they really know how to do it? 

In math we solved problem after problem with no connection between the problems. Teachers would see students make the same mistakes over and over and would teach them how to solve that specific problem. In word problems this happens especially. We teach the problem instead of teaching strategies to solve all word problems. Sarah has six pennies and then she got five more. How many does she have now? Ugh… actually most teachers might go through a template that doesn’t allow for student thinking instead of teaching them comprehension skills. A lot of math teaching still looks like this hilarious Kid Snippets video

What's the Problem?

The problem with taking a book like The Sign of the Beaver and pulling out all the lessons kids could learn in that specific book or circling all the mistakes a child makes on one specific writing assignment or telling the child how to solve one specific math problem is that there is no transfer. The child cannot walk away from that book or writing assignment or math problem and take what they’ve learned and apply it to their future learning.

When teaching reading, we want to teach skills that all readers can use in any book.

In writing, we want to teacher the writer skills that they can apply to any writing piece.

In math, we want to teach mathematicians strategies they can take to the next problem. 

When we begin to teach the CHILD instead of the book or writing or problem we are creating independent learners. That child can take the knowledge they’ve learned and apply it to the next time they read or write or solve a problem. They have learned transferrable skills.

They can begin to see that reading skills apply to all books not just to certain ones. Nonfiction readers do the same thing regardless of text. Fantasy readers use the same strategies regardless of text. Historical fiction readers need a certain set of skills regardless of text. Decoding skills and learning new words can be the same in every text. 

In writing if we correct every single mistake then they child can’t  become a better writer. If this week you teach that writers use punctuation to help guide the reader. Then that child can focus in on punctuation. Punctuation might not be in every child’s zone of proximal development. If it isn’t in their ZPD then don’t waste time on it. Look for the skills that they do need. A child can learn that regardless of genre all writers find a way to draw in their audience. 

In math they can see that mathematicians are always making connections. Math is built upon reasoning and relationships. Strategies you use in addition can be used in subtraction and multiplication and fractions and so many other things! The different operations and problem types don’t live in a silo and mathematicians know how to connect different math concepts. 

What to do Instead

Reading

First of all, we shouldn’t be teaching whole class novels anymore… a good topic for a new changing our thinking post. For more on best practice in Literacy join me on Tuesdays and check out the Literacy Instruction tab at the top of the page. 

Think about the skills each reader needs. Books can teach a wide variety of skills. In one Bailey School Kids book I can teach about the mystery genre and how readers try to solve mysteries along with the characters. I can teach decoding skills as kids discover words they don’t know. I can teach fluency skills and encourage readers to let their voice reflect the tone of the story. I can teach that readers reread when things don’t make sense. I can teach that readers of a series learn about the characters and pay attention to their traits. I can teach that readers can connect the previous chapter to the current chapter. I could go on and on. 

Switch your thinking. Instead of what skills can this book teach? Think, what skills does this reader need? Not every reader needs the same skills and most books can teach the reader the skills they need. 

Writing

Teachers should no longer be editors in the writing classroom… another topic for a changing our thinking!

As you watch your writers work, notice their mistakes. Notice the skills that they have independently mastered and compliment them on those skills. Notice the skills that they use correctly most of the time but still make errors on from time to time. Notice the skills that they are beginning to correct on their own but don’t do it frequently. Notice the errors that they make all the time but don’t correct at all. Notice everything they do. Then decide what to teach. 

When deciding what to teach not all writers will need the same skills. If a child is able to do something on their own, they don’t need to be taught that skill. If a child makes errors but never corrects them, this skill might not be in their zone of proximal development yet. They might not be ready for it yet. Teach in to the mistakes that they are beginning to correct on their own but don’t have down yet. Become their coach and teach them those skills. 

Writers use punctuation to guide their reader. Writers use capital letters at the start of a sentence. Writers break their writing into paragraphs to organize their ideas better and make their writing easier to read. Writers use strategies to spell words correctly. These are all teaching points that can be applied to any piece of writing. 

Switch your thinking. Instead of, what is this writer doing wrong? Think, what skills does this writer almost have? What can I teach them today that they can learn to do independently and apply to the next piece of writing?

Math

Oh, math. So often in math we teach and prompt kids in the easiest way for them to get the answer. Isn’t math just answer getting? If you haven’t watched this video about answer getting in math then take a moment to do so. Math is not all about answer getting. When we don’t teach for reasoning and understanding we often teach for answer getting. 

Instead of teaching the specific problem ask yourself what is a skill this mathematician could apply to every problem they encounter. Maybe they need to know that mathematicians struggle but they keep going when it is hard. Mathematicians construct arguments to explain their reasoning. Mathematicians create a model to try to solve an unknown problem. Mathematicians use different strategies to solve problems. 

Switch your thinking. Instead of, how can this student get the answer? Think, what skills does this mathematician need? What skills could I teach them today that they can apply to future problems as well. 

What I've Learned

Teaching for transfer has completely changed my teaching. I now reflect a lot of each child’s zone of proximal development and how to teach for independence. When I think about transfer it means that the child can do the skill without you and can bring this knowledge with them to any problem, book, experiment, or whatever. 

 

Leave your thoughts in the comments below! I would love to hear about your journey in teaching for transfer and answer any questions you may have. 

Changing Our Thinking: Access to Math Manipulatives

Changing Our Thinking: Access to Math Manipulatives

There are many practices from long ago that we need to rethink as teachers. This series looks to bring up those practices and offer alternate ideas that are more relevant in today’s classroom. Today we’re discussing where and how we store our math manipulatives. 

WHat We've Always Done

When I was in elementary school math manipulatives magically appeared when we needed them. Oh, today we’re measuring things? Well, look at that! The rulers have made their way to the front table. Oh, we need a calculator for today? Look what has appeared out of nowhere! Teachers controlled the manipulatives. They pulled manipulatives out of the cabinet and then put it back. I assume this is because of storage space. Let’s face it. We don’t all have a lot of room in our classroom. The idea that I have to have room for an entire classroom library plus my math manipulatives is a lot of space. We don’t always have a lot of space… or the organizational storage we need. 

What's the Problem?

If students don’t have access to math manipulatives then they don’t have any choice. Natasha! Do kids really need choice about math manipulatives? YES! The answer is alway yes! In a teacher centered classroom it makes sense that the teacher is the only one who can access the math tools. She gives the kids the rulers when they need a ruler. They get to use base ten blocks when it is time to learn about place value. The tools are controlled by the teacher and are handed out when the teacher deems them necessary to use. Students don’t get to explore them and they don’t have very many options. Each tool has just one use that is predetermined by the teacher. We limit student’s use of manipulatives and we limit their creativity with them. 

What to do Instead

First and foremost in most elementary classrooms there is a space for a classroom library. There should also be a space for math manipulatives. Take a minute or two to look around and analyze how you’re using your space. What do you have that could make your math manipulatives more accessible to students? Maybe you don’t have ideal storage right now, that’s ok! Even making them the slightest more available to students is a start. Once you establish a space and a storage system for math manipulatives teach your students about your space. Tell them they can use any math tool during math time. Teach them how to use all of the different tools you have available. Let them explore and give them choice. 

Instruction today should focus on independence. What skills can children complete independent from an adult? This is how you truly know what your students know. If you are constantly giving students math manipulatives you take away their choice and their independence. Once students are familiar with all of the manipulatives available to them they are able to choose which tool will work best for them. Some of my kids use rekenreks while some use 10-frames. I ensure that my students know how to use all tools but they have the freedom to choose which ones they use. 

Here is the cool thing about giving kids the power to choose math manipulatives themselves, kids use tools in unconventional ways that you might not have considered. Last year during recess one of my diamonds made up her own math game with a 100 bead string and two dice. She would roll the dice, add them up and then move the beads along the string. If you played with a partner the first person to 100 won! Later in the year a different student used a 10-frame as a measuring tool. They measured how many 10-frames long our carpet was. If I had told them we were only measuring (grade 1 uses non-standard measurement) using measurement tools this student would have missed out. It is always cool to see how students use their tools. 

Share Your Thoughts

Do you allow students access to the math manipulatives in your classroom?

How do you have your tools organized? 

Any other comments or suggestions? Let me know down in the comments below!