Why Classroom Management Falls Apart

Why Classroom Management Falls Apart

Middle School Choir

Recently I was sitting in my classroom and thought of sixth-grade choir. I don’t know why I randomly thought of it- but I did. In my middle school, everyone had to take a music class but you elected which one you took. There was band, choir, and music appreciation. My parents said no to band because I quit the piano in fifth grade. Music appreciation was a lot of work with tests and quizzes and presentations. No thank you! In choir, you had to sing and perform one song (as a group) during the band concert. That seemed manageable to me. Middle School Natasha was all about doing the least amount of work as possible. So were many other students in my grade.

It was so obvious that choir was the easiest of the three choices. Our class was packed full of trouble makers looking for an easy out to music class. Since choir was the most popular option there were the most students in that class. I would say there were about 35 but I could be very off.

I don’t remember the name of the music teacher. She was quite small and even while standing could barely see over the top of the piano. She had a great voice and was a great singer but could not handle our class. I haven’t taught middle school in years (if student teaching a semester of middle school even counts) but I do know that if you give them an inch they take a mile. Let’s talk about why her classroom management fell apart. 

A note on the term "Classroom Management"

I really don’t like it. I much prefer to think of my classroom as a community. A community where everyone is welcome and has a seat at the table. I don’t manage my students. Just today I was scolded by a student because I interrupted another student during a class conversation. It was true. I had gotten used to interrupting as a teacher and it was a bad habit I needed to break. She reminded me that it isn’t respectful to not let someone finish their idea. I apologized and worked on this as my goal for the rest of the day.

The term management makes it seem as though the teacher is working to control the students. As a teacher, I don’t have control of my students. Gasp! I explain to my students that they can only control themselves. They are just as important to our classroom community as I am. I follow a lot of Responsive Classroom’s practices and building a community of learners is one of them. I wouldn’t say I really have classroom management strategies I have relationship building strategies. 

A 45 Minute Period

Let me just paint a picture of a 45-minute choir class just so you know what we’re working with. It was the last period of the day and kids arrived to class around 5-7 minutes late no matter what. To be honest, I even arrived to class late because it didn’t really matter if I showed up on time or not. It’s true! 

After we all arrived our teacher would take attendance. This was a long process where she was trying to learn all of our names. I would say the first 15 minutes were settling in and taking attendance. That’s one third of our class time.

Once attendance finished we would warm up. She attempted to lead us through a vocal warm-up and some sassy kids would change the warm-up. They made everyone laugh and then we would all be in a bit of trouble. 

During warm-ups, someone would ask to go to the bathroom. I will say that during middle school we had a very strict no bathroom during class time policy. Let’s talk about that one day because it is absurd! So we weren’t allowed to use the bathroom in class… yeah. Once one kid asked kids cycled in and out of class in groups of 2 or 3 for the duration of the class period. 

After warm-ups, we would begin to sing. The songs we were singing weren’t particularly interesting to us middle schoolers. So we would change the words and sing silly nonsensical things. We would goof around and laugh and start talking with one another. Then came the yelling. Our teacher would start screaming at us and then we would straighten out for a few minutes only to start the chit-chat up again a little while later. 

We might sing a few songs and then it was 5 minutes before the bell was to ring and we would pack up and wait at the door. Our teacher always yelled at us and we always pushed closer and closer to the door. The bell would ring and class would end. We ran out of the room talking very loudly.

Now, maybe your classes aren’t as catastrophic as this one was but let’s analyze where classroom management falls off the tracks

The Break Down

There was no teacher student relationship

Relationships are everything. I like to follow a Responsive Classroom approach to management. I have no idea what my choir teacher’s name was. I didn’t know anything about her. She knew absolutely nothing about me. I showed up to choir, she took attendance and then stood behind the piano and attempted to teach. There were no relationships. Kids who might be considered class clowns tried to form a relationship with her- not in the best of ways. Any questions about her life or who she was were not answered and were ignored. Kids don’t need to know everything about their teacher but they do need some sort of connection.

Figure out what you’re willing to share. So you don’t want to divulge your whole life story, that’s ok. My kids know very crafted bits about my life. They know about my sister and my love for Target. They know about my naughty dog in the US. They know the names of my childhood friends. I know things about them. I know who likes unicorns and who prefers Messi to Ronaldo, I know who likes to read fiction and who likes to read nonfiction. There has to be some sort of teacher/student relationship. Learning is built on relationships. The stronger the relationship between the students and the teacher the better. Teachers- you have to think that each child in your class can accomplish the impossible. They have to know that you care for them and respect them. 

Rules were stated but never enforced

We knew the rules. Arrive on time. Listen while the teacher is talking. Sing the correct lyrics to the songs. Rules were stated but there was no enforcement of rules. I notice this a lot when I’m struggling with classroom community and when others are. If there are never redirections or logical consequences for breaking the rules the limits begin to be tested. If I sing the wrong word one time and nothing happens, I’ll do it again and again. If I mock the directions you’re giving and you don’t tell me to stop I will keep going. Kids are always looking for boundaries and when they can’t find them they continue to push the limits.

Instead of rules try building expectations together as a class. We do this in my first-grade classroom. We have three main rules that tie in with our school’s guiding statements be respectful, be responsible, strive for excellence. We also have other expectations. We set up expectations for the carpet, for the bathroom, for getting a drink. There are expectations and there are procedures. Just recently kids noticed that kids were throwing their paper towels on the ground instead of making sure they made it into the garbage can. They asked to hold a class meeting to talk about it. We did and it hasn’t been a problem since. Kids need ownership over their classroom and creating expectations (that are upheld all the time, not sometimes) together is a great way to start. 

Behaviors were never dealt with until they were too extreme 

15 kids all asking to go to the bathroom one right after the other wasn’t a problem until literally every kid in the class went to the bathroom and we just cycled in and out. True story- we had very strict bathroom rules in middle school. (I once peed my pants in 7th grade because of this policy and was denied going to the bathroom several times. This has stuck with me and I never ask kids to hold it. This is a story for another day. And, I wasn’t the only one that happened to. It was frequent in our middle school. Once the bathrooms were even locked… ok, saving it for later) Singing the wrong lyrics didn’t really matter until suddenly we were being yelled at. Small behavior problems were never stopped because they were small. Does it matter if one kid sings the wrong lyrics? Yes, it actually does. 

Try dealing with little problems on a daily basis. Deal with problems right when they occur no matter how small. Dealing with problems when they are small and manageable is much preferred to waiting until they get out of control. Once behaviors are extreme they’re harder to rein in. Even though a student talking at the same time as the teacher seems like a small problem, if it isn’t dealt with right away, it is going to turn into a big problem. Set boundaries and stick to them. Enforce expectations consistently. 

Students Talked At the Same Time As the Teacher

When students are talking at the same time as anyone no one’s really being heard. Teachers talk to share important information so if a student is talking at the same time they are missing something and so are other students. What may start as whispers will surely grow if it isn’t stopped. Students will then become frustrated with each other and could start suggesting classroom management strategies to deal with other students. No good will come from this. 

Teach that only one person can speak at a time. Students need to listen to you but they also need to listen to each other. Deal with these small behaviors right when they happen. Don’t wait until it is too late to course correct. Sometimes simple redirection is needed. Sometimes I have class conversations around listening. We need to teach listening skills and expectations in the classroom. If it isn’t going well then teach it again.  

Yelling was the Only Strategy For Anything

Yelling. Not the greatest tool to use. After some reflection on my own teaching, I realized that I yell when I am tired, when I am cranky, when I am unprepared, or when I need to take a break. Yelling doesn’t work. Maybe at the moment the first time you yell it works but not really. Did you notice that the situations when I yell were all because something was wrong with me not the students? We got screamed at for getting out of our seats.

Actually… I just remembered Freshman Year Chemistry. Our teacher was a chemist turned teacher with no teacher training. He yelled so much that we just tuned it out. Mr. C then resorted to bringing pots to throw at the ground to make a large bang to get our attention. It only worked for a little bit of time. Yelling and extreme actions only work for a short amount of time. They don’t fix the deeper issues. 

Take a deep breath. Do a little reflecting and notice the times when you yell. I know I can get short with students when I am stressed or when I am not as prepared as I should be. In college, I realized not getting enough sleep made me a cranky teacher. Once you know what triggers you to yell do your best to avoid those things. I now go to sleep at a respectable hour. I plan my lessons in advance and when things go wrong I learn for next time. I step away from my classroom if needed when I am stressed. Take care of yourself. Whatever you need to take care of yourself and remind yourself yelling just creates more chaos it doesn’t create solutions. 

Nothing Was Consistent

Sometimes rules were enforced. Sometimes we had to sing the songs. Sometimes you could do whatever you want. Somedays we followed a structure to class and sometimes we didn’t. Inconsistency is a huge problem. My first year teaching I wasn’t consistent at all. I didn’t always follow the schedule, I sometimes laughed at bad behavior when I should not have, and sometimes I didn’t enforce expectations. Listen we’re all a little inconsistent from time to time but that creates unpredictability in students. If one day you’re using compliments to encourage students and the next day they’re earning tickets and then they’re earning points- the classroom management isn’t consistent. Kids can’t follow along to inconsistent strategies. 

Create structure and stay consistent. Show your students that you are someone who is reliable. Someone who enforces every transgression in the same manner. If any kid shoves another kid the same thing happens. If any kids shout out in the middle of a lesson the same thing happens. Keep consistent and follow a structure. Providing your students with predictability is always a good thing. It allows them to focus on the task at hand and it helps them set boundaries to understand the class expectations. 

No Follow Through

There has to be follow through. Seriously, if I say that we will have a quick chat after I give directions then we are going to have a quick chat. If I say we are writing an email to mom and dad then we are writing the email to mom and dad. If I say you have to spit out your gum then you have to spit out your gum. Follow through is essential. I know that if I don’t follow through I lose credibility and if I lose that then I have nothing left. 

Make guarantees, not empty threats. In college, once I heard a campus safety officer explain to a woman that he doesn’t make empty promises, he makes guarantees. This needs to be the same motto for classroom management. Don’t tell a student something is going to happen and then not follow through. That creates inconsistencies. Follow through all the time, in similar ways, with every student. Don’t worry about being well liked. I’ve noticed that students like teachers who are reliable and fair. Be reliable and fair. 

Whole class punished for some

As one of the “good kids” most of my life when the whole group is punished because of one or a few students it is the absolute worst. The bathroom policy I mentioned before came about because some kids were always going to the bathroom and the punishment resulted in several kids peeing their pants in middle school. Why was I not allowed to use the bathroom because some other students abused the privilege? We experience this as teachers too. A whole staff meeting about abusing sick days when really only 2 teachers are doing it. A whole email chain about postings students on social media when it is really one person. It’s frustrating and it isn’t fair.

Try natural and logical consequences for those involved. At a school, I worked at we were trained on Love and Logic. I didn’t like the whole premise but I did like the natural and logical consequences piece. This also ties into Responsive Classroom. The consequence needs to fit the offense. First, determine if a consequence is really necessary. Sometimes procedures need to be retaught and there needs to be a teaching moment, not a consequence. Sometimes consequences are needed. Taking away recess from a student who refused to tie their shoes doesn’t make sense. Having a student clean up all the water they spilled on the ground is a logical consequence. Having them miss PE because of it doesn’t make sense. Make sure the consequence is needed and matches the offense. 

Reflections

What are your biggest classroom management tips?

Where have you shown the most growth in classroom management? (For me, it’s consistency!) 

Share your thoughts and experiences below and let’s grow together! 

9 Guiding Ideas for School Libraries

9 Guiding Ideas for School Libraries

The Role of the Library

At a school using a balanced, comprehensive literacy program the library is the heart of everything. I would like to argue that the library should always be the heart of a school regardless of curriculum. 

These are some truths I believe about school libraries. I would like to say that I am not a trained librarian but a classroom teacher. If you are a school librarian, please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below. Learning from one another is extremely important.

Readers Should Have Free Choice

The only time in my classroom that students don’t have choice is when I choose guided reading books and a few rare other times when I select texts for students. I often recommend texts to readers but they can always turn down my choices. Not all classrooms offer students choice and power over the books they read. Libraries need to be the safe haven that always allows choice. 

Students should be allowed to explore their own interests. They should be allowed to check out books that are far too difficult and far too easy for them. They need a space where they are allowed to be a reader. No one prevents me from checking out certain books at the library. Students should have the same privilege. 

Just Say No to Levels

I don’t believe that levels are for students and I do not believe levels have a place in libraries. If kids are allowed free choice, their reading abilities shouldn’t limit them. 

When I was in elementary school there was a picture book and chapter book section of our library. We had to check out from the picture book section in grades K, 1, 2 and then were no longer allowed to check books out from there in grades 3, 4, 5. In second grade the top three readers were allowed to check out books from the chapter book section. I was so excited to hear the names announced Allison, Grace, and Daniel. It wasn’t me. My teacher later told me that I was reader number four. I was so upset and I spent the entire year checking out books (because we had to) and returning them without reading them. That year I also spent a lot of time at the public library checking out Boxcar Children and Amber Brown. Don’t limit kids because of their reading level. Let them love books!

Checkout Limits Need To Go

If the goal of school libraries is to create book lovers and readers then why do we limit how many stories a child can take out? Don’t we want more books in the hands of readers? Checkout limits are counterintuitive. Of course, some students will need guidance but I’ve found that even without checkout limits kids figure out how many books is right for them. Teaching kids how to self-regulate is an important skill and book check outs are the perfect place for it. 

EveryDay Is Library Day

My class visits the library once a week for class. During that class our library media specialist reads a story and reinforces a concept we’re teaching in reading or writing. Then students are allowed to browse the library and check out books. But everyday is library day. So if students go home and read all of their books they can always check out books during the first and last half-hour of the day. I have students who visit the library daily and check out what I’m sure is a ridiculously large number of books a year. Every child has the opportunity to visit the library every day. That is what matters when creating readers.

The library also shouldn’t shut down for large periods of time where it is inaccessible to students. Libraries that close the last month of school aren’t helping create more readers. I know that inventory is an important process but kids having access to books is even more important. Think about the policies of your school library. Do they support growing readers or do the polices stand in their way? 

Students Should Be Allowed A Clean Slate

My favorite librarian Barb always had a clean slate club. Each and every school year she welcomed students back into the library and declared that they each had a clean slate. That meant that all of their past library activity was wiped clean. If you had late fees- gone! If you lost a book and never returned it- don’t worry! Every child was guaranteed a clean slate. Clean slate announcements happened throughout the school year as well.

When books were lost and fines weren’t paid Barb didn’t shame children and she didn’t restrict their access to books. She said they were simply building their home libraries. Books are consumable resources. We know that they become well loved and pages fall out or they become lost at home and get added to a home library collection. Not returning books and not being able to pay late fines shouldn’t hinder children. If we don’t allow those kids to check out books we are often limiting our most vulnerable readers. That is against our goal of creating more readers! 

The Library Should Be Filled With Book Lovers

You can tell a successful library and a successful literacy program by the whispers and sometimes shouts you hear at the library. Kids should be talking about their interests. They should share recommendations with other students. They should jump up and down when they see the new texts being added to the library. The feeling in the library should be one of loving books. Do these kids love books? Are they given opportunities to share their reading life with other readers?

Books Should Mirror the Diversity of the World

Kids need windows and mirrors. This isn’t a new concept but it still doesn’t happen in all classrooms. Students need mirrors to see themselves and their own cultures reflected back at them. They also need windows to look out and learn about lives that are different than their own. We grow stronger by reading books that are both mirrors and windows. 

When I taught grade 3 my class wanted to do a classroom library audit. We dumped all of our books out onto the floor and started sorting by type of characters- animals, white people, Black people, First Americans, etc. One of my First American students was so upset to only find one book that represented First Americans in our library and even more upset when she realized it didn’t represent the Ojibwe tribe. Representation matters. She couldn’t read stories about her own culture in our classroom library and no other students could read about her culture. That isn’t ok. Kids need to see representation across the genres as well. I should see myself represented in historical fiction, poetry, realistic fiction, narrative nonfiction, biographies, fantasies, thrillers, mysteries. You name it and I should be able to find a mirror book and several window books. As a white woman I don’t have too hard of a time finding mirrors but finding windows can be tricky. 

Our school consciously purchased more books about Black Americans for our biography unit but then we realized they bought stories about slavery or stories about civil rights. Want to know which biography was the most popular? Gabby Douglas. Kids wanted more biographies of Black Americans of today. By only showing times of struggle the window and mirror view of the Black experience was warped. 

Support Reading in All Forms

Magazines, eBooks, audiobooks, printed books, whatever kind. All books are created equal. Earlier this year I was told I shouldn’t put the book I was reading on my door for literacy week because I was “only listening to it.” Sometimes the only way I get to read is by listening to stories as I walk around the city. Each morning on my way to the taxi I listen to an audiobook. I also read book on my iPad and I have paper books as well. Libraries should celebrate all readers and all types of readers! 

There Should Be No Censorship

We shouldn’t exclude books from our collections just because it might be controversial. In fact we need to include controversial books. We can’t exclude texts about LGBTQ people. Their lives aren’t inappropriate. We can’t exclude texts on police violence. We need an inclusive library without censorship.

When I was in middle school I went through a phase where I only read really depression books about drug addicts, violence, and teen pregnancy. I read Smack and Go Ask Alice, Speak and Cut. These books were deemed inappropriate for me and I didn’t care. I loved reading those book so much. They were the windows I must have needed at that time in my life. My sister had a teacher call home to tell my mom the Gossip Girl books she was reading weren’t appropriate. Thankfully, my mom does not mess around when it comes to reading. She didn’t care what we were reading as long as we were reading. After going through my dark books phase I started reading the Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging series. Readers go through phases- its ok. Let kids explore and figure out their identity and place in the world through books. 

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.