Friday, September 17, 2010

Two Guidelines to Follow.....

First, my apologies. My family including our two cats have moved to the San Juan Islands (Washington State) for a holiday.  And my access to a Wifi area has not been very successful.  It changes as the ferry boats arrive and depart so I have been frustrated in my limited attempts to write.  But I have persevered and have a clean signal today.  But, once again, my apologies.

School has started in many areas of the country.  A few strikes have kept some school districts closed but from my last review most if not all have now opened and students are back in the classrooms.

The next big problem in this state (Washington) is the major proposed cut in budgets to all state agencies including public schools.  I don't know what school districts are going to do--it is a problem that I would not like to face as an administrator.  There is no question in my mind that classes at all grade levels are going to get bigger, bus routes eliminated and some teachers will be laid off.  There are tough times ahead.

Still, the schools are opened and teachers are going about teaching the children in their care.  What sort of philosophy does a teacher need to have to be able to stand and deliver in front of a classroom.  I don't know about the other teachers but I had basically two rules of thumb in running my classrooms--either in an elementary classroom or a high school music room.......  My first one you've read about in other blogs but I'll preach it one more time--success breeds success.  I learned this very early in my career back on my Milton Point playground.  A successful child wants to continue whatever it is you are doing. For that matter we adults like to do things that we are successful at.... 

I blew this guideline one year.  On the very first day of class I put on the blackboard some questions dealing with items that I thought my students might know.  I was really trying to find out what did they really know or remember from the previous year.  I covered the blackboard with questions and then passed out paper and told the kids to be sure to put down a number of each question but if they didn't know the answer to go on to another question.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  Boy, was I wrong.  Really dumb.  Remember it is the first day of school for the year.  This was the first thing I had the kids do--I hadn't yet even learned their names.  I remember one little boy starting to cry--big tears.  Oh dear, now what to do.  The poor little guy didn't know how to read my cursive writing on the board--he only knew how to read print.  About half way through what I thought would be the time to take this quiz I stopped the class and basically threw out the papers.  But the damage was done--I really had to work during the coming days to rid the class of what they thought was failure.

To new teachers, always make the first question on your quizzes and test one that most of the kids can answer.  If you give a test, don't write down how many a child or student misses--write the number of correct answers.  You still get some data but the higher numbers seem better to the kids.  Teachers have known these techniques for years; it was probably a teacher that invented the smily face.  If they didn't they certainly made good use of it.  They hadn't invented high fives in my day--if they had I would have used them all day long.  Fist bumps too!

Over the years I've tried all sorts of things that say, in essence, good job.  But on the whole, I found that that a bit of praise is much better then a "you can do better" sign.  I still remember telling a trumpet player in my beginning band that he was really sounding good--nice tone.  The whole brass section improved after that.  So, success breeds success.  

My second rule is time on task.  It takes time to learn.  I use to tell my elementary kids that you have to put time in on the subject to learn.  I remember one time I said, "you can't learn this by osmosis."  Then the kids wanted to know what "osmosis" meant.  We probably spent more time looking up the word and how plants absorbed sunlight and we wasted more class time talking about that--probably wasn't that bad but I remember thinking I should choose my examples a bit more carefully.

If I had a classroom that was going to be tested in math and reading, you know damn well I'd spend more time on those subjects so that my kids would score well.  I'd even have the class practice taking a test.  Having several pencils ready to go, clearing one's desk of other stuff.  Time on task.  One trick I learned from some other teacher is to have the kids tell the others in the classroom how to take a test--some of them have good ideas on how to memorize stuff and how to write it down.  I even learned a few things one day after that discussion.

Does my Time on Task lead to a longer school day?  No, I don't think so.  It seems to me that learning works best in bunches like grapes.  My kids would work on some math problems one day for forty-five minutes.  Then stop.  Maybe do it again after lunch.  I think the brain gets overloaded with learning if we go at it for longer periods.

An aside.  I noticed that I can read John Dewey for just so long, then I switch over to a leisure story I'm enjoying for a while, then back to Dewey. I'm sure there are a number of studies that will expand on this idea.  Sounds like a good graduate student in phycology study.....

I know I've already told you the story about how I use to have my kids tell me one think they learned that day before I would let them get ready to go home.  The surprising result was that the kids really were impressed of themselves on what they really learned.  "We really a smart class, aren't we, Mr. Blackwell."  Yup.  Success breeds success and Time on Task.  Works every time.

My best to all of you and again, my apologies for the long delay.  And as usual, be sure to thank a teacher for showing up this fall.  They are the greatest....

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