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Best of Times

Even though Charles Dickens had no clue what a modern-day school substitute does, he would have hit the nail on the head had he taken his ironic line from A Tale of Two Cities to describe the profession because subbing really is “the best of times and the worst of times.”

Today, I spent 8 hours proctoring two midterm exams and trying (successfully I might add) to keep students quiet during study-halls so they could prepare for those exams.  I’m certain that I won’t remember this day on my death bed because it dealt more with the minutia of teaching (really supervising) than actually doing what I love best; helping students learn and making them feel more confident about themselves as learners.

Today was a far cry from yesterday when I had an absolute blast working at a local middle school and teaching several sections of SPED students.  In the first class, we worked on long division and that was as fun as long division can be.  During the second class, I got to read a story to a group of three students who had difficulty with reading comprehension.  I had them draw pictures to try to help them focus in on the main ideas of what we were reading.  I enjoyed the fact that I was able to keep them on their seats while I slowly read the story and built up the suspense.  In the afternoon, I worked with a group of gifted and talented students as they drew three bodily systems in biology and together we appreciated how far my probing questions took their discovery.

Yet, the highlight of the day was when I got to work with Jacob (name changed) on his Orton-Gillingham workbook.  The smile on his face as we cracked the code together and he broke down words like scintillating filled my heart with an indescribable joy.  I would work with these students for free if I didn’t have to make ends meet.

One of the students actually went out of his way to tell me he hoped I would come back because I had been the best teacher he’d ever had.  I doubt that, considering how fine his school is, but it got me thinking about how important it is to relate to those students in our classes because you never know the impact you can have on them – even when you’re proctoring exams.

Starting All Over Again

As I sit at my dining room table on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, I am blown away by all there is for me to learn.  In August, I accepted a long-term-sub position in a local school system teaching 5th grade math, English, science, and history.  While I’ve taught 5th grade before (and loved doing it), I’ve spent the last twenty school years teaching History and English to students ranging from Kindergarten through 11th grade.  

Luckily, I am taking over for one of the most organized teachers I have ever met and have dozens of Google docs meant to relay the valuable information I will need to successfully transition into the position.  Yet, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by all there is to learn and master in order to be the best substitute I can be.  I have two primary goals for this job:  First and foremost is to teach my classes in the best way possible so when the teacher returns in December, she is right where she wants her classes to be.  My second goal is to learn as much as possible about the teaching of Math and English and to learn systems and methodologies that will make me a better teacher in the future.

To help me in the weeks to come, I’ve decided to create monthly goals to help stay focused on what is important and to prepare me to have as big an impact on my students as possible.  Here are my first five goals:

  1. Learn the names of all the faculty and 5th grade students at my new school.
  2. Learn about Google Classroom as a way of providing feedback and helping students to keep their work organized.
  3. Learn about the emPOWER writing program because I already know the impact that brain frames can have helping students organize and put their knowledge and ideas into writing.
  4. Learn the math program EnGageNY so that I will improve my skills as a math teacher while finding applicable methodologies and strategies that I can use when teaching Humanities.
  5. Learn the ins and outs of the public school system.  While I’ve taught at some of the best private schools in the country, public schools are totally new to me, and I want to fit into my new school and not be “that guy” who is always a step behind.

For those of you who have taught at a public school or served as long-term-sub, can you think of anything else I should be focusing on as I start out?  Thanks in advance for your advice.

 

Types of Nouns

For homework the night before:  Have students watch the following Youtube video and take notes on a sheet of paper (don’t forget name and date).  Your notes should contain the types of nouns and at least three examples for each type of noun.

Ex.

Proper Noun Sharpie, Grafton, Cleveland Indians
Collective Noun herd, school (of fish), flock

Materials needed:

  1. Index Cards

Before Class

  1. Hang signs around classroom
    1. Common
    2. Proper
      1. Different sides
    3. Concrete
    4. Abstract
      1. Different sides
    5. Singular
    6. Plural
      1. Different sides
    7. Collective
    8. Compound
    9. Possessive
    10. Countable
    11. Uncountable
      1. Different sides
  2. Before class, have the following directions written on the board: Please write your first name in large CAPITAL LETTERS on the front of the card.  Then on the back of the card, write three nouns – they should be different types.
    1. Example
      1. Cleveland – Proper
      2. Desk – Common
      3. Love – Abstract

Steps:

  1. Welcome students to class and do a quick spot check of their homework.
  2. Explain rules for first game
    1. We are going to go through the nouns you wrote on the back of your cards one at a time.
    2. When I tell you to “go”, you should walk to the section of the room that identities your noun.
      1. Example – iPhone –>Concrete
  3. After students have moved, go around and do a verbal spot check for 5 students
    1. “So, David.  You’re standing in the proper noun section – what was your word?”
  4. During game – show students that the same nouns can be in different sections by having them move to the different sections
  5. Have students sit down
  6. Using Google Slides, teach them new types of nouns
    1. Countable
    2. Uncountable
    3. Collective
    4. Compound
    5. Possessive
  7. Spend rest of class playing Mr. Oncay’s game

The Power of Standards

Good morning and happy Fourth of July!  More than 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson (and four other founding fathers) penned the Declaration of Independence to declare to the world their Independence from Great Britain.  In so doing, they set the standard for the nation when they wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In a way, these immortal words are like state educational standards in than they declare what the goal is for the new country.  This morning, I read a great article from the US News and World Report on the power of Massachusetts’ educational standards.  The key phrase that I took from the piece:

(S)chools can achieve at much higher levels.

That’s really the ultimate goal of the standards: to make our schools better by improving the quality of instruction.  Clearly, according to the article, setting high standards serves our students well by providing common goals to strive and attain.  The proof is in the pudding:

Only three educational systems worldwide statistically outperformed Massachusetts in reading, and only six in science and nine in math. If all students in the United States were performing at the level of high-schoolers in Massachusetts, our country would be at the top of the pack among peer nations.

Each summer for the last twenty years, I have spent time figuring out what I plan on teaching to my students.  It is a welcome break to know that this year, as I prepare for my new job, I won’t have to do that.

Thoughts?

Image:http://www.bitingintothecore.com/uploads/1/7/5/2/17527445/5910065.png?324

 

Greek Alphabet – Lesson Plan

Lesson on Greek Alphabet

Objectives:

  • Learn about the Greek Alphabet
  • Compare Greek letters to our own letters.

Steps:

  1. Welcome students to class.
  2. Start class with the game – This Way or That
    1. Students stand in the center of the room
    2. Using the Google Slide Presentation, students will see pictures of Greek letters
    3. They move to the left if the letter is the same (order and shape)
    4. They move to the right if the letter if different
    5. Explain why the letter is the same or different
  3. Four Stations
    1. Learn the Greek alphabet
    2. Worksheet – see below
    3. Video – Value of a written alphabet
    4. Translation Station – Greek dedication on an altar to Asclepius the Savior by the Roman consul Lucius Minucius Natalis (133–134 AD)
      1. Greek Writing
      2. Key on page 3
  4. Homework:
    1. Night 1 = Alpha – Theta
    2. Night 2 = Iota – Pi
    3. Night 3 = Rho – Omega

 

Mr. Qua Name
Greek Alphabet
History

  1. How many letters did the Greek alphabet have?
  2. What civilization did the Greeks “steal” from to form their own alphabet?
  3. Using Greek letters, write the word alphabet
    1. Alpha
    2. Bet
  4. Write the word Grafton Middle School
  5. Write your name

 

Standards Based Grading Meeting the 100% Dictum

Dear Denise, AKA Dr. Davis:

20 years have passed since you changed my life as the head of the University School Teacher Apprentice Program, yet you are still finding ways of encouraging me to think about the profession we both dearly love.  Your last email suggesting I blog about how current grading policies relate to your 100% dictum (100% percent of the students should learn 100% of the material) got the wheels in my head turning.  Such a thought provoking topic…. My first thought, right of out of the bag, is that the biggest grading reform of the last 20 years – standards based grading – is the best way for teachers to ensure that all students learn the entire curriculum.

As you taught me years ago, grades need to mean something, and, therefore, they must be seen and understood equally by both teacher and student.  If a student earns a B, the grade must be understood in the same manner by the student or else what is the point of giving the grade in the first place?  So often, students do not really understand why they received the grade they did and what is more troubling is that the discrepancy and confusion which results disempowers the teacher from helping the student improve while not giving the student the guidance that he or she needs in order to know how to improve their grade and more importantly the quality of their work.  As a teacher, I’ve always tried to clarify my grades by taking the time to write comments meant to help students glean why they earned the grade they did, but I’m often stymied by the almost narrow-minded focus of most students who take one look at the grade and don’t take the time to read the comments.  So, having said that, I believe we can both agree that the goal of grading should be for both students and teachers to agree that a B is a B and more importantly, what that grade represents in terms of the quality of the student’s work so as to improve the quality of future work.

Standards Based Grading accomplishes that goal and then some.  Using the old grading format where a B could mean anything, standards based grading allows the teachers and the students to know if they have mastered the content or the skills that the teacher is teaching.  As you know, SBG is grading based upon whether or not students have met certain standards.  For example, a standard in my 7th grade English class was: The student is able to write a clearly articulated and grammatically correct topic sentence that states the purpose of the paragraph and can be proved with evidence from the text.  The beauty of SBG is that this clear expectation is equally understood by both teacher and student.  To help clarify my view of a student’s work even further, I used an expanded five point system (some standards based grading is based (ha ha) upon a three or four point system) to better help students understand exactly where they stand in mastering the concept or skills that teachers are covering and therefore expecting them to master.  Here is my scale:

5 – Student has surpassed the standard/expectation
4 – Student has met the standard
3- Student is close to meeting the standard
2 – The student is not close to meeting the standard
1 – Did not turn in turn in the work

Let me explain my scale a bit although most of it is self explanatory (hence why it’s so effective with students).  Let’s start by looking at the grade of 5 – a student has surpassed the standard.  This is an essential component of the standards based grading system that sometimes is left off and I think mistakenly so.  As you showed me back in the day, there are some students whose cognitive strengths or work ethics are greater than their peers, and they should be recognized for their superior intellect and work.  More importantly, giving students the ability to surpass the teacher’s expectation also incentivizes students to do more or perform more when their skills or willingness to work hard matches their cognitive strengths.  For example, and as you sadly know all too well, my greatest intellectual strength is my ability to verbally express my understanding on a topic.  When discussing or debating, I was often able to surpass my peers during discussions and would try harder knowing that I had the advantage.  Therefore, because of my strength in this standard (The student will be able to convey his understanding of the topic verbally and in writing), I deserved feedback that reflected this strength.  Having a grade that says that something has been surpassed meets this requirement. For example, let say that a student of mine understands the 5 components of the Compromise of 1850 so thoroughly that they are well ahead of my expectations.  I need to be able to applaud their efforts.  More importantly, let’s say the student, hoping to gain a higher mark, is incentivized to do more than expected on an assignment and as a result gains more practice working towards satisfying the skills that I am teaching in my class.  A five allows me to give them a pat on the back for their extra effort which will make up at times for when they are slower to understand a concept or their skill set doesn’t match the requirements of an assignment.

As a teacher who believes in your 100% dictum, SBG also makes it clear to students, parents and teachers which concepts and skills still need to be improved on.  There is a policy at my son’s school where if a student earns an A-, he or she doesn’t need to take the final in that class.  How arbitrary is that?  In a standards based grading system, the only way of avoiding the final, in my humble opinion, would be if a student is proficient in all areas.  I wouldn’t give a final, instead I would have students work independently to self design projects where they could work on the areas of the curriculum that still needed improvement.  For example, why should Susan who has earned 5’s on all her spelling tests be tested on spelling on the final exam.  She doesn’t need any help in that area.  Where she might need help is identifying the main ideas in essays or in supporting her topic sentences with evidence – a standard on which she has earned a 2.  I would rather that she spent her time working to improve in those areas so that she can move closer to learning 100% of the curriculum.

Those are my thoughts and I would love to hear yours!

Bow Tie Guy

How did I become the Bow Tie Guy? Good question – it took awhile.

My transformation into the BTG began 20 years ago when I first started as a teacher. Always one to get a ton of catalogs in the mail, my mom made it her mission to create a tie collection to help me making it easier to connect with my students while avoiding wearing the same boring tie over and over again.  Over the course of my first five years in the classroom, my mother stocked my closet with more than 100 different ties.  There were ties with ice cream cones, M&Ms, and strips of bacon.  Einstein, Lincoln, Grant, Bush Sr, and Barack Obama adorned others.   The ones my students loved most sported Scrabble tiles, horses, or sporting logos.  I even had ties that connected to my content, including a tie capturing the action at the Battle of Antietam.  One of my favorites was a blue tie with Life Savers, which was the first tie she bought me.  

My students loved my ties and would often rush to find me in the mornings to see what tie I was wearing.  Thanks to the excitement, I received a lot of ties during the holidays and at the end of the school year.  Pretty soon, thanks to my mom and my students, my collection numbered more than 200 ties.  The more varied my collection, the more interested many of my students seemed to become.  I discovered that I never had students late for homeroom thanks to their rushing to my class to check out my tie for the day.  I started to think about ways I could use the ties to teach my students something important. 

My first venture into a “tie contest” was simple.  Students could guess which tie I would wear next.  There were no awards – just the pride in guessing correctly.  That early contest led to another where students competed to see if they could be the first to notice if I had worn a tie before.  At first, students would win a chocolate bar if they were the first to guess.  But then kids started coming up to me 24/7 and asking if I had worn a tie before.  They were so into it that it actually made it hard to teach.  To try to end the problem, I stipulated that students had to buy me a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup if they were wrong.  While that slowed the questions, I wasn’t a big fan of handing out candy, so I started wondering if I could use my tie collection to teach my students some useful skills and rewarding them with something tangible.

Now that I had more ties than school days, I come up with a formalized contest where I would specifically repeat a tie to see if a student noticed.  To help student’s “win”, I taught them note-taking techniques where they would write down a description of the tie that I had worn that day.  Doing this forced students to accurately and fully describe my tie to give them the best chance of noticing a repeated tie.  One student, Jo Ellen, was so adept at writing descriptions that she won the tie contest three months in a row.  She later went on to become the Student Body President;  I won’t say there was a connection but I know that she improved her note taking skills.   Additionally, I used visualization and verbalization techniques to improve my students descriptive skills.  I also taught them how they could use index cards to keep track of my ties almost like the tie competition was a vocabulary test.  I would urge students to review these cards (twenty per month) so they could be ready to pounce if they noticed a repeated tie.  Students saw the value in this so when I taught them how to study vocabulary for spelling or vocabulary tests, they used this technique.  Since I only repeated a tie once per month, this necessitated changes to the way that I stored my ties.  To pull this off and make sure I didn’t make a mistake, I organized my ties in boxes by month so I wouldn’t wear a tie twice by mistake.  When I took a tie off, I put it in a special box that I would pull from when I decided to re-wear a tie.

I took the tie contest to a new level when I started working at Hillside, and all-boys school, which had a dress code where students were required to wear ties and sport coats every day.   Inspired by one of the teachers there, Peter Wagner, a bow tie guy in his own right, I decided to make my contest about this new type of tie.  A friend of mine, a principal from Cleveland, had started a Bow Tie Wednesday, and I stole this idea and encouraged students to wear bow ties at midweek in honor of the day and Peter Wagner.  Since many students didn’t own bow ties, I made a new bow tie the reward for “catching me” wearing a repeat tie.  Since I was working in the learning labs, my tie contest lead to all sorts of ways for me to teach new skills to students.  I was also teaching 7th grade English, so I decided to use the contests to help students learn new vocabulary words.  If they were wrong – they received a “gift” of a new vocabulary word to learn I kept these words, such as profusely and consternation on slips of paper in my George Costanza-like wallet that was big and fat, but I always enjoyed giving students a new vocabulary word to learn when they thought that I had worn a tie before and hadn’t. What amazed me was the number of students who would come up to me and ask me if I had worn a tie before knowing it was new just to get a vocabulary word.  Perhaps even more impressive, I heard from a couple of 8th and 9th graders that they had seen some of my words on the SSAT and had gotten them right because of my contest.

So clearly, there is a lot of academic benefits from being the Bow Tie Guy, but the best part of the bow tie and the tie competition has always been that it has helped me to make better connections with the students I am fortunate enough to teach.  Thanks to the fact I had to teach the students how to tie a bowtie, I was able to use the time to forge bonds and relationships with them that would have been more difficult without the tie competition.  Each Wednesday morning, students came in early, and I would teach them how to tie bow ties before school started.  Each week, there were usually two or three students who would go out and buy their own bow ties and want to wear them that day.  Standing in front of a mirror provided the perfect vehicle for some face to face time that allowed me to foster a relationship because learning how to tie a bow tie is not something that takes 2 or 3 minutes.  Many students came in for a couple of weeks before they got the technique down and in that time I got to know them better which not only meant I had better connections with my students both inside and outside of class.  Finally, I knew what I was doing was interesting for the boys because a quarter to a third of the students donned bow ties for Bow Tie Wednesday.

I wonder what my next tie competition will look like a my next School.  I wonder what skills I’ll be able to teach using it and what relationships I will be able to cultivate that will lead to greater success in the classroom.