Teacher Talk

Your Work Matters

posted Dec 2, 2018, 4:58 AM by HSD Principal

Piles of grading. Irate parents. Disrespectful, disinterested students. Constant testing and unreasonable requirements. These, and many more things, conspire against teachers and try to bring us down. To discourage us. To make us wonder if we are wasting our time.

And today I want to offer you a small word of encouragement. You are NOT wasting your time. What you’re doing DOES matter. Your labor is not in vain.

I was going to tell you that there are students in your class who will look back on this year and be thankful for your influence. They may even be the one causing you the most trouble.

I was going to remind you that growth takes time and tell you that the seeds you are planting in young hearts and minds will grow and bring forth fruit, even if you might not see it yet.

I was going to tell you that you are making a difference. That there are students who care. Who are grateful. Who are learning. Who are growing. Even if they never tell you.

I was going to tell you all of this until I realized that all of these things pale in comparison to one very important fact.

God sees your effort, your work, your labor. And He is the only one that truly matters.

God sees the long hours and the shed tears. He knows your biggest frustrations and your deepest hurts.

He doesn’t overlook you. And He doesn’t take you for granted.

We put so much thought & effort into doing our best for our students. Into being the best teacher we can for their sake. And while we should emphasize the kids’ needs above our own, there is someone else that we should be serving above all else: our God.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Col. 3:23-24)

This powerful verse reminds us that we are working for an audience of one: our Lord Jesus Christ.

When no one else seems to notice, He sees.

When no one else seems to care, He cares.

When our words seem to be falling flat, He sees our effort and is pleased with our faithfulness.

If we’re doing it all for Him.

So today, in the midst of the busyness, the frustration, the chaos – take a moment and remember the real reason that you are teaching. It shouldn’t be for the praise. It shouldn’t be for the satisfaction. It shouldn’t even be for the kids.

The real reason we are teaching should be for God.

And if we keep our focus on Him, it doesn’t matter as much what’s happening around us.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (I Cor. 15:58)

So don’t give up. Don’t quit.

Be encouraged in the Lord. Find the help you need.

And keep making a difference.

~ Linda Kardamis, from Teach4theHeart.

Classroom Management: It's not too Late

posted Nov 25, 2018, 3:15 AM by HSD Principal

Classroom management is usually something that gets attention at the beginning of the school year. But if your practices have started to wander throughout the semester (along with your students' minds?), it's not too late to restore solid procedures in your classroom. 

Jennifer Gonzalez teaches through negative examples in her article about Sabotaging Classroom Management. As a bonus, she presents her info through an infographic, a blog entry, and a podcast episode, so you can digest it in the way that works best for you.

Stay Calm and Teach On is advice specifically on how not to lose your cool while maintaining order. Maybe of particular interest right now, the author says term breaks can provide an easy way to refocus on classroom management - from a positive perspective:
Besides in-the-moment resets, holiday breaks or extended absences offer a natural opening for starting anew. Just make sure to give students a learning rationale for the reset, "which you can invent," says Lemov. When returning from winter break, for example, tell students, "Great, guys, we're halfway through the year and we've got a lot to accomplish so we can be super successful. We need to nail the routines for how we do things in the classroom so we're productive and the class is as engaging as it can possibly be." Or, "We only have 30 days until our big unit test on Lord of the Flies, and this novel is really important, so we need to make sure we crush it."

"It goes back to procedures and routines," says Lemov. "Identify two or three problem areas (like silent independent work), carefully plan out solutions, and have students practice so that they know how to do it right."

As you reteach procedures, instead of saying, "That wasn't good enough," try, "That was good, but we want everything we do in this classroom to be great. Let's see if we can do that perfectly." Positive framing, Lemov continues, "can be a culture shift in the classroom and earn a lot of student buy-in."

Fixing High School By Listening To Students

posted Nov 11, 2018, 3:18 AM by HSD Principal

Below is a full article by Grant Wiggins, Ed.D, Authentic Education

I recently had a pleasant back and forth with Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute on what ails the high school. He was reviewing the recent disconcerting NAEP results that once again show high school achievement is resistant to reform. On this he and I agree. But then he proposed some diagnoses, the latter of which I think is totally off base (an E D Hirsch diagnosis). I strongly agree with his conclusion: it’s high time we better understood the problem of the high school. (Hard to believe that after 30 years of reform that started with me working with Ted Sizer in the Coalition of Essential Schools, we still lack clear answers.) After going back and forth collegially, we agreed to do some walk-throughs together next school year.

Meanwhile, I can offer a fairly sobering picture of what ails the high school, drawn from our student survey. Below, I have singled out one school. It could not be more typical of the American high school: in a midwestern suburb, mostly white, average size (900ish), with state test scores in the respectable 80+ percent proficient.

The survey results represent a very large sample – approximately 2/3 of all students, and, as best as I can tell from comparing the demographic data, a very representative sample. Below, I provide the data. In my follow-up post, we look at student constructed responses.

What is the typical GPA? And how hard is school for you?



What is your favorite subject?


Surprised? You shouldn’t be. John Goodlad found the same thing 30 years ago in A Place Called School, and our surveys have had PE at #1 every year. Nor should it be a surprise that Science and the Arts are ranked highly for the same reasons. (We will of course want to understand better why this is so).

Why is the subject the favorite? The selected response answer may seem very counter-intuitive to readers, but it tracks all our survey responses from the start of my effort on this 4 years ago:


What, then are the least favorite subjects?


No surprise there if you consider most kids’ experiences. What is of course noteworthy is that math was the 3rd favorite – and this is a consistent finding in our survey. It’s very bi-modal: you either love math or you hate it, and many more people hate it that love it. (More on the reasons, below).

Why is this subject your least favorite? Consistent with ALL past survey results, the teacher is NOT the determining factor:


Alert readers will no doubt respond: maybe math is just the least liked but not hated at all. Well, we factored that issue into the survey. How negative is your feeling about math?


What about intellectual challenge?


The Science response is interesting in light of the fact that it is one of the more highly like subjects: engagement and rigor are not opposites. The ELA/English response is, of course, worrisome. (More in the follow-up post).


Now, what about boredom in general?


Worrisome – but not surprising, if you have followed my survey results and the National Study of Student Engagement.

What makes the class/work boring?


Finally, what about the teachers’ approaches and attitudes?



 Look closely at the number of responses that get a majority of answers as the total of Disagree and Strongly disagree:

1. Teachers make the work interesting, give me good feedback

2. Teachers play to my talents and interests

3. Teachers differentiate

Most worrisome, only half say teachers know them – a key indicator in Gallup’s study of student success. By the way, this school’s profile is NOT representative of the best schools in our survey. On those, as with all questions, no survey question in this list gets a majority of student disagreement.

More telling are the constructed response answers, as you’ll see next time. Students were asked to explain why they liked and disliked subjects, what was the most interesting work they have done this year, and if they could tell their teachers 1 thing to make school better, what would it be?

In my follow-up post we’ll look at those responses in light of these graphs because they shed important light on the meaning of the numbers. That said, you can probably already answer the question: if this is a ‘typical’ high school – and it is – what is the problem statement?

Fixing High School By Listening To Students; image attribution flickr uservancouverfilmschoolThis article was excerpted from a post that first appeared on Grant’s personal blogGrant can be found on twitter here

Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/everything-else/ed-reform/fixing-high-school-listening-to-students/

Some Resources to Help Your PD Initiatives

posted Oct 28, 2018, 5:16 AM by HSD Principal

Some of your departments have developed goals that involve peer observations. In The Expert Next Door, there is a good model for how to make the most of a more formal peer observation process.

Since we are all focusing on supporting our growing ELL population, here are a few articles on that topic:

Aída Walqui and Margaret Heritage give a list of methods for developing ELL students' oral language, as well as some misconceptions teachers often have about working with ELL students in Supporting English Learners’ Oral Language Development

In Educating English Language Learners, Diane August distills wide research on ELL learning into a handful of tested methods:
  • Provide Access to Grade-Level Course Content
  • Build on Effective Practices Used with English-Proficient Students
  • Provide Supports to Help ELLs Master Core Content and Skills
  • Develop ELLs’ Academic Language
  • Encourage Peer-to-Peer Learning Opportunities
  • Capitalize on Students’ Home Language, Knowledge, and Cultural Assets
  • Screen for Language and Literacy Challenges, Monitor Progress, and Support ELLs Who Are Struggling

Students Learn Best When You Do This... and This... and This

posted Oct 21, 2018, 4:07 AM by HSD Principal

by Grant Wiggins, Ed.D, Authentic Education

Want to know what kids need in order to learn better? Ask them: Here are the first 50 answers, unedited, from our typical HS.

I learn best when the teacher –

  1. Is hands on and doesn’t just talk at me. 
  2. They need to be interested what they’re teaching and encourage class discussions. Not only does this encourage us to use what we learned, it also helps us see the information in a different way.
  3. I learn best when the class is interactive and the teacher makes it fun and meaningful for my life
  4. I learn best in class when the teacher teaches one-on-one
  5. Explains it, then shows it, then asks us to demonstrate to make sure we know how to do it and if we don’t then further explains
  6. Assigns groups.
  7. Is engaging and attempts to relate to the students, not talk down at them
  8. gets the class involved and has hands on activities.
  9. I’m a hands on learner
  10. Allows us to ask questions and goes into detail.
  11. Teaches me in a hands on way, in other words I need to do an activity in order to learn it
  12. Shows a personality. Like when a teacher is humorous or shares personal experiences. When a teacher shows they are human, and don’t just do robotic teaching.
  13. Is showing me something visually instead of just talking at the students
  14. Shows the class what to do by demonstration
  15. Shows me step by step on how to do things and clarify any misunderstanding. Also has fun activities that involve interaction between other students in order to gain new insights. Has having field trips to experience real life situations.
  16. Is there to answer questions and gives us a lot of practice that is related to what we are going to be tested on.
  17. Interacts and gives us hands on things to do
  18. Helps me one on one
  19. Has us do things during class for us to learn
  20. Is enthusiastic about what we are learning and makes the learning fun and jokes around with us
  21. Interacts with the class and doesn’t just answer the questions on their own
  22. Slows down and does hands on activities
  23. Hands on with notes and examples
  24. Helps us learn by using visuals
  25. Teaches the class. Not when the students have to teach each other. That was horrible
  26. Actually wants us to learn about the subject and asks us questions about why we should learn this and gives us activities that ties it to the real world and outside of school
  27. hands on activities like anatomy.
  28. Has something (activity, homework, etc) that effectively demonstrates the concept
  29. Gives us a debate or something to discuss with each other
  30. Make learning active and fun
  31. I learn best when the teacher stands up in class teaches the lesson and then gives hand on activities instead of busy work. It also helps when if you don’t understand something the teacher is willing to help instead of just saying they can’t help us.
  32. Involves the whole class and we have in class discussions and everything is really hands on.
  33. Is hands on, gives us group activities and we share ideas.
  34. Hands on activities and expressing my ideas with others
  35. Is excited about what they are teaching and has many class discussions
  36. Anything that’s visual like when a problem is written out or when I have one on one with the teacher
  37. Engages students and makes content interesting.
  38. Is fun and makes me engaged
  39. Is fun and knows how to work well with the class
  40. Goes slow and spends many days going over what we are learning
  41. Gives examples & actually shows you what to do
  42. does more hands on things
  43. Talking in an exciting voice, acts like they want to be there, and help
  44. Doesn’t lecture the whole class and gives us lots of worksheets
  45. Actually teaches the class instead of simply sitting in the back of the room and play on his computer.  Or when the teacher provides no constructive criticism.
  46. Has activities for us to do and is more hands on and actually makes learning fun and want us to come to school not just another dreadful day waiting for the last bell to ring at 2:45
  47. Is more hands on, and cracks a joke here and there to keep my attention. When class is more layer back rather that really strict. Open discussion is a great stress reliever.
  48. Lectures and then let’s students work.
  49. Is interacting and asking us questions. It keeps me alert and I like getting the answers from fellow students as well as the teacher.
  50. Makes the material interesting to learn. Sometimes reading out of a book or listening to a lecture isn’t enough – I need to do hands on activities to see the point of things.

This article was excerpted from a post that first appeared on Grant’s personal blogGrant can be found on twitter here; image attribution flickr userglobalpartnershipforeducation

Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/students-learn-best/

Self-Assessment and Metacognition

posted Oct 13, 2018, 12:14 AM by HSD Principal

As you endeavor to help your students be reflective on their learning, here are some ideas from Understanding by Design to help you along (I really like the fourth suggestion):
    • Set aside five minutes in the middle and at the end of an inquiry-based lesson... to consider these questions: So what have we concluded? What remains unsolved or unanswered?
    • Require that a self-assessment be attached to every formal product or performance, with the option of basing a small part of the student's grade on the accuracy of the self-assessment.
    • Include a one-minute essay at the end of the lecture, in which students summarize the two or three main points and the questions that still remain for them (and, thus, next time, for the teacher!).
    • Require students to attach a postscript to any formal paper or product in which they must be honest about what they do and do not really understand about the subject in question - regardless of how authoritative their work may appear. (Of course, students need to know that they will not be penalized for confessing!)
    • Train students to evaluate work in the same way that teachers are trained as advanced placement [sic] readers, so that students become more accurate as peer reviewers and self-assessors, and more inclined to "think like assessors" in their work, too.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. p. 216.

Another way to help students evaluate learning is to train them to question their textbooks and other learning materials. As you use course materials, you can help students ask: 
  • What point of view is the author of this textbook promoting? Does he have an agenda?
  • Is the author making assumptions that should be questioned? How can I get more information to make informed conclusions?
  • Can I find a source that comes to a differing conclusion? How can I reconcile the differences?
  • Does this textbook give all the information worth knowing on this subject? How could I find out more?
  • And most importantly: Does what is communicated in this source align with what I understand from the Bible? If not, how do I reconcile the differing perspectives?
The answers to those questions may help students come to deeper understandings of your subject matter, and may help you address essential questions, much more effectively than just following the textbook's outline.

Building Better Questions

posted Sep 13, 2018, 5:19 PM by HSD Principal

Following up on our webinar from a couple of weeks ago (and, yes, it was really long after a full day of teaching), we want to make sure essential questions are being addressed as we plan our units and lessons. As you are thinking through the questions you are asking, here is an article on How to Make Your Questions Essential that has a framework to help you rate your questions. Grant Wiggins (author of Understanding by Design) and Denise Wilbur describe essential questions:
  • They stimulate ongoing thinking and inquiry.
  • They're arguable, with multiple plausible answers.
  • They raise further questions.
  • They spark discussion and debate.
  • They demand evidence and reasoning because varying answers exist.
  • They point to big ideas and pressing issues.
  • They fruitfully recur throughout the unit or year.
  • The answers proposed are tentative and may change in light of new experiences and deepening understanding (McTighe & Wiggins, 2013).
As you plan, they suggest you ask the following questions of your questions:
  • How well does the draft question meet the criteria?
  • If the question is too convergent, how can I phrase it to invite inquiry and argument? If the question is factual, what question on the same topic is worth arguing about?
  • Is the question merely engaging? Or will pursuing it lead to the topic's big ideas?
  • Is the question general enough to use across other units? Or is it bound too narrowly to just this topic or text?
  • Does the question get at what's odd, counterintuitive, or easily misunderstood? Or is it a predictable question with mundane and relatively superficial answers?
  • Am I trying too hard to craft the perfect question?
  • Am I looking for questions in all the wrong places?
As you are planning the questions you will ask, you can also help students with the questions they ask. Like other skills, question-asking can be modeled, taught, and practiced in the classroom. In this article on 5 Ways to Help Students Ask Better Questions, Martin-Kniep writes that teachers can:
  1. Guide Students to Question What They See or Read.
  2. Establish Criteria for Questioning.
  3. Provide Protocols and Structures for Student Feedback.
  4. Invite Students to Generate Their Own Essential Questions.
  5. Design Learning Experiences That Encourage Students to Be Critical and Engaged Consumers.
As you model asking good essential questions, you can build that skill into your students as well, a skill that will serve them well on their way to being Christlike lifelong learners.

Helpful Skills - For You and Your Students

posted Sep 2, 2018, 3:50 AM by HSD Principal   [ updated Sep 2, 2018, 4:00 AM ]

I'd like you all to read this article on Teaching Smarter in its entirety when you get the chance. It's got a lot of good advice in it about doing things in a way that keeps your students learning while keeping you from classroom burnout. And Always Find Time for Family!

In "The Enduring Value of Study Skills," authors Fisher and Frey state that students often need more coaching in study skills than teachers realize. They categorize what students need into three areas:
  • Study tasks – for example, practice testing, deliberate practice, and organizing knowledge and concepts;
  • Metacognition – monitoring one’s own learning through self-questioning;
  • Dispositions and motivations, including setting goals and planning for study.
So teaching students how to succeed goes beyond just skills. It requires addressing their mindsets and thoughts before and during studying. 

As a bonus, Fisher and Frey give five practices that research has shown have been linked to higher levels of student success:
  • Practice tests– These can be very effective if students get feedback on the results. That’s because they trigger the “retrieval effect” – locating and bringing information to mind, which strengthens long-term memory. Retrieval also makes students metacognitively aware of the current status of their knowledge, giving them a realistic sense of what they know and what needs more study.
  • Distributed practice– Retrieving information at intervals over several days is far more effective than rereading or highlighting. In fact, rereading may make things worse by giving students the feeling that they know the material without realizing that their ability to retrieve information hasn’t improved. “[N]o athlete would think that one long practice session just before a match or game would be wise,” say Fisher and Frey. “Practices occur on regularly scheduled intervals, and study sessions require the same condition.” 
  • Study context– Study skills should be taught in the subject area in which they will be used – for example, Cornell notes in social studies classes. 
  • Distraction during study– Studies have shown that today’s adolescents rarely study more than 9-10 minutes without being interrupted by their devices – yet they believe they’re “focused.” These distractions, along with the myth of multitasking, take their toll, both on the quality of study and students’ anxiety about not having enough time. Fisher and Frey believe the best approach is to challenge students to turn their devices off for 15 minutes when they study, then treat themselves to a one-minute technology check, then get back to work – and gradually expand the tech-free window over time.
  • Metacognition– Fisher and Frey suggest sharing research about study skills with students so they understand and are empowered to use recent insights about what works and what doesn’t.

Big Questions & Good Questions

posted Aug 27, 2018, 4:36 AM by HSD Principal

Along with asking students about retreat learning and how they plan to apply that learning, this blog post (by a guy named Jai!) titled Listening to Learners gives suggestions on other questions that can be asked of high school students to help them think about their learning. The four big questions he suggests are:
  • Can you name two people in this school who believe that you will be a success in life? How do they let you know?
  • What are you learning? Why is it important? How does this learning connect to your life outside of school?
  • How are you doing with your learning? 
  • What are your next steps?
The process of having students answer those questions - and listening to their answers - helps them take ownership of their learning, and helps us ensure they are getting the direction they need to make their learning real.

But Craig Barton argues that the more ordinary and regular questions asked in classes and on assessments can be made better as well. His article On Formative Assessment in Math makes the case that not all questions are equal when it comes to determining student knowledge. His article focuses on math, but his ideas can be applied to any subject. 

Barton says that teachers should have diagnostic questions that are designed to help determine student understanding. Specifically, he says questions:
  • It should test a single skill or concept. This is not the time for interleaving, says Barton: “The purpose of a diagnostic question is to home in on the precise area that a student is struggling with and provide information about the precise nature of that struggle.”
  • It should be clear and unambiguous. The teacher should be able to accurately infer students’ understanding from their answers.
  • Students should be able to answer it in less than 10 seconds.
  • The teacher should learn something from each incorrect response without further explanation from the student (that’s because the teacher has chosen the incorrect answers very carefully).
  • It cannot be answered correctly while still holding a key misconception. This is the most important characteristic, and the one that makes formulating questions so difficult.
And, as a bonus, Barton has created thousands of "diagnostic questions" and made them available on his site

Eliminating Anxiety - and Fostering Something Better

posted May 20, 2018, 12:21 AM by HSD Principal

Gina Picha wants to help teachers recognize and alleviate math anxiety. Anxiety, she says, can manifest to look like misbehaving, off-task behavior, or avoidance of work. Here are the signs she says to look for:
  • lack of response: freezing when a math problem is encountered
  • tears or anger: more so in younger grades, but look for overly emotional responses
  • negative self-talk: you've heard them (you may have said them!) - "I'm bad at math." "I'll never be able to do this."
  • low achievement: anxiety can keep students from performing, resulting in poor grades, reinforcing their already-held beliefs about math
So, what can you do to help alleviate math anxiety in your class? Picha's suggestions:
  • Provide students with the time to understand why. Math can be seen "as a series of nonsensical steps," and it takes being intentional to help students understand why they are doing what they do.
  • Use healthy and accurate messages. Talk through the "I can't learn math" myth and provide examples of how people use math outside the classroom. And, as we talked about in fostering grit, reinforce proper methods, strategies, and persistence instead of just right answers.
  • Allow think time when asking questions. Try to avoid asking questions that put students on the spot.
  • Use mixed-ability groupings. The tendency can be to put low-performing students together so they can be given additional instruction. But that can reinforce the idea that they are "slow" and mean the instruction they get is expecting less of them.
We always want Faith promote a positive learning environment. Tom Hierck and Kent Peterson cite research that says people are most likely to flourish in a culture if people experience at least three positive emotions for every negative one. They sough out to discover what behaviors would most encourage such an environment. Their Positive School Culture Inventory (PSCI) identified 19 student and staff behaviors "that are most likely to contribute to a positive school culture." 
  • .Showing pride in school
  • .Collaboration
  • .Kindness
  • .Taking pride in one’s work
  • Leadership
  • .Helping others
  • .Using time wisely
  • .Being prepared
  • .Love of learning
  • .Making good choices
  • .Active listening
  • .Cooperation
  • Using appropriate communication 
  • .Caring 
  • Self-reliance
  • .Perseverance/resilience
  • .Making an insightful comment
  • .Organization
  • Going above and beyond
Notice their findings connects those behaviors not only with students, but also with staff. Never underestimate the part you play in creating our school culture!

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