A lot of teachers give students participation points for speaking up during class discussions. The more students contribute, the more points they get. I've heard teachers say this motivates students, and it does seem to motivate some of them--those who need or want to improve their grades. But participation points can be de-motivating for students who aren't concerned about their grades. As a result, some students dominate class discussions, while others daydream during them. Another problem is that saying a lot doesn't always equate to learning a lot. A higher order skill like synthesizing information, for example, is all about ...


It's fine to encourage students to speak up by telling them there are no stupid questions. Yet students' willingness to ask questions has less to do with us encouraging them to do so than how we respond when they actually do ask questions. Unfortunately, teachers often respond to questions in ways that deter students from asking more questions. Sometimes we do this by dismissing or barely answering their questions because "we need to move on." Other times we do it more subtly through responses that would seem to encourage students to ask questions, such as "great question." How could a ...


My first teaching experience was as a substitute teacher in Chicago assigned to an 11th grade Algebra 2 class for ELL Polish students. I began by giving students an assignment their teacher had left for them. But no one attempted it, so I asked a boy who understood English if he and his classmates needed help. He laughed and, after he translated my question for his classmates, they laughed too. He then let me in on the joke: "We learned this in 7th grade." To me, however, it was appalling rather than amusing: 11th grade here = 7th grade there?! Yet ...


In my recent post, Don't Prevent Students' Mistakes, Prepare for Them, I wrote that lesson planning should be more about anticipating students' errors and preparing to help them learn from those errors than trying to develop presentations that prevent all errors. "Sounds good in theory," a teacher said when I made this point at a workshop. "But HOW do we anticipate and prepare to help students learn from their errors?" "Most important," I replied, "you must do what I think of as teachers' homework--working through before class everything you'll be presenting, reviewing, or assigning during class." Yes, everything--opening "Do Now," ...


"Hello fellow teachers," a student said to a few colleagues and me as we walked down the hall. "Since when are you a teacher?" one of my colleagues replied. I was surprised by this response, and thought of Paulo Freire's belief that all of us are both students and teachers. I also thought of my students, who taught me more about how to--and how not to--treat them and teach them than I learned from education courses, in-service training, or supervisors' feedback. I learned from students who told me I needed to talk less and listen more. I learned from students ...


In my first post on this blog, here's what I wrote about my early struggles as an urban teacher: Just six weeks in, and with my classroom already up for grabs, insult and injury came when I was decked by a stray elbow while trying to break up a fight in class. As it turned out, though, this physical blow was far less staggering than the emotional one I sustained just five minutes later. On my way downstairs for an icepack, I looked out the window and saw a young man's body in a pool of blood. I never felt ...


I'm often surprised when teachers are surprised when their students perform poorly on tests. Sure there are kids whose scores belie their skills, such as those who have test anxiety or had a bad day or took the test on an empty stomach. For the most part, though, students' performance on tests is predictable based on their day to day performance in class. And that's the problem: teachers who are surprised by students' performance on tests often aren't assessing students' understanding in class as routinely or effectively as they need to be. Routine, effective assessment means knowing what students know ...


Doctors don't prescribe drugs or reach for a scalpel the moment a patient reports symptoms. Doctors diagnose first, and treat second. Coaches don't cut players from the team every time they're in a slump. Coaches determine what's wrong with a player's shot or swing or stroke, and then work with that player to fix it. In myriad other settings, experts similarly identify the sources of problems before deciding how to address those problems. One place, however, where this doesn't always happen is school, especially when it comes to students' misbehavior. Writing students' names on the board. Moving their seats. Giving ...


It's common knowledge that people can learn as much from their mistakes as anything. And yet traditional teaching methods often deny students the chance to learn from their mistakes by preventing them from making mistakes. In social studies and science, for example, a lot of teachers tell students how to scale and label their axes when plotting data on a line graph. This prevents students from mistakenly assigning the dependent variable to the x-axis and the independent variable to the y-axis, or running out of room on their paper by going with ones or tens for their scales instead of ...


I couldn't have been more relieved when winter break arrived my first year as a teacher. Two weeks of R & R. No lessons to plan. No papers to grade. And most of all, no kids to clash with. My break got off to a blissful start. I slept late, worked out, and spent time with family and friends. But after a few days, I became preoccupied with one thought: each day that passed was one less day until I'd have to return to my chaotic classroom. My restful break had suddenly become a restless one. I wallowed in despair for ...


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