Monthly Archives: October 2012

This Week’s Feature: Classroom Blogs

Hello! It is the weekend before Halloween and New England is yet again staring down an incoming storm that threatens damage and power outages for the holiday. The big question, of course, is… Will school be cancelled?

This week Jeremy Shulkin has been kind enough to take a break from his very busy first-year-of-teaching madness to write up his one thing that is working and for that I am so grateful! Jeremy is a great writer and journalist who has decided to come to teaching after an impressive stint as the senior writer of Worcester Magazine- an experience that I’m sure makes him even more amazing in the classroom. So thank you so much Jeremy and I hope everyone enjoys our virtual visit to Jeremy’s classroom:

Jeremy Shulkin

9th and 12th grade English, journalism elective

University Park Campus School in Worcester, MA

Tell us about what is working in your classroom?

This is my first year as a full-time English teacher in a public school setting, so I’m still feeling my way through a lot with respect to lesson planning, grading and classroom management but one project that I am unequivocally supportive of is the classroom blog.
In the summer of 2011 I taught journalism at a summer program in Cambridge, England. After spending three years as a freelance and full-time reporter I was wondering why the first week of a three week course sort of dragged along. I was teaching something I loved, so why didn’t my students love it too?
So I threw out my lesson plans and decided to turn my 20 students into reporters themselves – actually make them accountable for what I was teaching them (and what they were producing) in class by making it public. I took a look at the free blog themes offered by WordPress and came to class the next morning with a new project for all of us: we’d be publishing our own newspaper, but one that was free to set up and that jibed perfectly with the newish digital era of news.
I showed my students a few of the blog templates I thought would work well for our purposes (one that had a clean design and had room for multiple stories on the home page) and let them vote for the design the class liked best.
Next came the name: we threw out words often associated with newspapers – Times, Gazette, Advocate – and we eventually narrowed it down to one the class liked. We had a number of Harry Potter fans in the class, which, when combined with my background working at an alternative newsweekly, pretty naturally led to the creation of the Alternative Quibbler .
My students quickly bought into this, and for the next two weeks of the three week session most days were spent with my students walking into town and hunting down a story that, for the most part, they finished that day or at the beginning of the next. Even when the students finished a story their work was never done because with the immediate satisfaction of seeing their work made public (and easily share-able through Facebook and Twitter) they couldn’t wait to move on to the next article.
The benefits were immediate. The first day we went to into Cambridge to find stories one of my students stumbled upon a vigil for the 90 kids massacred in Norway that summer and had the opportunity to interview the Mayor. I also helped students organize an interview with the head of Cambridge University’s Amnesty International club and the director of the Sedgwick Museum. Other students were just as intrepid, writing articles about the societal ills plaguing Cambridge, a local Shakespeare festival and plenty of school related news.

Why do you think this practice is working?

The blog was a major success. Students were excited to write, report and edit because class had a clear purpose: create content for our newspaper. There was a sense of ownership over the website’s content, design and “marketing” (aka, posting links on Facebook and telling their friends) but they also had the gratification of generating work and seeing something more happen to it than just the usual Give It To The Teacher Get It Back With A Grade On It routine.

How did you set this practice up in your classroom?

While this all worked smoothly when I only had one class to worry about for three weeks over the summer, recreating it at a public school where journalism is just one of five of my classes has been a little more difficult. My journalism class has set up our blog, The Daily Dip (named after Dippin’ Donuts, a nearby coffee and donut place in the vein of Dunkin’ Donuts that is a frequent stop for UPCS students and faculty) but we haven’t put content on it yet. Embarrassingly, even the home page pictures are just place holders right now.
Still, my students have been enthusiastic about the project from the start, and it’s mostly been my own hectic schedule holding it back. Starting next week my students will begin proofing the work they’ve already generated for me so we can finally put some content online and let its momentum snowball from there.
While I’ve only used this for journalism classes, I’d argue that a class blog works across any discipline. English/creative writing courses can take advantage of it for the creation of a literary magazine, which I’d assume science classes could create their own science journal (or post videos of experiments).

Can you suggest any resources (links/books/articles) that would help someone else set this practice up?

The best place to start is on WordPress’ own website and take it from there.

I really love this idea. My mother, who is also in education, recently told me about a remarkable workshop she went to focused on technology in the classroom and specifically classroom blogs. It sounds truly amazing and is a project that I agree could work across subjects and at many different grade levels. I really hope that I can get something like this up and running in my own classroom and I am so glad to hear that Jeremy has had such positive experiences with class blogging! Thank you again Jeremy!

Has anyone else tried out a classroom blog? Please let us know how it is going!

So glad you have found your way to the Featured Teacher.
-Annie

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This Week’s Feature: Behavior Clip Charts

It’s Saturday again! A beloved day for teachers everywhere (or at least for this teacher!). I hope everybody had a wonderful week and I am so glad you have found your way here.

This week I am bringing you a feature on Amanda Taylor. Amanda and I did our student teaching together. During that year I was able to visit many classrooms and see a variety of teachers. It’s something I truly miss. Watching other teachers in action has always provided me with a million ideas but it also always gives me this great sense of excitement about the craft of teaching. We are all performance artists in one way or another when we step up in front of a room of people- no matter their age, or ours. I find it sad that while I know Amanda is doing great things it has been nearly three years since I was able to see her work, and we teach in the same city. So again, my hope is that this space can become  a virtual workshop of sorts.

So it is with great pleasure that I pass on to you one thing that is working well for Amanda:

 

Amanda Taylor

2nd grade

Worcester, MA

Tell us about what is working in your classroom?

I love my clip chart behavior system. 🙂

Why do you think this practice is working?

It is very consistent and puts a primarily positive spin on classroom management.  My kids take pride in being noticed doing the right thing and moving up the chart.  Parents also report that their kids are coming home excited to share when they have made it to “super student” on the top of the chart.  They seem very motivated by it and I have had fewer issues with behavior since I began using it.

How did you set this practice up in your classroom?

 I got the clip chart idea from a blog post and came up with my own category titles.  I set up the chart on day one of school last year, went over it with the kids, and started using it right away.  I sent home a detailed letter to parents explaining the system and asking them to sign their support.  On our school’s Know Your School Night, I went over it in detail again with the parents and answered any questions.

Can you suggest any resources (links/books/articles) that would help someone else set this practice up?

You can google behavior clip chart to browse some of the different ones that are out there.  I am also happy to share if anyone would like to use my chart or my parent letter- just email me! (haya@worc.k12.ma.us)

 

Thank you for sharing Amanda! And if any of you are interested in sharing the great things I know are going on in your classrooms please visit the submit page for more information!

-Annie

This Week’s Feature: The Post-It Trick

So here it is! Our first Featured Teacher is Terri Deletesky. She is a good friend of mine and a truly talented musician and educator. I am so happy that she was willing to contribute! And you can too… just visit the submission page for directions. Sorry, shameless plug- now back to Terri and her one thing that really works:

Terri Deletetsky

Integrated Arts/ Special Ed. K-2

Somerville MA.

As a specialist teacher without one primary classroom, transitions are a really important part of the day so that your class runs smoothly. I’m not sure if this is “best practice” or simply a trick but either way, it has worked wonders both in classes and in the hallway. When taking students from one place to another, I take out a post it, get the classes attention and say that I am going to write down a random class members name onto the post it. I say “If this random student is following all of our directions and on their best behavior while we walk through the hallway, they win the game (and possibly receive a small reward like a sticker).” This way, every student knows that they could be the student on that post it, and therefore need to be on their best behavior.

This works in my art class as well. I choose an “amazing artist” of the day. I start the day by writing a name on a post it; usually each student starts out on perfect behavior while I do this, for the chance that they could be the one on the piece of paper.  At the end of the class, I pull the post it out of my pocket and read the name. I publicly ask the student to read our class rules and let us know if they have earned their prize. This allows the students to be accountable for their actions, and to truly understand that they have earned this recognition.  I then give them a simple award to take home to their families (I have many copies, I add their name and date and some fun stickers of their choosing) that says that they have been chosen for the “Amazing Artist” of the day. The students know that every child will get a chance to be an “Amazing Artist” and that if they are not supportive of the student that has received the award, then that will hurt their chances to be chosen next time. I keep track of who has received an award and those who haven’t. I often use this as an incentive in the midst of our class by saying “Students, I really hope that the Amazing Artist in my pocket is doing the right thing, and earning their award.” This usually quiets them down. Now, I am not sure if this would work with older students. My students REALLY care what their families think, and love the attention of any sort of reward. Therefore, the stakes are high enough for them.

Another thing is that students at this age are easily manipulated (I sound like a terrible person), but sometimes I will not actually write a name on the paper in the beginning of class and just strategically choose someone by the end of the class (perhaps a student that had a challenge and overcame it, or a student that is doing exceptionally well). It feels awful when a student has a hard day, you read their name, and they did not earn the award. It is humiliating and usually not worth it. In some classes, making an example of a student (who can handle it) is needed, but I like to keep my positive rewards positive.

I think you need to commit to be consistent if you are planning to use a reward system. My students remind me if I have forgotten to write a name down in the beginning of the lesson, because it is something they expect every day, just like I have daily expectations from them. This is also not the only reward/consequence system that I use, especially since some students need to wait a month or more to become the Amazing Artist. I also use whole class rewards that the class can earn at the end of each class.

This is a simple/small practice that makes a big difference!

Thanks so much for sharing, Terri! I will be putting up a new feature every Saturday and maybe some random odds and ends in between but please check back soon.

-Annie

Welcome!

Welcome to The Featured Teacher. My name is Annie and I am a third grade teacher in Worcester, Ma. I was inspired to start this blog because I want to provide my students with the best education and school experience possible. I have had amazing mentors and coworkers who have helped me in my early years of teaching but I am still constantly coming across ideas and practices that I simply wish I had known about sooner. I was once given the advice that good teachers borrow and great teachers steal. This blog is a place for both. It is important that we share ideas because it not only makes us better teachers but also builds a community that makes us feel better about our teaching.

I know I work with a truly brilliant group of people and I know that there are teachers all over the world doing great things everyday that help children grow. I also know that teachers have a strangely solitary job at times. We share the building and we share the kids but there simply isn’t time to share our practices with each other enough. If only there was a way to be in two places at once. My hope is that this space will provide a bit of insight into what is working for teachers and that through sharing these ideas we can strengthen ourselves and our students.

I am also becoming very aware of the fact that teachers are not singled out enough for the spectacular things they are doing. It is easy to get bogged down in the everyday, run of the mill, grind of work. That happens in every profession. I think it is so frequently easier to talk about what is not working and what needs to be fixed, and to forget about all the small successes that are happening around us each and every day. I also hope that this can be a space in which we slow down and take a moment to celebrate and share things that just work for us.

This blog is about bringing a spotlight onto that one thing in someone’s classroom that is working really well. It can be anything. From how papers get passed out to a great lesson or unit. From classroom jobs to curriculum mapping. Anything  that makes teachers proud and that contributes to the success of their classrooms.

I’m so glad you have landed here!

-Annie