Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Effective TA Use: Part 1

I have been getting many excellent questions about TA usage, especially at the secondary building. So, I want to do a series of posts to help teachers and TAs work together effectively. 

The first step to working well together is to have an extended conversation about everything that goes on in the classroom. I've put together two lists below: questions for TAs to ask teachers, and questions for teachers to ask TAs. In order to create a list that could apply to both elementary and secondary, there will be some questions that might not apply to your specific situation. 

Questions for Teachers to ask TAs:

  • What class do you work in before this hour?
  • Can you reasonably get to this class before students arrive?
  • When will you typically be in the classroom?
  • When will you need to leave the classroom to get to your next class?
  • How will I know if you are sick, absent, or not able to come to class on a given day?
  • What daily routines would you be willing to help with?
  • What type of technology are you able to operate in the classroom (iPad, Apple TV, etc.)?
  • What are some of your “pet peeves” in the classroom?
  • How will we build trust and maintain confidentiality in the classroom?
  • What will we do when conflicts, mis-understandings, or opportunities for clarification come up?
  • What classroom management experience do you have?
  • What type of management activities are you comfortable with? Which are you uncomfortable with?
    • Circulating throughout the room?
    • Nonverbal cues to students?
    • Verbally redirecting students?
    • Temporarily removing students from the classroom?
    • One-on-one conversations with students?
    • Giving detentions?
    • Calling parents?
    • Taking students to the office?
    • Other (specify)?
Content & Instruction:
  • What subject areas and concepts do you feel most comfortable assisting students with?
  • Area there subject areas or concepts that you do not feel comfortable assisting students with?
  • What intervention programs, software, technology, etc. are you comfortable using?
  • What training or expertise would you like to gain?
  • What experience do you have providing accommodations (like read-alouds) to students?
  • What content/instructional activities are you comfortable doing...
    • Helping small groups?
    • Grading tests/quizzes?
    • Binder checks with students?
    • Helping students one-on-one?
    • Other (specify)?
  • What students will you be collecting data on this year?
  • How will you organize that data?
  • How can I help you gather or keep data on those students?

Questions for TAs to ask Teachers:

  • How will I know if you are sick, absent, or not able to come to class on a given day?
  • What is my role in the classroom in your absence?
  • Where can I find seating charts, sub plans (if needed), etc?
  • What are your daily routines for...
    • Starting class?
    • Bell work?
    • Checking homework?
    • Sharpening pencils?
    • Students coming to class without materials or homework?
    • Recess?
    • Lunch?
    • Dismissing for restroom, office, or guidance counselor?
    • Turning in work (on-time and late work)?
    • Students requesting help?
    • Ending class?
    • Other procedures?
  • Will I help with any of the daily routines? If so, how?
  • Can you provide me with a copy of your disclosure statement?
  • What are some of your “pet peeves” in the classroom?
  • How will we build trust and maintain confidentiality in the classroom?
  • What will we do when conflicts, mis-understandings, or opportunities for clarification come up?
  • Describe your discipline style.
  • What are some reinforcements/consequences you offer in your classroom?
  • What is the acceptable level of noise in your classroom?
  • What are your policies of student movement in your class?
  • Where there is a behavior issue, at what point should I assist you during…
    • Lecture?
    • Partner work?
    • Small group work?
    • Other?
  • During the situations above, what type of actions do you want me to take to intervene in behavior issues?
  • What activities would you like me to do daily in order to actively manage the class?
Content & Instruction:
  • What assistance do you allow students to receive during different types of work (group work, partner work, independent work, assessments)?
  • What are your expectations for me when providing accommodations, like read-alouds?
  • Explain your homework/late-work policy.
  • What instructional styles will I see in the classroom (lecture, group work, etc.)?
  • What type of assessments do you use?
  • How do you group students for group work in your class?
  • How do you provide for varied student needs during a lesson?
  • How do you grade...
    • Homework?
    • Assessments?
    • Projects?
    • Participation?
    • Other: specify?
  • How do you maintain records of grades and progress...
    • Grade book procedures?
    • Computer grade book?
    • Written feedback to students?
    • Other: specify?
  • What type of student data can I have access to (journals, gradebook, writing samples, test scores)?
  • What is the best time and method for me to get that data?

Some of the questions above were adapted from the following sources: 
- Walther-Thomas, Bryant, & Land, 1996

Even if you have already worked with your TA in previous years, I encourage you to find some time to have this conversation. In the next installment, I'll give specific ideas for using your TA in a 5th-9th grade classroom. 

Can you think of any other topics that TAs and teachers should discuss? Feel free to leave ideas in the comments below. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Curriculum Maps

Now that we all have settled into our classes, I wanted to take some time to remind teachers our expectations at OPA for curriculum maps.

During back to school week, the necessity for good curriculum maps became evident. Like all schools, we welcomed new teachers this year. They ranged from individuals with decades of classroom experience to first year teachers. One of the first things they all asked me was this: Did the teacher I am replacing have a curriculum map?

In many cases, I was able to hand over an invaluable resource to a new teacher. Having a map as a guide allowed these new teachers to hit the ground running. Unfortunately, in many cases there were no maps. This was especially problematic with elective courses because there are so many ways to cover those standards and newer teachers need to know what was done in the past and what resources are available.

Supporting new teachers is just one purpose of our curriculum maps. Others include:
- Giving each teacher a roadmap for his/her year.
- Ensuring that OPA's curriculum aligns with the state standards (remember, there are standards for every subject area including electives).
- Promoting collaboration between subject and grade level teams (maps can be used at CTT meetings).
- Allowing administration to communicate curriculum to parents while still giving teachers the freedom to design their own curricula.

So, as a reminder, we need curriculum maps submitted for all teachers and teaching TAs unless you are specifically told otherwise.

If you taught at OPA last year and are using the same maps, then please just send me a quick email letting me know you are using the maps from last year. However, if you have made changes to your maps, please send me updated ones.

If you are new to OPA, I would like a map from you during the first week of September if possible. I consider these maps living documents: they do not have to be perfect. In fact, you should tweak them throughout the year. Please do not feel you need to reinvent the wheel. Talk to your team members and me if you need guidance or samples to look at. OPA is a team and we are here to support you. If the September date is not going to work for you, please just let me know what will.

The GoogleSlide presentation I gave to new teachers and all of the map templates can be found on the Dashboard:

Please let me know how I can support you with your maps. If using curriculum maps at OPA has already helped you, I would love to hear how in the comments below.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

100%: Teach Like a Champion Strategies

As we begin the school year, I have found myself talking to a lot of teachers about the importance of 100%, a technique from Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion.

According to Lemov, "There's one suitable percentage of students following a given direction in your classroom: 100 percent. If you don't achieve this, you make your authority subject to interpretation, situation, and motivation."

100% is not about being overly dominant or mean to students; it simply means that all kids must follow the directions you give, and that you will help them to do that. In fact, Teach Like a Champion suggests using a variety of non-threatening techniques such as non-verbals, positive group correction, anonymous individual correction, and private individual correction.

There are so many excellent videos out there that demonstrate 100%. Here are a few:

This video is an example of one teacher using variety of techniques from Teach Like A Champion, including 100%. Notice how the teacher takes the time to look around his entire class to ensure they have followed his direction to put their pencils down. He also uses quick, clear language ("Track up here") to anonymously correct students who are not following directions. Finally, he ensures all students are listening before students give responses. In the last instance, he doesn't even have to say the student's name. He just says "We're waiting for..." and then he gets 100%.

In the next video, notice how the teacher uses silent hand signals to redirect her students' attention to the speaker.

BC.100%.GR3.Hinton.'Montage.'Clip1961 from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

Here's another example. Watch the way the teacher constantly looks around his class to ensure all students have followed his directions, both when he asks them to put down their pens and when he asks them to turn to page 5 in their packets.

BC.100%.GR9.Gavin.'Pens down in four.'Clip2334 from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

Finally, here is a video of some younger students in a small literacy group with their teacher. Even in a small group with elementary kids, 100% should still be the goal:

Note that in all of these examples, individual students were not called out by name, reprimanded in front of the class, or given a consequence. They were simply held accountable to the behavior standard. Publicly correcting a student in a way that is negative or threatening can lead to a power struggle, and that is not something you want to engage in. If a student is consistently not reaching 100%, that's the time to have a one-on-one private conversation with the student.

There are several steps to achieving 100%:
1. Notice. Observe your classroom constantly as students are both learning procedures and following the directions you give them.
2. Hold the line. If you notice students are not following a direction, you must help them correct their behaviors. Even if a student does not seem to be distracting others with his/her noncompliance, the bottom line is that you gave a direction and it was not followed. If you allow this student to refuse the direction, then you open the door for every student to question every direction you give. In short, directions become optional.
3. Don't accept half compliance. Make sure you are clear to your students about what it looks like/sounds like when they follow a direction. The book uses the example of a common management technique: a teacher raises his/her hand and students raise their hands and stop talking n response. In this case, how high does the hand need to be? Can the elbow rest on the desk? Do they have to follow both parts of the direction (silence and raised hand)? It's important to clarify these ideas with students at the beginning of the school year. Then, continue to enforce 100% as the year goes on.

The 100% technique, when done consistently, will prevent many management problems you may run into throughout the year. The Teach Like a Champion book spends about 10 pages on this one technique and gives many other tips. That book is available in the professional section of the Elementary Library if you are interested in reading more.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Exit Tickets

My first few years of teaching, I did not use any type of Exit Ticket. The result was never-ending anxiety about ending class exactly on time. End too early and there was potential for the kids to get restless or herd themselves to the door. End too late and kids didn't have time to effectively fill out their planners, pack up, etc. The Exit Ticket solved these problems and many more. It was one of the first daily procedures I implemented that significantly streamlined my classroom and instruction.

What is an Exit Ticket?

An Exit Ticket is a short response or task students complete at the end of class. It is often called an Exit Ticket because kids use it as their ticket to leave the classroom.

Benefits of Exit Tickets

There are so many benefits to Exit Tickets. They can do any of the following:
- Reinforce the most important thing learned that day or class period.
- Give you the ability to implement a quick, informal assessment about what was learned during that lesson. Responses can help you adjust instruction for the following day and/or be reviewed with students at the beginning of the next class.
- Allow some flexibility at the very end of class. (Exit Ticket questions can easily be modified to be shorter/longer as needed.)
- Keep students occupied with a task so you can complete end of class activities such as signing planners, resetting technology, and preparing for transition time.

Designing your Exit Tickets:

Typically, I design my Exit Tickets questions based on my overall objective for the day. However, that doesn't mean that Exit Tickets have to be strictly informational. Exit tickets can also ask kids their opinions about what was covered or help them apply AVID or Leader in Me skills to their life.

Here are a few sample Exit Tickets I used last year in 9th Grade Language Arts:
- Write a sentence about what you did over the weekend that includes the correct use of a semicolon.
- Write one discussion question (opinion question) about The Raven that you want to talk about next time. (During the next class, the best questions were integrated into a Socratic Seminar.)
- What are two strategies you will use to study for the vocabulary quiz taking place next class period?
- In your own words, explain the difference between stage and set as they relate to plays.
- What questions or comments do you have about the project you received today? You must write either one question or one comment.
- List as many steps as you can think of that you will need to complete in order to finish your essay by the due date.

These questions or prompts are projected on the Apply TV and students fill out a Feedback Form with their personal response. There is a tray next to the door where students place the Feedback Forms as they exit.

Exit Tickets in Elementary
Exit tickets can work at any grade level. Here is a great video that shows how one teacher uses Exit Tickets in elementary math:

Other Thoughts

There is another reason why I use Exit Tickets that goes beyond just curriculum and instruction. Exit Tickets give every kid the opportunity to interact with you on a given day or during a particular class period. It is each student's direct line of communication to the teacher.

My Exit Ticket form gives a space for the required response, but it also includes an optional section that gives kids the opportunity to add any questions or comments. I've seen kids do all sorts of things with this space: draw pictures, write jokes, compliment the lesson, or tell me something about themselves. Others leave it blank, which is fine too.

Back when I taught in Michigan, I had an 11th grade student who started to come to 1st hour late every day. After a few weeks of this, I made a few sarcastic comments to him about his tardiness. These comments weren't meant to be offensive, but in retrospect it was not the best way to handle the situation. A few days after the comments, he wrote something like this in the optional area of the Exit Ticket: I'm very sorry that I've been coming in late. My family just got kicked out of our home and we now homeless. 

Well, that made me feel like a world-class jerk. It all suddenly made sense. We are always taught never to make assumptions about why kids are behaving a certain way and this exemplified why these assumptions can be problematic.

My team teacher and I immediately reached out to the student and his family. We were able to connect them to some agencies for help. As the year continued, the situation had its ups and downs. While we were able to sign the family up for the school's Giving Tree and other opportunities, we were not able to fully get the family members the help they needed. However, things did improve. In this case, the Exit Ticket opened a larger conversation with this student and we ultimately developed a very close relationship. I might have eventually found out about this kid's situation without the Exit Ticket, but then again I might never have known.

Many kids are carrying around things that they would like to tell us, but they don't have the words or confidence to do that. The Exit Ticket provides them with an alternative. Over the years, this example has always been the one that resonated most, but there have been countless times when a student told me something on an Exit Ticket that allowed me to get to know or help him/her in ways I never would have been able to without the Exit Ticket.


If you want to download my version of an Exit Ticket, the link is here: Feedback Form PDF. I'm a fan of making the Exit Ticket (which I call a Feedback Form) more generic as opposed to having specific questions or problems on them. That way, I can print a bunch of them and use them for different questions. Some instructional programs like Engage New York have pre-made Exit Tickets with the actual math problems directly on them. You can also do a digital Exit Ticket using Google Classroom or other technology.

Do you do something unique with Exit Tickets? How do you use them in your classroom? Feel free to leave an idea in the comments below. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Team Builders for Your Classroom

As the first day of school is approaching, I've had many conversations with teachers looking for some "getting to know you" activities for the first few weeks.

Teaching the Leadership Class last year, we implemented a team builder almost every day class met. Below are some of the sites I found most helpful in selecting team builders that kids enjoyed and were easy to implement.

If you are newer to teaching, be sure that you establish clear behavioral expectations before doing a team builder with your kids. I'd suggest picking a team builder that is less physical and more structured to start. Then, as the kids get to know each other and gain your trust, you can let them loose with some more hands-on activities.

Feel free to let me know if there is anything I can do to help you implement Team Builders in your class.