Using The Summer To Improve Your Teaching
A veteran teacher offers some examples, some reasons, and a special procedure for making 2002-03 a great new school year.
by Bill Page
Teachers don't have sufficient time during the school year to read professional journals, research papers or educational magazines. They don't have many opportunities to spend time on the Internet or in the professional library. Teachers should be granted at least one day each semester to do nothing but spend time in the library reading journals, articles, research papers and teacher magazines, on-line resources and teacher web sites. Until that time comes, most teachers must rely on the summer for squeezing in some time for their professional development and looking for fresh ideas.
Educational web sites, professional journals or teacher magazines contain articles and ideas, which if adopted and adapted, could be implemented by teachers in their classroom, to improve their teaching effectiveness. Offering teacher-friendly ideas is a goal of the <Teachers.net/Gazette> where the articles are specifically chosen for their practicality. However, it too requires time to sort through the new articles, features, columns, lesson plans, archives and chatboards. Here is an idea with a way and a reason to make good use of the short, precious summer to make the coming school year the best one ever.
An Article That Changed the Way I Taught
Journal articles have helped me make significant changes in my teaching. Let me give you a personal example of one such change. About ten years ago, I read a Phi Delta Kappan article, Give Students Time To Respond by Mary Budd, which described the value of "wait time" in classroom questioning techniques. Her article reminded me that if I called on a student immediately after asking a question, no one other than that student would need to bother thinking about it. But by waiting just a few seconds, everyone had a chance to think about the answer for himself and would consider that s/he could be called on. The article further reminded me that my pattern of calling on and avoiding calling on certain students was too predictable.
I immediately tried the extended wait time in my next class discussions. It worked! The new questioning technique improved student participation, interest and attention. As 1 used wait time, my teaching changed. Waiting became a natural part of my regular teaching and questioning technique. I saw the value of delaying calling on students, experimented with variations, felt more comfortable with it and received positive feedback at several levels.
Three Keys to Using Article Ideas
Three factors made increased wait time a success for me. First, discussing the idea with my classes before implementing it, reading article excerpts to them, giving my reasons and expectations, while welcoming their reactions and ideas. We decided together to try it as an experiment. Second, I used a five second hourglass timer out of a board game, inverting it each time I asked a question. Whatever the interval, the definitive marking of time was helpful. (I could just as well have used a stopwatch, or a kitchen timer. Or I could have counted seconds out loud.) Third, I used a mug containing popsicle sticks on which each kid's name was written to establish a random selection pattern. I had a student call on others by drawing a stick to see who should answer. That kept everyone alert in anticipating the possibility of being selected.
Varying The Procedures
I have devised a dozen or more variations of this idea. For instance, in reviewing a unit I would let students ask multiple choice review questions while the others used a hand signal to indicate the answer. By holding their hand close to their neck, under their chin, they could show one to four fingers to indicate the number of the answer. That way everyone could respond to the same question at the same time and only I, from the front of the room could see each student's answer.
In the same way I can trace and mark this specific change, 1 can also trace and mark other specific educational articles that have influenced my teaching to varying degrees. I have seen many articles that have the capability of influencing teaching or helping teachers to improve. When students were involved in the rationale and implementation of the ideas, when they saw the change in me and were aware of their own improvement, they never let me revert back to my former habits and procedures.
One more example of the Article Approach To Improvement
Consider this brief report that appeared recently in USA Today.
"What teachers do in the classroom -- such as conducting hands-on learning activities and emphasizing higher-order thinking skills -- matters more to student achievement than do other measures of teacher quality such as professional development and years of experience."
Analyzing data from The National Assessment Report on 14,000 eighth grade math and science tests, Educational Testing Service found, "Students whose teacher conducted hands-on learning activities outperformed their peers by about 70% of a grade level in math and 40% in science."
Searching and researching hands-on articles and ideas this summer could be doubly rewarding; learning some authentic techniques, and seeing great possibilities for increasing student achievement.
A Little Gimmick For Jogging Memory
Let me suggest a way to keep track of all the ideas you find this summer and a creative way to remember them when you really need them. In my summer courses, I always end by having the teachers write a "Dear Me Letter" noting in the letter to themselves such things as: what I've learned, what I will avoid doing, promises to myself, what I will do differently this coming year, ideas I will remember, strategies I plan to implement, what will be different for my students, and so forth. I have them put the letter in a sealed envelope addressed to themselves at their school, put a stamp on it and turn it in to me. The envelopes are put away until the first few weeks of the new school year was underway, when they are mailed. From the feedback I have received it is a surprise, a delight and a tremendous memory jogger.
As a spin-off of this little gimmick, I learned to make notes to myself in journal or diary form, beginning with reflections on the current year. I review my successes, shortcomings, intentions, and usually recommit to some personal goals while they are fresh in my mind. I once asked my fourth grade class to tell me what they remembered about the year. After discovering that Anthony throwing-up on a field trip, and a substitute teacher leaving the room crying topped the list, I narrowed my summer search to, "How I plan to make my teaching more memorable next year." I had sub-categories of ways to have more outdoor lessons, guest speakers, thematic units and projects.
As I take time during the summer to ferret out ideas and techniques to use and add to my repertoire for the new school year, I write them down using index cards, on a mind-mapping chart or in a separate 4" X 6'' notebook. As I run out of time or energy, I put all of these notes aside and try to forget them. If you are one who can't trust yourself to let them alone or to remember them when back-to-school meetings start, give them to a friend, or to your mother asking that they be returned to you when school starts. Should you find additional opportunity to search for ideas, just start a new journal. From my personal experience, I can assure you that you will be pleasantly surprised and delighted next August when you review the great ideas ready for a great start for a great new year.
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