by Harry and Rosemary
to Do the Assignments
Julie Johnson has been
teaching for over fifteen years and she’s never had problems
getting her students to do their assignments. How
does she do it?
When we met Julie fifteen years ago as a kindergarten teacher
she said, "When I begin each new lesson, I decide exactly
what it is I want my students to know or be able to do.
Then I tell my students what they will be learning and how they
will show me they have learned it.
“Next I show them how to do it. We practice together
(guided practice). Then they practice on their own (independent
“And then I test them the same way we practice. In
other words, how they will be tested. This way we all know
exactly what we are learning and how we will know when and if
we have learned it.
“In my class, test is not a bad word. It is something
my students look forward to. It is their chance to show
me what they have learned. They can't wait for their turn
to be tested because after all the instruction and practice, the
test is the easiest part, at least that's what my students tell
“They beg me to test them. They even stand in line
waiting for their turn to show me what they have learned.”
What is Julie Johnson doing to cause her students to
beg her to show her what they have learned?
- She decides what she wants her students
- She shows them what they are to learn.
- They practice or do the assignment
on what they are to learn.
- They are tested on what they know
they are to learn.
As Julie says, “There are no secrets as to what is expected
of them. When I do this they all succeed.”
If students know what they are to learn,
you increase the chances that the
students will learn.
It’s like flying into a strange city, renting a car, and
driving to your destination without a map. How do you know
when you’ve arrived? Wouldn’t you have felt
more confident in your journey knowing the address, having a MapQuest®
map in your hand, or renting a car with navigation system so a
voice is coaching you along the way to your destination?
Please review Chapter 22 in The First Days of School
so we can guide you through the process of helping students to
Boredom Is a Good Sign
A student who is bored is not a bad or lazy student. Rather,
consider it a sign that the student wants to do something stimulating,
exciting, and challenging.
It’s no different with an adult who says the program on
television is boring, the food is boring, or the relationship
is boring. Adults are always looking for a better program,
better restaurant, and better relationship.
All students know why they are in school.
They come to school to learn. They know there will be assignments.
And learning and assignments take work. The reason many
students do not do their work or their assignments is not because
they are unwilling or lazy but because they have no idea what
the assignment is. For instance, the ineffective teacher
I have them read Chapter seven.
I have them do questions five to eleven.
I have them watch this video.
I tell them to write this paper.
I give them this worksheet to complete.
These are all meaningless assignments. The students see
no purpose, no meaning, and no value to what they are to do.
What does “read Chapter seven” mean? What’s
the purpose of “watching the video”? So, why
do it! Thus, they have every right to say, “I’m
Also, notice how the teacher keeps saying, “I, I, and I.”
The teacher orders the students to do things— meaningless
things. People of all ages rebel against doing things that
Since the students can’t rebel against this kind of clueless
teaching or they will be sent to the office for insubordination,
it’s simpler for them to say, “I’m bored.”
“Bored” is a safe word to use. People can hide
behind the word. It’s a socially accepted part of
Do not take the word “bored” as an effrontery.
Rather, understand that the students want to work. They
just want to know the meaning or the purpose of the work.
That’s what is meant by “I’m bored.”
People get more things done when
they see where they are going
and what they are doing.
Take a look again at what Julie Johnson was doing. Julie’s
key sentence is, “This way we all know exactly
what we are learning and how we will know when and if we
have learned it.”
The teacher knows what she is teaching.
The students know what they are learning.
Both the teacher and the students are moving towards
the same goal. That’s when you get learning.
Teach With the End in Mind
Julie Johnson teaches with the end in mind.
She said, “When I begin each new lesson, I decide exactly
what it is I want my students to know or be able to do.”
Effective teachers keep asking the same basic question, “What
do I want them to achieve?”
Everyone needs to have a common understanding of what skill or
knowledge the students is to master.
The role of a teacher is not to cover.
Covering a chapter or a topic is meaningless. Worse yet,
the teacher does not even know what skill or knowledge student
is to master.
Therefore, stop asking the following dead end questions:
What am I going
to cover tomorrow?
What video am I going
What worksheet am I
going to give them?
What activity am I going
The teacher who “covers” only thinks about getting
across the lesson, not how best the student can learn the lesson.
They look for activities that are “fun,” “cute,”
or will “bring the class alive.” They do not consider
that these activities do not teach to any objective or standard.
They are preoccupied with what activities students will get through.
The danger is in the word “I.” The teacher is doing
all the work. The students are not responsible; they just
come to school wondering what the teacher will do next.
They have no idea what they are to learn. The teacher just
The role of a teacher is to uncover. The
effective teacher uncovers the lesson by telling the students
up front what the students are to accomplish. Julie says,
“Then I tell my students what they will be learning and
how they will show me that they have learned it. Next I
show them how to do it. We practice together. Then
they practice on their own.”
Start asking the following destination oriented question:
What is it the students
are to learn, achieve, or accomplish?
You can assess or evaluate effectively what the students have
done when both parties know what the students are responsible
for performing or learning.
Instead of thinking of what the teacher
will go over,
focus on what the students will be able to do as a result of the
To do this, tell the students at the beginning of the assignment
what they are responsible for learning, achieving, or performing.
The role of a teacher is not to cover. The role of a
teacher is to uncover!
Teaching to Standards
Julie Johnson is teaching third grade now, but is using the same
effective strategies to deliver the instruction and get the same
student achievement results. This is because she focuses
on teaching for learning and mastery.
To do this she begins with the state standards.
Do not be alarmed by standards, because standards do
not deprive you of creativity. For instance, all
cities have standards for construction. When buying a home
you would want to know that your home was built to code, which
means that the standards for construction have been met.
However, builders and homeowners can creatively build the home
in any fashion, provided it meets specified standards. Likewise,
in the classroom, teachers can creatively construct their lessons,
provided the lessons’ objectives are in line with the state
standards. That’s common sense.
Using the Minnesota State Standards in Math, Julie aligned the
standards with her district’s adopted Math textbook.
This gave her the ability to decide which math concepts needed
to be taught first and which concepts not to teach at all.
She determined which chapters she would use and not use.
That is, the textbook was not the curriculum, the concepts that
she aligned to the state standards were her curriculum.
She didn’t “cover” the textbook. She
taught to a curriculum, a curriculum focused on student learning.
|In fact, the guidelines that accompany the Minnesota State
Standards are specifically stated:
Teachers must develop and enrich
students’ knowledge of mathematics
beyond what is outlined in this document.
Mastery of each concept is expected but the document does not
identify when those concepts are introduced and reinforced.
Standards are good because they give you a base point
from which to start your class lessons. You have
to begin somewhere, so what better place to start than to use
the state standards. And, you must use the state standards.
You are not in private business; you are an employee of the school
district (see page 22 in The First Days of School).
Julie began by designing the layout of the whole school year.
She decided which standards needed to be taught all year long,
such as Mathematical Reasoning.
|This is one of the Minnesota Grade Three standards:
Apply skills of mathematical representation, communication,
and reasoning throughout the content strands.
With each concept she teaches, her students need to learn how
to communicate and how to evaluate and express how they are thinking
when solving a problem. On almost every worksheet accompanying
her math textbook, the students are asked to explain their answers
Since the Minnesota Comprehensive Test is mainly multiple choice,
the students must be able to READ the questions by themselves.
Thus, being able to READ the vocabulary and understand it becomes
important to teach, along with the math.
There are also four writing questions where the students have
to draw a graph or chart, or express their thinking using words.
These skills must also be taught and practiced as each concept
is taught. Students do not automatically know how to do
To assist with the reading and writing, Julie has her students
bring a notebook at the beginning of each school year to use as
their Math Journal. In the back of their Math Journals,
the students write down all of the vocabulary words that are taught
with each concept.
They review these words every day.
In the front of their Math Journals, the students write
numbers in order. She has them organize each page
into four rows of 25, so that each page has 100 numbers.
As they complete each page, they show it to her and she puts a
small star at the bottom when it has been done correctly.
Julie says she is amazed at how many children have difficulty
with numbering, but this activity helps her identify those students
who need help understanding number sense.
The students work in their journals at the beginning of each
math lesson. Some students enjoy it so much they even take
their journals home to work on. One student filled two or
three notebooks and was up to 20,000, but most are lucky if they
reach 5,000 by the end of the school year.
|This is another Minnesota Math Standard in Geometry:
Classify shapes by specified attributes.
Identify simple shapes within complex shapes.
|These are the lesson objectives that are aligned to the
- Identify, describe, and classify two-dimensional shapes
according to number
and length of sides and kinds of angles.
- Identify common two- and three- dimensional shapes that
are components of
more complex shapes.
Julie gives the students vocabulary cards with all of the words
to label the different shapes and other vocabulary words that
relate to geometry. These cut out cards are kept in an envelope
in their “stay-at-school-folders.” At the beginning
of each math lesson, the students set the cards out on their desks.
This procedure minimizes transition time and helps everyone,
teacher and students, start the lesson right away.
|This is how Julie uses the cards. She says,
- I teach them what each word
card is and what it looks like.
- I hold up models of a shape and
they hold up the card that identifies the models. We do
this for a few days or until I see they know them well.
- I hold up something that is real world
and they match the shape.
- I have them find something in the classroom to match
to their word cards.
As we use these cards, we also discuss the number of sides,
faces, angles, etc. I work on things like flips, turns,
slides, congruency, lines of symmetry, parallel lines, and angles
(right, greater than, or lesser than).
Julie continually assesses her students using the book’s
quizzes and tests, which work well for her because they best match
how the students will be assessed on the Minnesota Comprehensive
The Future of Standards
We have just returned from a technology conference and witnessed
how technology is used to access and track the progress of students
as they master district and state standards. This practice
isn’t just happening in one district, it is becoming norm
as exit testing is required for students to progress from grade
level to the next or receive a diploma.
At the click of a button (or two!) a student’s level of
mastery of standards can be revealed. Students can be identified
and helped before they fall through the cracks and are lost forever.
While many claim that teaching has been reduced to teaching to
the test, we contend that that is not the case. This
is teaching to an objective.
The tests are used to assess for attainment of the objectives
or concepts. Teaching is the HOW you transmit and
relate that information to your students so they CAN succeed on
The HOW is boiled down to what steps are you the teacher going
to take to make sure the students all achieve or master the objective.
|How deep are you going to teach that concept so the students
realize the objective? In the case of Julie Johnson’s
geometry lessons about shapes, do you
- just work on the vocabulary so they know the concept?
- ask the students to draw the shapes so they comprehend
- have students identify that shape as it appears in objects
in the classroom?
- give students objects and ask them to sort them into
groups that are and are not the shape?
- ask the students to create a picture using the outline
of the shape?
- discuss with the students the advantages and disadvantages
of using a specific shape in the design of something common
A good teacher does items 1 and 2 to “teach” the
concept, a better teacher includes questions 3 and 4 in the lesson
plans, and the exceptional teacher teaches to all 6 questions
so the students have a rich experience while learning the concept.
District and State Standards guide the development of information
for students. They don’t dictate how you are to teach.
That is your mission, your quest—to unlock the potential
for learning in each student and uncover the promise of achievement
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