Tuesday, July 29, 2008

50 Cheap Mini-Lessons for Teachers: #11-20

Yesterday I started revealing a list of 50 Cheap Mini-Lessons for Teachers. I'm by no means the first person to say most (if not all) of these things, but they bare repeating. You might not agree with everything on these lists, but I hope that you'll find something useful to help you in preparation for the fall semester.
  1. Create a basic routine, a set of procedures and standard classroom organization, for students to follow. It makes most kids feel more comfortable when they know what to do when they come to class and where everything is. It also gives the students more responsibility; after you've modeled everything at the beginning of the year, they should be able to function on their own (or through the help of fellow students). Best of all, it makes the occasions when you break from the routine more memorable (and meaningful).
  2. Make everything you do relevant from their perspective. You can do this through entire lessons (i.e. my Math in the Real World project), or just through a clear, concise explanation during class. "We're doing this because..." or "This is important because..." takes a second, and reminds students that you're always working for their benefit. You might have to explain why you're reading or writing in a non-ELA classroom, or why you require students to keep an interactive student notebook. Whether you're preparing them for a standardized test, next year's course, college, or real life, you have to tell your students this.
  3. Answer as many of your students' questions as possible (maybe even all of them). At the very least, never dismiss them outright or talk down to them when answering. This is a trust building experiment for most students, trying to gauge if you listen to them and respect them, and figuring out whether you're human or some curriculum-regurgitation machine. Admittedly, some students will try to hijack a class with an off-topic question, but there's no harm in saying you'll be happy to answer it later. There are no stupid questions--only stupid teachers who don't know how to use them to their advantage.
  4. Collaborate with colleagues. Brainstorm over discipline and curricular issues, plan interdisciplinary units, and create a mutually supportive network. If you can't find those kind of colleagues at your campus, reach out to like-minded people online (and at least consider finding another campus).
  5. Observe teachers from a variety of grade levels and content areas as often as possible. This is beneficial whether you're following a recommendation about a teacher who does something particularly well, or if you go in cold and find some things not to do. Learn how to separate a good idea from its curricular context, and then apply it to address your needs. This is what I tried to do with the ideas in my book, Ten Cheap Lessons.
  6. Don't overuse any good idea. If you find something that really works, you need to use it sparingly or risk making it boring and predictable. This goes for things like games, lesson strategies/activities, or a particular project or alternative assessment. As mentioned in #11, you want your breaks from the norm to be special, so don't drive your good ideas into the ground.
  7. Use technology. You don't have to have a big budget or wire every inch of your room to incorporate technology effectively in your classroom. LCD projectors, classroom response systems, calculators, and of course Internet-based research and projects are widely available. This a part of #12, but it's part of something much bigger. Our students are more tech-savvy than ever, but they also have a lot to learn to be ready for future education and careers. It's not just something to make things interesting, it is as essential as literacy is to any content area.
  8. Learn how to find lesson plans, ideas to build upon, and inspiration to keep going online. There still is no comprehensive Web portal for teachers--not even a half-decent search engine for lesson plans. Nevertheless, there are almost limitless free resources available for teachers, if you are willing to invest the time to search for it. If you're reading this, you're on the right track. Visit the sites in my blogroll, and keep going from there. Bookmark the good ones, or learn about RSS and RSS readers to keep better track of them. One great place to start is Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day.
  9. Act like you know exactly what you're doing (even when you don't). Your responses to even the most unexpected situations teach your students more than you can imagine.
  10. Exhaust every possibility when trying to succeed with a "problem" student. Items #14 and #15 above will help you learn about solutions beyond phone calls to parents or sending them out of the classroom. You'll either find a solution or make it hard for even the most useless administrator to avoid intervening. One mini-mini-lesson: don't underestimate the power of simply talking to students about what the problem might be (just remember mini-lesson #3 while you're doing so).
You can read the other 40 lessons here: 1-10, 21-30, 31-40 and 41-50.