Wednesday, July 30, 2008

50 Cheap Mini-Lessons for Teachers: #21-30

Sorry about the late night post, but I had a long day of [insert poor excuses here] that I just couldn't get away from! I can see by the comments, emails and links I've received in the last two days that this list is resonating with people. I'm very much humbled by this, and so will do my best to continue the list with ten solid mini-lessons for today:
  1. Constantly reevaluate your methods. In contrast to mini-lesson #10, where I advised you to ask for feedback from your students, you must also put yourself through constant self-evaluation. There is no perfect method, curriculum or set of lesson plans that you can eventually settle into after x number of years teaching the same thing. If you believe this, you will quickly become irrelevant to your students and your profession. The process is rather simple: ask yourself, no matter how good your lesson is, "How can I make this more engaging, meaningful and effective?"
  2. Keep your eyes open for applications of your subject in the real world. If you can't see it, how can you expect them to? This will be easy if you follow mini-lessons #8 and #12. You will find inspiration in unexpected places! Use what you find in every aspect of your classroom.
  3. Add some relevant (and irrelevant) reading material to your classroom. You don't have to be a reading or writing teacher to have a classroom library. Besides bolstering your classroom culture, it makes it easier to tie literacy into any classroom. This also helps with the previous mini-lesson and the others referenced there.
  4. Get out of the classroom once and a while! Take your students to the library, computer lab (#17), the hallway, the stairwell, outside, and wherever else you can within the confines of your campus. You don't need district paperwork or a huge budget to have an interesting field trip. This is helpful for breaking up your classroom routine (#11) once and a while, and because it forces you to think creatively as well. The best part is that it doesn't necessarily have to be related to your particular lesson.
  5. Seek out good professional development yourself. Your district probably doesn't know what it's doing. Devoted readers of this blog will know that unspeakably awful professional development is something I have grown accustomed to over the years. Nonetheless, good PD does exist, if you are willing to do the research (#18) to find it.
  6. When you speak to students, speak to them at their level. I mean this literally: eye level. Crouch, sit, kneel, lean over slightly, but don't stand over them! Everything you say and do in the classroom is dissected by your students--every nuance and subtlety of your manner is of great import to them. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, try sitting in one of your student desks and having a colleague stand directly over you, giving you directions. See how long it takes you to start feeling uncomfortable, if not a little angry, annoyed or upset as well.
  7. Don't break promises. More directly, don't make promises you can't keep. Students never forget, and they'll never let you forget either.
  8. If a student recommends a book, read it. You could extend this to other types of media, but I think it holds more true for books because of the unique relationship one can build with a book. Imagine the relationship-building conversations you could have! Similarly, you should try to pay attention to what books are being most widely read, and at the very least get familiar with them. If you're more ambitious, get copies of those books for your classroom library (see #23 above).
  9. Go cheer your students on at their sporting events and extracurricular competitions. You should do this even if they don't ask, but unquestionably if they do. One appearance during the season can make all the difference in your relationship with that student. Be sure to follow up and ask about their events whenever possible, especially when you can't get to them in person. Your interest in their lives (#7) goes a long way.
  10. Watch School of Rock. I am completely serious when I tell you that, having watched nearly every teaching-related film or television show available, this is the most important film about teaching ever.
You can read the other 40 lessons here: 1-10, 11-20, 31-40 and 41-50.