Thursday, July 31, 2008

50 Cheap Mini-Lessons for Teachers: #31-40

Thank you to everyone who's been reading and responding to my list thus far. Since I posted mini-lessons #21-30 so late last night, I am rebounding to post the penultimate ten a little earlier today.
  1. Share your good ideas with other teachers. I believe that most teachers work hard to have a positive impact on their students, but don't realize how easy it is to extend your impact far beyond the walls of your classroom. You can create a blog or website, but you don't have to if you just have some things you want to submit. You can also just share with your colleagues (#14) on campus. If your great ideas are applied in some other classroom, then those students just learned from you.
  2. Follow the Star Trek: The Next Generation Rule of Vocabulary. Star Trek stories often rely on "Treknobabble", made-up or pseudo-scientific jargon that explains the universe in which the story takes place. In some cases, it's used as a poor substitute for good storytelling. In the classroom, we use jargon every day. Our jargon is a split between content-area vocabulary and "big words" we inadvertently slip into our explanations. In either case, without context and clarification, it all becomes meaningless jargon to our students. The solution is not to stop using advanced vocabulary, but to make sure you always break it down and explain it as simply and directly as possible. On a typical good ST:TNG, "We'll reverse the polarity of the tachyon emitter," is turned into a simple analogy like, "We'll turn the ship into a giant magnet!" In the classroom, "isolate the y variable" can become "move the y to the left side of the equals and everything else to the other". By using advanced vocabulary and explaining it consistently, you'll build your students' vocabulary and understanding. Plus, it makes for a much better story.
  3. Find opportunities to work with kids who aren't in any of your classes. Become a coach, club sponsor, tutor or look for opportunities in the community where students like yours live. This will give you a great opportunity to study student culture (#8), but I found it very cathartic to work with my "other students." They always wanted to be there and provided a welcome respite even when my regular classes didn't go well. Most importantly, it gives you the opportunity to extend your positive impact beyond your classroom (see #31 above).
  4. Don't be a hypocrite. Be the model, set the example for everything you expect them to do. As I noted in mini-lesson #27, your students will never let you forget the times when you don't do as you say and say as you do.
  5. Learn to adjust on the fly. It's good to always plan ahead for the worst case scenario, or merely to have more planned than you think you can accomplish in one class period. However, you will never be prepared for everything. I once had to evacuate my classroom mid-period due to overwhelming paint fumes, so I took my kids to the library and continued an abbreviated version of my lesson (sans overhead, whiteboard, or almost anything else). As long as you keep calm (#3 and #5), you should be able to make the most out of any situation. If you don't know what to do, at least act like you do (#19).
  6. Seek at least one good takeaway lesson from every professional development workshop you attend. You won't always be able to choose your own PD (#25), so you need to challenge yourself to find something you can use, no matter how bad a workshop may be. If anything, you can use bad PD as an example of what not to do in your classroom!
  7. Don't waste your money on teacher resource books. I am referring specifically to books full of worksheets that claim to be engaging, hands-on, fun, amazing, can't-miss, student-centered, real-life activities. If you need materials for independent practice, you can find it for free online (#18), borrow from colleagues, find them in current / replaced / evaluation copy textbooks your school or district has on hand, or make your own. In my experience, I don't think I've ever come across a worksheet from one of these resources that had everything I needed. I always end up cutting and pasting things from multiple resources while adding in my own, like they used to do for newspaper layouts.
  8. Read Teaching With Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk. This is the most important teaching book ever written. It will either change your way of teaching or reaffirm why we do what we do, but you will be moved by this book. I haven't mentioned anything about classroom rules or much about discipline issues in my advice thus far; this book is the reason.
  9. Share your amazing experiences with your students. I don't think most teachers appreciate how amazing most of their experiences are, especially for students who might never have left their hometown, had any family members go to college, flown on a plane, or even gone out to dinner at a restaurant that wasn't a fast food joint. Your role as a teacher is not just to teach, but to inspire. Opening up the world to your students, in the form of what you've done and what you've learned, is part and parcel of your job. If you've seen the "Freedom Writers" movie, there's a moment when Ms. Gruwell realizes her students haven't even heard of the Holocaust. She had taken for granted that they obviously already knew about it, and so she realized she had something more to teach than just reading.
  10. Incorporate literacy into your classroom. Create a print-rich environment, a classroom where reading materials are readily available and clearly visible in your daily lessons. It is not difficult to find relevant books, free magazines, newspapers, and high interest books outside of your content area. Create a classroom library, even if you're a math teacher like me. Create a bulletin board where you post news articles about your content area. Then, once you have the resources on hand, integrate them into your lesson plans. You can build projects for any content area around magazines and newspapers. If you do enough research, you'll probably find a novel you can read as a class no matter the subject. At the very least, allow students to do reports on books and articles for extra credit or as an alternative assessment when appropriate. Don't think of it as doing someone else's job (if you're not a language arts teacher), because your students' ability to read and think critically is necessary in every subject, especially for those standardized tests everyone is so concerned about!
You can read the other 40 lessons here: 1-10, 11-20, 21-30 and 41-50.