Tuesday, October 25, 2016

To PreTest or Not to PreTest

Over the past 15 years my opinion of the PreTest/PostTest has changed, particularly since the implementation of the SLO requirements we as PA Educators must fulfill. I used to think that a PreTest was a great way of measuring a starting point for a class ... assessing current knowledge and understanding before we get started for the course. This way I knew if there was anything that I could skip. I no longer believe this to be the case.

Why, you ask? Thank you for asking. There are a few reasons. First is the stress it puts on students who are already tested to the point of ridiculousness. I once heard George Bush justifying the NCLB testing by saying that if we are teaching the material, we should not be afraid of testing. But it's not about the teachers. School has never been about the teachers. It is supposed to be about what is best for the students. The simple fact is that testing causes stress for students. Testing after a lesson makes sense because will measure of what students learned. For most subjects testing before teaching the material is using valuable class time ineffectively.

In evaluating PreTest results, I have found that student knowledge of the material I teach varies widely. I teach courses that are not leveled meaning that I have every kind of student, from a non-verbal autistic student with a second-grade reading level to an Honors student who is taking college classes in the same class. Some of my courses include students from 9th grade through 12th grade, ranging in age from 13 to 20 years. As a result, my PreTest scores are not often helpful in modifying the curriculum.

Another reason I doubt the benefit of the PreTest/PostTest is the general attitude of students who take it. If you use Multiple Choice, True False, Matching, etc., many students do not even read the questions. They click through as quickly as they can to get it over with. I have actually had students score higher on the PreTest than the PostTest because they put no effort into either. Of course, some students approach these assignments with a much better attitude, but you still have to consider if this is the best use of your classroom time.

The primary reason I dislike the PreTest/PostTest is the stress it puts on students. Let me get back to PreTest/PostTest and the Pennsylvania SLO requirement. The SLO, or Student Learning Objective is a "Pennsylvania's new Educator Effectiveness System" (see more at PDE  or PSEA). As a classroom teacher, I am required to come up with an objective I want to measure. I design the assessment, I PreTest and measure the results. I then teach the material and give the assessment again (PostTest). I analyze the results. If student scores increase from PreTest to PostTest according to the measures I specified I expected when I wrote the SLO, it looks good. If student scores do not go up as much as I said they should, it does not look good.

Okay, in simple English now. I want students to do really bad on the PreTest so it looks like I taught them well. If their scores do not increase dramatically from PreTest to PostTest, I am not a good teacher. This affects my yearly evaluation. If the scores go up a lot from PreTest to PostTest, I look great. I hope you are keeping in mind while you read this that I wrote the SLO, I designed the assessments, I administered the assessments, and I analyzed the results. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

My solution ... when I introduce a lesson I lead whole class discussion about the material and simply ask students what they already know. This can be accomplished in a traditional sense where we all just talk to each other, or using an online forum or chat sessions. If you have students who do not feel comfortable speaking aloud in the classroom, the online approach may be the best choice. Either way, must simpler, a lot less work for me, and no stress! Furthermore, if provides an opportunity for the teacher to tie new material in with something students are already familiar with. That, my friend, is good pedagogy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Effective Classroom Management

Effective Classroom Management

I have been teaching in K-12 classrooms for over 15 years. During this time, I have seen a great deal of classroom management and discipline policies that I would put in the category of "Epic Fail." When the techniques you use cause more disruption to the learning process than they relieve, it is obviously time to try something different. I am sharing some of what I know works.
  1. Make sure students know that they are a valued member of the class and the school community. Many students feel like an outsider, particularly if they don't have any friends in the class. Making them know that what they contribute will be valued encourages class participation, and when students are participating, they are staying on task. You can do this by greeting them at the door to acknowledge their presence, including them in class discussions, asking questions, etc. Also, encourage your students to ask questions. I tell my students the only "dumb" question is the one that you don't ask.

  2. Be respectful. Teachers can be the worse bullies in the classroom and not even realize it. Take care to correct students without "calling them out" in front of their peers. Singling out a student in a public way can cause a number of problems including:
    • putting a dent in the student-teacher relationship.
    • causing classmates to gang up on thestudent.
    • making the student feel less valued as a person.

  3. Try to pull students aside or even go out into the hallway with them if you need to correct a behavior or some other issue. Often, just establishing eye contact with a distracted or disruptive student or is all that is needed to get him/her back on task.  Another way to reach a student who lacks class participation is to offer them a chance to contribute something to the classroom environment. Perhaps they could run an errand for you, pass out papers, or help another student who is struggling.

  4. Be consistent. It is comforting to students when they know what to expect. If possible, establish classroom routines and expectations on the first day of class and do not stray from them. Make sure that what you are doing in your classroom matches what is expected throughout the building. If students go from one class to another and the rules change, they get confused and frustrated.
  5. When you introduce a lesson, explain what you will be teaching and why. Let students know ways the material will benefit them in the future. Ask them what they already know about the topic, or if they know anyone who uses it. For example, when I teach students about the bank routing numbers on a personal check, I explain that they will need this information if they get paid by direct deposit and to file their taxes. I ask them who had to provide an employer with a voided check or fill out a direct deposit form for their job.

  6. Give warnings. Not every infraction of the rules is punishable by death. I have found that it is best to give students the benefit of the doubt in certain cases. It often may seem like a student is cutting class, but then I find out the next day they were held by another teacher, in guidance, or had some other legitimate circumstance that kept them from my class.

  7. Use proximity to keep students on task. Instead of calling across the classroom to get the attention of a student who has become distracted, just go stand near them as you continue the lesson. This keeps the focus on the learning instead of classroom management activities. If the situation calls for it, you might want to ask a question of a distracted student to pull them back into the learning activity.

  8. Offering students choices can go a long way to improving the classroom environment. High school students in particular are often frustrated by the lack of control they have in school. When students have choices, they feel empowered and often much more comfortable in the classroom setting. There are a number of ways teachers can overcome this.

    • Allow students to sit by friends, listen to music while they work, or some other request they have as long as they stay on task, complete their classwork, and do not bother anyone else. 
    • Offer students some choice in the classwork or projects they work on. For instance, I have students complete projects following a grading rubric that is not topic specific so students can choose the subject matter.
    • Let students choose whether to complete an assignment on paper or on the computer. Some students do better when they have an opportunity to add some creativity to their work.
    • Some students may prefer to stand during lessons rather than sit. This is true of many kinesthetic learners who need to be moving in order to learn. If possible, have a few standing desks in the classroom, or perhaps even a stability ball that students can sit on rather than a stationary chair.

  9. Keeping in mind that we are the adults and the students are the children can minimize anger and frustration, and help in maintaining an attitude that leads to a positive classroom environment. And remember; never take what students say personally. They are, after all, children. As an adult our self-worth should not be dictated by what a child thinks of us or what we do.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

About this Blog

I decided to start this blog for a couple reasons. First, I believe I have a lot of good information to share. I have worked as an educator in one way or another my entire adult life.
I raised 2 children. We all know that parenting requires quite a bit of teaching. Johnny ... don't touch the hot stove or it will hurt! Jane ... if you eat the garden slugs you will get a tummy ache! And, unfortunately, Johnny and Jane don't listen much better than our students do and end up learning everything the hard way. Raise your hand now if you resemble that model! Other areas where I have been a teacher include running a church youth group, being a classroom parent, training adults in computer skills, and 15 plus years as a classroom teacher.

Another reason I decided to write is that after working for years to obtain a doctoral degree in educational leadership, I would like to be an educational leader. I have applied for many positions that interested me, but it seems that most of the work that I am drawn to follows the "publish or perish" mindset. 

Personally, I am not in love with the idea of publishing. While I do enjoy writing, publishing requires that I spend a great number of hours researching and writing material that only 3 people will ever read ... and those 3 would only read it to get a source for their own research. This whole system does not appeal to me.

So, I decided to blog instead. My plan is to publish weekly articles. Reality may keep that from happening but it is the plan. The articles will all be written so that they can be read in 5 minutes or less as we are all very busy people.

I am hoping that readers will leave evocative comments to these posts. As an educator, I strongly believe that you should never stop learning. I would agree to a "learn or perish" mandate long before "publish or perish."

Having Educating!