In this post I share an incredibly useful piece of teaching advice I learned from my friend and classroom management expert Angela Watson. (Check out her book The Cornerstone on amazon.) At the beginning of each school year, Watson tells her students that their actions and choices in the classroom influence her actions and choices as a teacher. In my experience, this announcement takes many children by surprise because they tend to think that all major class decisions are made by the teacher and that they really don't have a role in affecting those decisions. This approach to classroom management gives kids the incentive to show great judgment because the better judgment they show, the more responsibility they will have in determining the direction of the class.

For example, assume Katie and Allison wish to be desk partners. Using Watson's approach, we would let the kids give it a try. If they are able to focus on their work and use their time well, then they would be permitted to remain neighbors. In other words, we provide the opportunity, and the students have the incentive and the responsibility to make it work. Here's another example. Assume that students in my class work independently on all their class activities. One student, however, makes the suggestion that we should start working with partners during math time. Instead of saying no because we have never done this type of cooperative learning before, I would give it a shot to see how it goes, and their actions would determine the extent to which cooperative learning becomes a regular feature of classroom life.

For the past two years, during the first half hour of the first day of school, I have explicitly told my students that their actions and choices would influence mine. Pardon the pun, but this has become a "cornerstone" feature in my classroom, and the effect it has is immediate, positive, and lasting. Now, whenever my students have a suggestion about how our class should function, I (almost always) say yes and then give them the responsibility for making it work. Providing students with these opportunities is empowering and motivating.
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   As a general rule, I recommend that, as teachers, we try not to do things for children that they can do for themselves. Expecting students to do things for themselves develops independence and responsibility, and it furthers our efforts to develop self-directed learners. One example of this principle in action occurs each day when I walk with my students to the school cafeteria. When we arrive, I could easily grab our set of lunch cards and pass them out to the kids one at a time. Instead, I ask the first two students in line to get the cards and distribute them to their classmates. This may not seem like a big deal, but it encourages cooperation and promotes leadership, responsibility, and independence. When children do things like this throughout the day, these little moments add up to something substantial. Examples include cleaning the room thoroughly before they leave at the end of the day, carrying their own backpacks and other possessions to and from school, and managing their own supplies. Look for opportunities for your students to take on as much responsibility around the class as possible.
Published in Blog
Saturday, 14 December 2013 20:44

Leading By Example (Teaching Tip #109)

    During my graduate training at UCLA, an instructor once remarked to our class that no matter what subject any of us went on to teach, we would all impact our students most powerfully with the examples that we set. He cautioned us not to lose sight of the fact that though we may teach science or English, more than anything else, we are teaching ourselves; we are teaching who and what we are. Years later, when students look back on the time spent in our rooms, they might not remember all the content. They will remember us.   
    As classroom teachers, we need to pay very careful attention to the example we set for our students. This doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect or that we should hold ourselves to some unrealistic standard. It does, however, mean that we make every effort to model for our students the qualities and behaviors that we promote. When leaders walk their talk, they accomplish a great deal more than they do with words alone. For example, in the beginning of every school year, one of my main objectives is to create an environment of trust in my classroom. What is the most effective way for me to do that? Is it to establish a rule that everybody must trust everybody else? No. It is to be trustworthy. I must make and keep promises to my students so their trust in me grows. I show them how to play the role of trusted team member by playing it myself. Talking at my students will not achieve the same results. Leaders understand the power of a strong example.          
    Constantly look for ways to model the principles and attitudes you hold dear. Let your actions do the talking. For instance, to show how much you value physical fitness, change into your tennis shoes occasionally and participate in a class PE activity. Say “Please” and “Thank you” every chance you get in order to encourage the development of proper manners. Demonstrate the high priority you place on literacy by bringing in a book during silent reading time and joining in with the group. Share stories about your golf game or some other hobby to show your students how you apply the spirit of continuous improvement to your own life. Kids remember examples.
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An effective way to help students improve their ability to perform class routines is to use what educator Madeline Hunter calls “think-starters.” Imagine Randy has just handed me a paper with no name on it. If I said, “Put your name on it,” that would be a “think-stopper” because I am the one pointing out his mistake. On the other hand, if I asked him what he needed to do before handing me the paper, then I am helping Randy discover his own mistake. That would be a think-starter.

Asking him instead of telling him shifts the responsibility to Randy. Think-starters give students ownership of their behavior. By encouraging kids to reflect on their actions, think-starters help them internalize these habits and build their capacity for the future. While Randy may have forgotten to put his name on the paper this time, think-starters increase the likelihood that he will remember to do it next time.
Published in Blog
Monday, 25 November 2013 03:56

The Home-School Connection

The Home-School Connection: A Complete Guide to Effective Parent Involvement


(This is an online course created for Udemy.com.)


Enroll NOW in The Home-School Connection



Course Description

Consistent parent involvement dramatically increases the likelihood that quality learning will occur. Parents play such a crucial role in their children’s academic, physical, social, and moral development that we, as teachers, make a huge mistake if we view them as anything other than indispensable collaborators. If we are committed to bringing the best out of our students, we need to build and maintain long-term relationships of loyalty, trust, and respect with their parents. Investing the time and effort to work closely with parents throughout the year maximizes our chances of helping students reach their incredible potential.
 

By the end of the course, you will be able to establish a strong home-school connection with parents. Specific topics include:

• keeping parents informed and involved in a variety of meaningful ways
• creating a favorable first impression with parents
• making the most of major events such as Back to School Night, Open House, Parent Conferences, & Student-led Conferences
• helping parents help their children at home.

Enroll NOW in The Home-School Connection


Endorsement Statements for the Course

"Great insight. Very informative."     - Vanessa Khani
 

"This course gives some excellent advice on the best way to make sure there is 2-way communication with the home. Really smart ideas coupled with practical suggestions. I highly recommend!"     - Marc Fienberg

Published in Workshops
Monday, 25 November 2013 03:49

Beyond Compliance

Beyond Compliance: A Progressive Approach to Classroom Management


(This is an online course created for Udemy.com.)

Enroll NOW in Beyond Compliance.
 

Course Description

Traditional classroom management approaches tend to focus on getting students to comply with rules through the use of extrinsic rewards and punishments. These coercive approaches produce, at best, short-term obedience and have the potential to thwart the development of many positive student behaviors and dispositions that we promote in our classrooms. This course presents an alternative classroom management approach rooted in intrinsic motivation and designed to create a learning environment in which children work hard, work together, and work with purpose.


By the end of the course, you will be able to implement a progressive approach to classroom management that fosters responsibility, nurtures intrinsic motivation, and brings out the best in students. Specific topics include:
• encouraging students to invest their hearts and minds in the class mission
• establishing a strong sense of purpose in your classroom so that students find meaning in their work, experience joy, and understand the many reasons why pursuing an education matters so much for their futures
• empowering students with lasting habits of mind and habits of character
• establishing the routines, procedures, and expectations necessary to create a classroom environment in which students consistently behave well and produce quality work
• seeking opportunities to engage and inspire students
• understanding the problems associated with the use of extrinsic motivation
• learning how to nurture the intrinsic motivation to learn and grow that all students possess.


Enroll NOW in Beyond Compliance.

 

Endorsement Statements for the Course

"I had the privilege of hearing Steve speak in person on this topic at a local conference and left wanting more! This class delivers! Very comprehensive and full of great methods and ideas. I encourage educators, facilitators, and administrators to take this course!"         
          - Sandra Bowers Courtois-Lawrence
 

"The information was delivered in an organized, applicable manor. great ideas for running a super classroom."          - Patrice Law Murphy
 

"I found Steve's course very informative. It gave me some insight on how to prepare for and support my son's education and I now have better insight about what to look for in my son's teachers. I also found that many of the tools discussed can be replicated (with some tweaking) in my home in order to create a family environment that will encourage positive behavior...for all of us!"          - Sandy King
 

"This course went well beyond my expectations! Fantastic insights into creative ways to motivate my students intrinsically. I never realized how simplistic and inadequate simply offering rewards was. There is really a lot of brilliant, insightful information in this course that I'm already using."          - Marc Fienberg
 

"Steve Reifman has captured the essence of accomplished teaching and how these important elements contribute to student learning. His sense of classroom structure, mutual respect and knowing your students enhance the learning environment. Steve's course, his books and his presentations are very practical and easily implemented for both novice and experienced educators. I highly recommend his course for educators at all teaching levels."          - Clara Carroll
 

"Steve Reifman has done the deep dive on what it takes to improve learning for young people. I particularly like the emphasis on techniques that apply not only to the four walls of the classroom but to the big classroom we call "Life". Kudos for the great work!"          - Chris Kahn

Published in Workshops
Saturday, 05 January 2013 17:39

5 Ways to Help Kids Become Better Spellers

This article presents a series of focus areas that comprise a comprehensive approach to helping children become better spellers. Traditionally, the weekly spelling test has been the primary vehicle for driving spelling instruction. The main problem with weekly spelling tests involves the issue of transfer. This simply means that students can study hard and earn high scores on the tests, yet continue to spell these words incorrectly in their daily writing, when it matters most. Instead of emphasizing scores on weekly spelling tests, teachers and parents are better served by addressing the following aspects of spelling instruction with children.

1) Encourage kids to immerse themselves in the language. By far, the number one way to help children become better spellers is to have them participate in a wide variety of authentic reading and writing projects. Research has shown that children who read at least 30 minutes per night encounter more than one million words over the course of a school year. Seeing these words spelled correctly in books provides strong modeling that increases kids’ spelling proficiency.

2) Build a foundation with high frequency words. Many schools have students learn the “High Frequency 100” or “High Frequency 500.” These lists feature the words that are used most commonly in books. I have heard that as many as sixty or seventy percent of the words we use in our daily writing can be found on these lists, and because of this fact, students need to invest time learning them. Ask around at your child’s school if you are interested in obtaining a copy of the high frequency words.

3) Invest time helping children learn common spelling rules and patterns. If you notice that children struggle in their attempts to spell words that include the “i before e except after c” rule or the “ight” or “ough” patterns, spend some time going over examples of these rules and patterns in action. Because learning a single rule can help kids spell as many as 10-15 new words correctly, mastering these features of the language delivers plenty of bang for our buck.

4) Hold kids accountable for spelling “accessible” words correctly. In my classroom when a word is written on the board or on a worksheet students are using, they are responsible for spelling that word correctly. This type of accountability encourages kids to pay extra attention to their spelling. I don’t, however, hold kids accountable for every word all the time because it can disrupt the flow of their writing, create a block, and cause them to play it safe with easy words rather than attempt to use new, more colorful words. There is a time and a place for thorough editing, and that leads to our fifth area.

5) Ask kids to edit selected projects for spelling at the end of the writing process. The beginning of a writing project (the drafting stage) is all about creativity, fluency, and free expression. Concerns about spelling can get in the way of these priorities. Once the drafting and revising stages are over, editing for spelling using a dictionary is important. I don’t want to burn my students out on using the dictionary, so I have them use one only at the conclusion of our major Writing Workshop projects. At home, parents can edit for spelling with their kids at the conclusion of nightly journal writing time or other writing projects that are part of the regular homework.

Published in For Parents
Friday, 04 January 2013 17:39

6 Ways to Help Kids Become Quality Readers

 bookAt the beginning of each school year, I have my students create a series of individual reading goals. We also set the overall class goal of becoming “Quality Readers.” This general goal focuses more on specific habits and dispositions than it does on achieving a certain skill level. As a result, everyone can reach this goal with sustained effort. When children consistently satisfy the following six criteria, we can say that they are truly quality readers.

In my class we have a chart containing these criteria. After reviewing this list over a period of days, we have a special signing ceremony in which the kids add their names, one at a time, to the bottom of the chart as a symbol of their commitment to reach this goal. I highly recommend reviewing this list in class with your students or at home with your children and then asking them to sign. Taking these steps will positively impact their approach to reading.  

1) Quality readers read every day. Research has shown that children who read at least 30 minutes a night will encounter more than one million words over the course of a school year. Reading every day, including weekends, will improve kids’ fluency and comprehension, lengthen their attention span, improve their spelling and writing skills, and increase their enthusiasm for reading. There is no short-cut to reading success. We all need to put in our time each and every day.

2) Quality readers think and talk about their books with other people. As frequently as possible, encourage children to discuss their books with family members and friends. Many kids even like to start Book Clubs to combine their love of reading with the joy of spending time with others. Discussing plot, character, and other aspects of their books deepens children’s comprehension and fosters their development as writers.

3) Quality readers take care of their books. Quality readers show respect for their books. They don’t throw, scratch, or mark up their books. Of particular importance is how they close their books. Many children fold back the front of the book to remember their current page, but this can damage the spine. Kids should use bookmarks or record their pages in a reading notebook to mark their page at the end of a reading session.

4) Quality readers read as much as they can. A great way to achieve this objective is to be sure that we always keep a book with us, such as in our backpack or car, because we never know when we will have a few extra minutes to read. This is especially true for children who need to wait for siblings after a sports practice or wait after school to be picked up by a family member.

5) Quality readers protect their reading time. If we plan to sit down to read for 30 minutes, we read for 30 minutes. We turn off our phones and computers, remove ourselves from any potential distractions, and ensure that nothing gets in our way during this time. If we need to move to a quiet corner of the room, wear noise canceling headphones, or take other similar steps, then that’s what we do.  

6) Quality readers get lost in their books. My students absolutely love hearing this expression, especially at the start of our daily silent reading period when I look them all in the eye with a serious expression on my face and tell them to get lost - in their books. When children get lost in their books, their bodies may still be in the room, but their minds are someplace else. They are in such a heightened state of focus that it is almost like they are in another world. In this state they do not notice anything or anybody around them.

Published in For Parents
Friday, 21 September 2012 17:39

The Time is Now

clockOne of my highest priorities at the beginning of each school year involves establishing an expectation level in my classroom so that my new students understand the level of neatness, quality, and effort they will need to produce in order to be successful learners. Once these expectations are established, it is important for me to hold the kids accountable, provide support and encouragement, and keep the bar consistently high.

I believe that parents have the same opportunity at home with their children. The beginning of a new school year is, by far, the best time to establish an expectation level with regard to the neatness and quality of homework and school work, effort, and attitude. Establishing a culture of high expectations is especially important for children who have yet to have positive, academically successful experiences in school.

The first step that I recommend is to convey the message that this year can be different. If children are able to identify a handful of meaningful goals and willing to work with enthusiasm, determination, and purpose on a daily basis, the sky is the limit. Once you and your child have set these goals, consistently revisiting these ideas and holding kids accountable for their actions will gradually lead to significant improvement.

When you notice your kids working hard, demonstrating dedication, and producing higher quality work, recognize this effort. Everyone appreciates being recognized for a job well done, and kids are no different. Your kind words will boost self-esteem, increase motivation, and lead to feelings of joy, pride, and satisfaction. Being recognized for their success will make kids want to taste more success, and they will become more invested in this endeavor. A virtuous cycle begins.

On the other hand, if your children are falling back into old habits, settling for less than their best effort, and producing work that is below par, relish these moments as the valuable learning opportunities that they are. Instead of becoming angry in these situations, it is critical to communicate the following message: “This piece of work does not represent your best effort. I know you can do better, and I believe in you. If you are willing to put in some more time and effort to make this piece of work the best it can be, you will learn a lot more and you will feel proud of yourself.”

An example of this situation occurred in my classroom a few weeks ago after we took a quiz on twelve geography terms I had asked the kids to study at home. While most students knew all 12 words, one child scored four out of twelve. When the other children were working quietly on a different activity, I called him up to the front of the room and asked if he studied at home the last two nights. He told me that had practiced the words a little bit. My response to him was that he was very bright and could have gotten a higher score if he had worked harder. I emphasized to him that he shouldn’t have stopped practicing at home until he was sure he knew all twelve terms. I wanted him to expect more from himself and develop a higher personal standard of quality.

It is wonderful when parents and teachers have high expectations for children, but I have learned that lasting, genuine progress will occur only when children expect more from themselves and have high personal expectations. Communicating that idea was the goal of my conversation with my student. The two of us could do nothing to change the results of that first quiz. But by holding him accountable, expressing my unconditional belief in him, and encouraging him to put forth greater, I can help him do better in the future.

Published in For Parents
Monday, 17 September 2012 17:39

6 Ways to Keep Your Kids Moving

A new infographic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called “Burn to Learn” draws attention to the strong connection that exists between physical activity and academic success. Regular physical activity (60 minutes a day is recommended) helps children earn higher grades, improves their focus and behavior, and positively impacts their attitudes. The following suggestions will enable you to incorporate more movement into your child’s week.  

1. Organized sports. If your kids have an interest in soccer, baseball, or other sport, consider signing them up in a local league. Team sports improve fitness levels, build a variety of athletic skills, and provide valuable opportunities to make new friends and build character and sportsmanship.

2. Early morning fitness. Many schools are shifting their physical education classes to the beginning of the school day to take advantage of the benefits of early morning movement. Research has shown that kids who exercise vigorously in the morning are better able to focus on their classwork throughout the day.  If your school does not offer this option, consider waking up a little early on school days so that your child can climb on a jungle gym, go for a bike ride, or engage in some other type of vigorous play.

3. Walk to school. If this option is not possible and you drive your child to school, consider arriving a little early, parking several blocks away from campus, and walking from the car. In addition to the extra exercise you and your child will get, the two of you will also receive the added benefit of extra time together to talk and bond.

4. Weekend family movement time. Weekdays can often become so busy that we need to look to the weekends to find time to exercise with family members. Bike rides, nature walks, and games can quickly become highly anticipated family rituals that combine the benefits of movement with the joys of family time.

5. Theme days. “Double-touch Tuesdays” (every time our bottom hits the chair when we sit, we push ourselves up to a standing position before sitting back down) and “Up and Back Wednesdays” (whenever we climb three stairs, we go back one step before moving forward) are two of the many novel ways in which we can incorporate specific movements on certain days to increase our level of physical activity.   

6. Active learning strategies. When children are doing homework or studying for quizzes and tests, encourage them to look for opportunities to turn sedentary activities into movement activities. If your kids are using flash cards to practice math facts, for example, spread the cards throughout the room so they have to walk from one card to another. If your kids are studying their spelling words, they can recite each letter as they hit a handball against a wall or dribble a basketball. The more novel the strategy, the better.
Published in For Parents