A Primer on Smooth, Efficient Transitions

Triathletes know that races can be won or lost not just during the swim, bike, or run, but during the transitions in between. During my first triathlon, I had just completed the 12-mile bike when I entered the gate to the bike racks and ran my bike towards my row. Only one event to go! As I approached my spot, I saw my mom and my husband cheering for me by the sidelines. I smiled hugely, waved exuberantly, and… ran right past my spot. I finally caught on as my dismayed family started yelling at me to stop and turn around.

Not my best transition.

Transitions in teaching are just as important as they are in triathlons. More important, because student learning (and not just my bruised ego) depends upon them. Continue reading

Good Questions: Behavior Plans, Part 2

This is the second part of my two-part answer to Christine’s question about behavior plans and rewards.  Part 1 discussed whole-class reward systems, and now we’re on to individual behavior plans.

I use behavior plans frequently, starting around the second week of school.  Today, I’ll share three variations, but each of the plans I use is designed to do the same thing: to help students make better choices in the classroom.  Each individual student’s goals are different, but might be to focus better, to put more effective effort into their work, to work cooperatively with classmates, or to follow certain norms for classroom behavior. Continue reading

Good Questions: Behavior Plans, Part 1

This post is for Christine, my smart, thoughtful, (and yes, only) regular commenter.

In response to my post, “What’s Worth Rewarding?” Christine wrote, “I wonder about the place that extrinsic rewards have in my classroom, especially around behavior.  Can you share ways that you use reward systems specifically for behavior (either individual or whole group)?”

Good question!  Children’s behavior in school is kind of magical.  Whatever patterns they follow at home, when children walk into school, they align to a whole different set of routines and expectations.  In well-run classrooms, there is an esprit de corps, a group desire to work together to accomplish a shared goal.

So how do you establish this kind of classroom?

First, let’s talk intrinsic rewards.  Good behavior starts with good teaching. Continue reading

The Best-Laid Plans

It’s true, the best laid plans of mice and teachers often go awry.  But in teaching, shoddy plans darn well guarantee disaster.  The end of the year comes, and there is so much left to do and so little time to do it!  New teachers, especially, trust me: you do not want to be that teacher who is frantically trying to fit two science units, a math unit, and, you know, the Pilgrims into the last three weeks of school.

In each of my 180 school days, I have about 4 hours of real instructional time.  That’s it.  It’s about 80% of what I think we really need.  But it’s what I’ve got.  So how do I get the most out of it?

My strategy is to plan at three levels: the curriculum plan for the whole year, long-range plans for every six weeks, and weekly lesson plans. Continue reading

Homework, Week 1: Our First Reflections

I am really pleased by how smoothly homework choice went this week. I followed my plan and had students set a simple class goal on Monday: “to have a good homework routine and have fun.” Then, students brainstormed how they could achieve that goal. Students wrote plans like “find a quiet spot,” “start immediately when I get home,” “do my homework at ____ [name of after school program],” and “set a timer.”

Instead of assigning the Thursday Night Reflection for homework, we did our reflecting as a class Friday morning. Before we began, I brought us back to the equation, “effective effort + ____ = _____.”

Continue reading

Making Homework Choice Work: First Steps

Lots of people tell me they think homework choice is a great idea, but they’re wondering how to make it work in their classrooms.

In my classroom, we’re almost finished with our first week of homework choice. From where I stand (make that sit, totally exhausted) there are three keys to implementing the system successfully: Continue reading

Making the First Move: Effective Parent Communication

Before I realized that I wanted (maybe needed?) to be a teacher, I worked in the national office of an AmeriCorps program as a “Special Projects Assistant” to the CEO.  It’s well known that I was, and continue to be, very special.  But what I learned was how to develop relationships.  Over time, I’d watch as the founders and staff would build relationships with donors and convince them — we’re talking individuals here, not even corporations — to give as much as a million dollars a year.  Certainly, people gave because they believed in the power of our organization to change the world.  But they also gave because they trusted the founders and the staff.  They gave because of their relationships, not just their beliefs. Continue reading