Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Instructional Strategies - Understanding Your Students

1. Student surveys - This is a way for the teacher to know what their student’s interests are, their background, their strengths and weaknesses, and so forth.  This is also an opportunity for students who are not vocal to express who they are in writing.  
2. Observe your students - Teacher can observe how students interact with each other as well as cliques and conflicts among students.  Seating charts could be based on these observations.  Extroverts should not sit next to each other nor should students who don’t get along.
3. Talk to your students - Keep lines of communication open.  A teacher can learn a lot about their students by having a conversation with them.  If the student shares something with the teacher, the teacher should reciprocate to establish a connection.
4. Know your student's’ past academic performance - By looking at past grades or IEPs, the teacher can understand a student’s struggles and what areas/subjects a student needs help with.
5. Get involved in your student’s extracurricular activities - Many students participate in extracurricular activities.  Showing interest in a student’s interest outside of the classroom makes the teacher more approachable.
6. Classroom bulletin board - Have a bulletin board in the classroom with a student of the week.  The special student can bring in pictures of their family and friends, make a list of favorite things and things they want to do in the future like a bucket list. The student will feel special for the week and the teacher (and peers) will get to know that student.
7. Play get-to-know-you and icebreaker games - The teacher will get to know the students, the students will get to know each other and everyone will feel more comfortable in the classroom and more willing to participate in classroom activities.
8. “What’s in a name” activity - Have students write a brief paragraph about their name and a little bit about themselves.  It’s an easy and fun way for everyone to learn each other’s names.
9. Spin a classroom web activity - Have the students sit in a circle.  Take a ball of yarn and have the person holding the ball of yarn to tell the class one unique thing about themselves.  The teacher can go first to model what to do.  Then the yarnball is tossed to another person across the circle and they share something unique.  After all of the students have shared something, a large web should have formed within the circle.
10. Get to know your student’s family - Getting know your students at the personal level will help the teacher to build a sense of community in the classroom.
11. Learning style inventory - Have students fill out a learning style inventory.  This will inform the teacher of a student's’ learning style and what teaching strategies would best suit the needs of these learners.

All of these strategies will help the teacher to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of his or her students.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sociocultural Aspects of Schooling for Els - EDSS 555

According to the California Department of Education, approximately 1.4 English language learners (ELL) were enrolled in California public schools in the 2010-2011 academic year.  Regardless of proficiency level, ELLs face large hurdles for overcoming discrimination and their sense of not belonging.  I am at a school where the student population is mostly Caucasian.  Of the 2295 students enrolled this year, only 129 students are ELLs.  In addition, most of the teachers at this school are Caucasian and teach a Eurocentric curriculum.  Because this school has a low percentage of ELLs, resources to help these students are low.  I'm not implying that the school doesn't care about ELLs.  I just don't think that differentiating instruction and implementing support systems for ELLs is a top priority.

When these students first enter the academic environment as freshmen, they undergo a condition called "language shock" when they are trying to acculturate to the new school setting.  Similar to culture shock, language shock causes the student to feel anxiety because they are not proficient in the dominant language, English. Moreover, students feel higher levels of stress because they are mocked by their peers about the way that they speak English.  This further exacerbates their already low sense of school belonging and self esteem.  Previous studies have found a direct correlation between stress and reduced student academic achievement (1).

What action can I take to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety ELLs face in school and ensure that they achieve language proficiency as well as success in the classroom?  For starters, organizing a school support network to help ELLs adjust to their new environment may reduce some of the anxiety.  For example, at the beginning of the school year students could meet with a counselor to discuss the various options in the support network.  Students are given a choice to receive help from a bilingual peer tutor or AVID tutor.  Students could receive worksheets ahead of time to read before class.  Any uncertainty in vocabulary or terms can be looked up before the lesson.  Teachers can meet with parents to discuss ways that they can support their child at home.  Counselors and teachers can also teach ELLs how to cope with stress.  Peers can be educated on the negative effects of mocking and teasing ELLs about their language proficiency.  Teachers can be educated on how to differentiate their instruction for ELLs.  Knowing a student's academic history can help teachers to understand where their ELL students are coming from.  A teacher can choose activities that allow students to draw on prior knowledge and experiences.  They can create lessons to fulfill the needs of ELLs as well as the rest of the class.

There are many good options for creating a positive learning environment for ELLs.  I would like to explore ways that I can make adjustments to current policies regarding support for ELLs at our school.  

(1)  Schrami, K., Perski, A., Grossi, G. ad Makower, I (2011) Chronic stress and it's consequences on subsequent academic achievement among adolescents. Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology 2 (1) 69-79.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Brain-Based Lesson Planning - EDSS 521 Blog Post #2

The teenage brain is filled with thoughts about school, grades, their future, and their personal life.  Hormones are surging and interfering with their ability to concentrate on academics.  Using brain-based instruction to keep students engaged will enable them to stay focused and increase their learning potential.  

In biology, we usually start the period with an anticipatory set that reviews the material from the previous class.  The students also have multiple exposures to the content in the form of (1) a powerpoint presentation which introduces the material,  (2) a pre-lab worksheet which asks students questions about content they previously learned from the presented material,  (3) the hands-on lab which allows students to actively participate and experience the concepts previously learned,  (4) analysis and conclusion questions (many of which connect the learning with real life situations) which encourage higher order and critical thinking skills and (5) review in the form of games like matamoscus (fly swatter game) or jeopardy.  All of these activities are designed to give the brain repetitive exposure to the content to make use of active working memory and help with memory retention.

In addition, many of the activities that we do in the classroom encourage student-student interaction.  For example, the students are asked to work in small, cooperative learning groups for the lab exercise.  During the lab the students help each other with the procedure, data collection, analysis, questions and conclusions.  Students work cooperatively to set up the lab, conduct the lab then break down the lab.  In addition, activities like Think-Pair-Share and other group activities support student interaction.  Previous studies have shown that interacting well with peers causes an increase in levels of the brain neurotransmitter, dopamine.  Dopamine plays an important role in learning and helps information flow to higher levels in the brain.

Creating a curriculum that encourages students to learn and be excited about school will cause positive feedback on neuronal connections in the brain thereby leading to more efficient brain function and increased learning.  It will be interesting to see how future advancements in brain research will lead to better teaching strategies and positive learning outcomes.

Neuronal Connections in the Brain

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Classroom Management Plan


Classroom management is not about discipline.  It’s about creating an environment that encourages learning.  If I am able to manage the learning well, I will not need to resort to discipline.  By keeping my students actively engaged, they will not have the time to misbehave.  My classroom management strategies will incorporate the educational philosophies of experimentalism (progressivism) and perennialism.  Experimentalism refers to the educational philosophy that encourages students to test ideas by active experimentation.  In other words, learn by doing.  The perennialistic philosophy on the other hand, focuses on seeking enduring truths which are constant and unchanging.  Great works of art, literature and science are emphasized in this philosophy.  I hope to bring my two dominant philosophical styles and create a classroom management plan that is student-centered, fair but firm and cooperative.  I am interested in incorporating the classroom management ideas of Kohn (1996), Kagan (2002), Glasser (1985) and Nelson (2006) into my plan.  I like that these classroom management styles are all very positive and student-centered.

Preventative Approach:

When students are misbehaving, the entire classroom suffers.  Teachers struggle to teach and students are unable to learn.  Problems in the classroom are prevented when classroom management plans include proactive options, accountability, and choices for students (Kyle and Rogien, 2004).  Glasser (1985) suggests that teaching a quality curriculum leads to good discipline.  Nelson and Lott (2006) identify mutual respect and cooperation as key elements for reducing most discipline issues.  By preventing the opportunity for misbehavior, the likelihood that students will misbehave is decreased.  

  • Encourage positive student/student and teacher/student relationships.
  • Give attention for positive and responsible behaviors, positive reinforcement.
  • Assign classroom responsibilities and directorships.
  • Involve students in the decision-making process (student-centered approach).  This strategy is especially aligned with the experimentalist philosophy (Kohn, 1996).
  • Model good behavior.
  • Create a learner-centered environment: Desk arrangement facilitate interaction; walls display students’ work; teacher is engaged, respectful, genuine and warm; differentiated instruction (Kohn, 1996).
  • “Start where the kids are” (Towbin, 2010) 

Supportive Approach:

All students need some support at one time or another.  The supportive approach focuses on positive behavior, which leads to less disciplinary action.  If the teacher give the student the support they need, students will choose the appropriate behavior.  The Kagan discipline philosophy emphasizes that the teacher and student work together to find solutions to behavioral problems (2002).  A positive learning environment and helping students to feel confident about their learning will lead to a successful academic outcome.  Sometimes students are disengaged and express their anger towards school with words and inaction (Towbin, 2010).  For these students, the reason for being in the classroom is nonexistent.  Help these students find meaning in their education by understanding where they are coming from and what is important to them (Towbin, 2010).

  • Promote student involvement and responsible behavior.
  • Make students feel capable.  Making mistakes is a learning opportunity.  
  • Give examples of past successes and then focus on the present.
  • Encourage parent involvement.  Parent involvement has been shown to have an effect on a student’s academic success (Chen, 2008).  It is tried and true and aligns with the perennialistic point of view.
  • Validate accomplishments and strengths.
  • Nurture the teacher/student relationship - respect your students, give them a voice and listen to what they are saying, don’t just hear them (Kohn, 1996).  
  • Know your students by name, show them that you are interested.  
  • The school environment is welcoming and everything is in good condition (Kohn, 1996)

Corrective Approach:

Proactive prevention measures as described above can prevent many of the problems in the classroom from developing.  However, there will be instances where the preventative approach to classroom management is ineffective.  Being prepared with strategies to address student misbehavior can reduce the amount of time and energy needed to get the classroom back on track.

  • Establish a conflict resolution plan.
  • Take care of any disciplinary issues instantly.
  • Use body language - eye contact or pause, proximity, signals and gestures. 
  • Getting the student’s attention - calling out the student’s name, changing your tone or volume of voice.
  • Let the student know that you can discuss that matter at the later time, not during class.
  • Have a plan for angry or violent behaviors from students.  
  • Have the volatile student go somewhere to calm down and reflect on their inappropriate behavior.  


As a first year teacher, I would incorporate a variety of classroom management strategies to (1) teach my students effectively, (2) minimize disruptions in the classroom, and (3) create a positive learning environment.  Classroom management is more than just management and discipline.   It’s about creating an environment that encourages learning.


Chen, G. (2008) Parental involvement is key to student success. Public School Review. Retrieved from: http://www.publicschoolreview.com/articles/12

Glasser, W. (1985) Noncoercive Discipline. Retrieved from: https://docs.google.com/a/cougars.csusm.edu/file/d/0B5qgdWNJfUFiaC1yTGN3YnhBRE0/edit

Kohn, A. (1996) Beyond Discipline Education Week.  Retrieved from: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/discipline.htm

Kyle, P. and Rogien, L. (2004) Opportunities and options in classroom management.  Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. ISBN: 0205324134

Kyle, P., Kagan, S. and Scott, S. (2002) Win-Win Discipline in Building Classroom Discipline. Boston MA: Allyn & Bacon. Retrieved from: http://www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/dr_spencer_kagan/ASK15.php

Nelson, J. and Lott, L. (2000) Encouragement and Support in Positive Discipline in the Classroom. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/a/cougars.csusm.edu/file/d/0B5qgdWNJfUFiOUdRMlNQWmZncTg/edit

Kohn, A. (1996) What to look for in a classroom. Educational Leadership 54 (1) 54-55 Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept96/vol54/num01/What-to-Look-for-in-a-Classroom.aspx

Towbin, J. (2010) When students don’t play the game. Educational Leadership 67 (5) 42-45. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb10/vol67/num05/When-Students-Don't-Play-the-Game.aspx

Monday, October 8, 2012

Accurate Assessment for English Learners

English learners (EL) have difficulties in reading, writing, speaking and understanding the English language.  There are many factors a teacher should consider when developing assessments and accommodations for ELs.  Teachers should assess their EL students by their proficiency level.  Since there are varying levels of proficiency amongst ELs, teachers should differentiate using the i + 1 format when considering instruction and assessment strategies for the EL.  For example, if the student is an early intermediate english learner, the instruction and assessments should be at the level of intermediate to challenge the EL to surpass their current proficiency level.  Differentiate instruction, activities and assessments for the EL while considering equity for the other students.   Providing multiple opportunities in multiple ways to demonstrate what they know is one strategy that can be used to assess the EL.  For example, having the EL create a portfolio or perform a task may be a better way for the EL to demonstrate proficiency than writing as essay.  Since assessments are an important part of literacy instruction, providing the EL with appropriate assessments and feedback is critical for a positive learning outcome.