Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How does rigor apply to PreK or primary students?

This question was also asked in Miami.  Let me assure you, rigor applies to all students at all grade levels and subject areas.  Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels. 

Let's look at a couple of great rigorous activities for the primary grades.  First, when teaching concepts, such as colors, numbers, or shapes, ask them to describe them using riddles.  Students love to use puzzles and riddles to try to stump their classmates, and they are very creative!

I'm the shape of Mrs. Juarez's desk.  What am I?
I'm what you use when your pencil won't write.  What am I?
I'm the animal that was chased in the story.  Who am I?

Second, rather than showing students a picture or the cover of a book and asking them to describe what they see, put the picture/book inside a folder.  Make sure the folder has eyes and a smile cut out.  Ask students to guess what the picture/cover is by only looking at pieces, rather than the whole.  You can also do this by putting together puzzle pieces.

Both of these activities are simple, yet require students to think at higher levels of learning.  Remember, rigor can be fun!!!!

Monday, June 25, 2012

How can I motivate my apathetic students?

I received this question during my workshops in Miami last week.  It's hard when you have an apathetic student, but there are some strategies you can use.  First, try to find out what is behind the mood.  I had a student who seemed apathetic, but really wasn't getting enough sleep at night.  One of my girls didn't want to "look too smart" in front of a boy she liked.  So, see if you can get to the root of the problem.

Second, consider the two aspects of intrinsic motivation:  value and success.  Students are more motivated when they see value in what they are doing.  Perhaps they need to see the relevance of the lesson, or the enjoyment of the activity that you are using, or they may see value in the relationship they have with you.  Capitalize on the value.

Next, students are more motivated when they feel successful.  Give them open-ended questions that have no wrong answer.  Chunk assignments or tasks into small bites, so they can succeed at each step.  Success builds upon success, and you can help your students feel successful!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Resting and Relaxing?

Many of you are still teaching, but some of you are finished for the year.  My son finished on Friday, so we left for a family vacation on Sunday.  Vacations are supposed to be about relaxing, resting, and enjoying getting away from the traditional obligations.  However, it's taken me several days to get to that point.  I had a long to-do list that wasn't finished; I keynoted at the Center for School Excellence for Poverty Instruction Conference on our second day here; and traveling with a 14 and 16 year old was an adjustment. Yesterday, I finally took some time to do nothing--except fidget a bit!  Do you have trouble with that transition to the summer?  The feeling that you are thrilled the year is over, but also that feeling of not quite knowing what to do?  That's where I am--my summers are part break, part work, so I never know how to fully relax.  For the summer, I'll be blogging once or twice a week, presenting in Miami, upstate New York, Mobile, Texas, and at the Southern Regional Education Board's National Staff Development Conference in New Orleans.  I'll also be releasing a June/July newsletter next week.  Enjoy your summer! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On the Road Again

I'm on the road for the rest of this week, working with some wonderful teachers and leaders outside Houston and Seattle.  I'm also taking the rest of the week off from blogging.  Enjoy your week!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Keeping Your Sanity: 5 Tips for Ending the School Year

I asked my dear friend, Dr. Frank Buck to provide tips for the close of the school year.  You'll find his top 5 list below.  If you are organized, want to get more organized, or are lost in the middle of all your work, read Frank's blog, join his e-newsletter, and check out his free resources on his website.  They are all worth your time (more information at the bottom).

Your year is drawing to an end. I have heard closing the year being described as like being on a sled headed downhill. No matter what you do, the thing gets faster and faster, and you simply try to avoid the trees. When the final bell sounds, we breathe a sigh of relief, at least for now.
For those who are in education for the long haul, we know that the whole scenario will play out again exactly 12 months from now. Every year, we say we will have a better handle on things next year. Yet, when next year comes, it’s the same song, just a different verse. How can we put an end to the madness once and for all? Here are 5 strategies to put you back in control:

Plan the Day the Night Before
Sure, you have heard this advice before, and it is a great practice for any time of year. But as those last two weeks approach, how you handle each day spells the difference between order and absolute chaos. Only a few days remain between a building full of people and a building empty for three months. You have loose ends to tie up with students, fellow teachers, the bookkeeper, the school secretary, and many others in the building.
When you have a list of exactly what must be handled today, you can hit the ground running the moment you arrive at school. You check things off the list, knowing the next evening you will make a new list. Your days are focused and driven with purpose. Most importantly, things are being checked off the list faster than other things are being put on it.

Anticipate Grading Problems
How wonderful it is to have software which handles all of the grade calculations for us. The caveat exists in that old computer adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.”
When the settings are correct, the averages are correct. Allow one box to be checked incorrectly, enter one formula incorrectly, and the result is a mess. If a problem exists, you want to know early. You will have plenty of time and resources available to help you determine the exact source of the problem and the quick fix. Wait until the 11th hour to find your final grades are wrong, and you will spend the rest of the day, and probably the day of several other people, feverishly looking for a solution.
Keep grades up-to-date throughout the grading period. I never cease to be amazed at how many teachers still maintain a paper grade book and then enter everything into the software at the last minute. I never cease to be amazed by principals who allow it.

Spot check a few final averages by hand well before the time to submit grades. Offer to be the “Guinea pig” and post grades to the main office early. Run a sample report card or two.
Nothing causes more gnashing of teeth at the end of school than grades which are not correct. The good news is that it is totally avoidable.

Clear the Decks
Even though you may be working well ahead of schedule, remember others do not. Their failure to plan often results in mountains of work being dumped on you at the last minute. (If reading that sentence causes the name of any building or central office administrator to come to mind, feel free to print this post, highlight this section, and place it in the center of the offender’s desk before his or her arrival at work.)
If you already have a full week planned for the end of school, you will be buried when the additional work hits. Do everything in your power to have papers graded and entered into the computer, inventory done, programs held, and communication handled before that last week.
If your calendar and to-do list for the last week of school look bare a week out, don’t worry. Others will fill them up for you. Having the decks cleared ahead of time will allow you to tackle the new incoming requests instead of being swamped by them.

Keep ‘Em Busy
The statement, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop” was probably penned by a middle school teacher the last week of school. Give students a “free period” while tackling the mountain of papers to grade, and you are inviting classroom management problems. Now, more than ever, teaching from bell is bell is essential.
The best-kept secret in the school ought to be what day grades “cut off.” Not every assignment must be graded. Keep students working, engaged, and submitting their work right up to the end. They do not have to know that your grades were posted to the main office last Friday.

Plan “Next Time” Now
Who are the ones guilty of dropping the paperwork bomb on you at the last minute? What paperwork do we continue to churn out and file (even though nobody ever reads it) simply because “we have always done it that way”? What end-of-school procedures just did not work well? Now is the best time to identify the landmines and make plans so they do not appear again next year.
In the school business, we start over every year. It is both a blessing and a curse. If we fail to learn from our mistakes, they become our future. On the other hand, we can craft a plan that will allow a smooth ending to a perfect year this year and every year.  

Frank Buck served as a teacher, principal, and central office administrator during a career in education spanning almost 30 years. He credits strong skills in organization and time management with success at all levels along the way.  Dr. Buck’s books, Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders and Organization Made Easy! Tools for Today’s Teachers, capture those ideas in an easy-to-read format. Readers find they are able to implement the "nuts-and-bolts" approach immediately. Whether one's preference is to organize with paper or with a digital system, Dr. Buck's approach makes getting organized easy. Follow his blog at http://frankbuck.blogspot.com/, on Twitter @DrFrankBuck #getorganized, or at his website http://frankbuck.org/.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Is this your last week of school?

It is for our family, and there is a myriad of emotions.  The kids are excited and ready to be done!  Is that how you feel?  Then there's my sister, who has seen her two kids excel, and doesn't want them to lose momentum.  So she's scrambled around finding things for them to enjoy this summer.  And there's me, who still misses that moment when everything is stored, and finished, and put up for the summer.  That moment where everything is still, and you take a deep breath, and think about what you accomplished--and did not accomplish during the year.  No matter where you are, I'd encourage you to make a list of 20 things you DID accomplish this year--because I know you had at least that many.  It doesn't matter how small it is; celebrate!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Gives Me Hope, Part Five

I have a copy of a wonderful book called "Gives Me Hope: The 127 Most Inspiriting Bite-Sized Stories".  It is worth every penny!  This week, I shared five stories from the book. If you are struggling and feel defeated, read these stories, read the book, and remember that hope is still alive! 

An elderly lady came to my register and was buying milk and bread.  She didn't have enough money and had no way of paying.  There was a 12-year old boy buying a video game and a toy.  He handed me his gift card to buy her items.  He said she needs food more than he needs a video game.  He gives me hope.