Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The THINK Acronym

This simple little acronym has been around for a while, though I've revised it a bit for IB purposes.

Before you speak: THINK

T   Is it true?

H   Is it helpful?

I   Does it promote inquiry?

N   Is it necessary?

K   Is it kind?

I've found it's quite helpful to introduce this acronym at the beginning of the year and post it in a prominent place in the classroom, reminding students when they stray from the Think Before You Speak agreement.  Sometimes I just have to point at the poster, a student will stop in mid-speech, and either steer their comment in a more positive direction or just say something to the effect of, "never mind."  For students who have a challenging time with impulse control, it can be helpful for them to have a laminated copy on their desks as well. Useful on the playground?  You bet!  I haven't seen it used in secondary schools, but I bet it would come in handy there as well.

At home with your own kids?  I haven't posted it yet, but I might just put it on the wall beside our dinner table.  Too bad there isn't an M for manners in the word THINK!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why CAN'T Students Get 100% Every Time?

Here's a thought-provoking question that may prompt a fair bit of debate:

Why shouldn't students be able to get 100% on every percentage-based assessment that you do in your classroom?  Most of my assessments are not formal and many are based on rubrics that I usually design along with my students so they know exactly what is expected of them and how to do the best that they can.

When I do, however, give a quiz or exam that is easily graded (mathematics being a good example), why should a student not be allowed to take that test again until they get 100%?

I am a teacher who believes in success for every student (as I am sure you are), but we often let a one-off test be the judgment of how well a student knows a particular area of study.  If it turns out they don't understand it, then it's game over.

But should it be?

I always tell my students that they are welcome to repeat their assessments as many times as they wish until they get it perfect. (I change the tests slightly (unless it's spelling) but stick with the same concepts) Why?  Because it's NOT about the grades.  It's about learning.  If a student doesn't do well, it means they haven't adequately learned the material presented to them.

If a lot of students don't do well, it probably means I haven't done a good enough job of helping them understand, and then I've got some reteaching to do; if there is a small number of students who need specialized help, that's also my responsibility to get some small group time with them and perhaps scaffold the assessment after some more practice together.)

I am always happy to tutor in the mornings (I have 15 minutes set aside for this before school each day), to send emails home to parents requesting specific help, or to do what it takes to help students achieve their personal best.

I'm not claiming perfection here: I am not as consistent as I'd like to be in this practice or many others.  Time and countless other things get in the way of me achieving star teacher status.  I'm sure you get it.

But if students want to achieve their personal best, who am I to stop them?  In fact, isn't it my job to make sure they do so?

What do you think?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Run Around the Field For Five Minutes Routine

I'm in the middle of P6/Grade 5 exhibition with my students.  They are intently focused I would say about 80 percent of the time, but sometimes their eyes roll back in their heads or I actually catch them passed out in front of their computers.

(In another blog I'll write about how important it is during exhibition for teachers and mentors and parents to help in the finding of sites related to their research so students can actually focus in on the research rather than spending the entire six to nine weeks on google fruitlessly culling through millions upon millions of useless sites...)

Meantime, when my students get exhibition fatigue, I give them permission to step out of the room and go for a run.  They just need to look up at me, give me a nod, I give them a nod back, and they know they are allowed to scamper out onto the field for five minutes to clear their heads.  I have some students do it two or three times a day; some students never do it, and most students do it a few times each week.

What I do know is this: each time a student comes back, they're ready to get right back into what they were doing with renewed vim and vigor.  Either that or they've realized they need to be doing something else, and they get going on another aspect of their work.

Giving students permission to take responsibility for not only their own learning, but their own need-to-take-a-break time is important.  My ten and eleven year old students can handle it.  I trust them.  They haven't let me down yet.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Making Stuff With the Kids: It's Not Always About Technology

With all the hi-tech electronic gadgets and the all-consuming iPad, I am gratified that our children are still excited about making the modern-day version of the tin can telephone.  They could be playing on our iPhone and texting back and forth, but instead they are downstairs with their daddy stringing some communication devices together with thread and paper cups.  I love it!  And how do you like this bouquet of construction paper flowers we made yesterday?

My hubby is the crafty parent in the family.  Yesterday he and our eldest daughter made paper chain Chinese New Year decorations; then he and the two kids made "love guns" with Lego, the only kind this mommy will have in the house.  I'm sure they are real guns when I am out of hearing distance, but I get sprayed with bullets of love whenever I enter the room!

Charlotte also made a wand using a pencil, construction paper and a glue stick.  This gave our daughters hours of enchantment.  They were also inspired by recent forays in the movie and book worlds to craft their own "light savers" and Nimbus 2000 broomsticks out of Christmas gift wrap tubes.  It's fun to watch Star Wars and Harry Potter merge into their version of fantasy play.  (Light sabers trump broomsticks.)

At brunch on Sunday, Don taught the girls how to make cartoon figures on the paper tablecloth with chunky crayons, and we followed it up with  a rousing game of Xs and Os. We haven't given in to arming our daughters with iPhones on our dinner outings just yet.  So long as there are tablecloths and crayons, we'll be okay.  Last year, Charlotte made herself an XBox out of a tissue box and happily carried it out with her to restaurants so she could feel like part of the in-crowd.  She wasn't disturbed in the least that hers didn't take batteries.  She's outgrown her XBox, but the girls occasionally bring their knitting needles along when we go out so they can work on their never-ending scarf projects.

No doubt, they will be clamoring to playing "Dragon Vale" on the iPad sometime in the next few hours, but so long as we keep that down to 15 minutes segments we're hoping our kids can continue to embrace their imaginary play with their taped-together weapons and Sharpie microphones and tin can phones.

We're not perfect parents and they're not perfect kids; the apps and the computer will always have their attraction (for all of us), but it's gratifying to see kids having fun without having to resort to electronic entertainment every minute of every day.