Teaching Tips: Why planning matters

Something to think about…

I was observing a student a couple of weeks ago in a delightful third grade classroom. This teacher was a master at delivering content and helping kids stay engaged with her lesson. She did this in subtle, loving ways, without embarrassing anyone or making anyone feel inadequate. She had templates of notes for some of the students, making it easier for them to follow along. She paired some of the kids, knowing their strengths and needs, and allowing them to help each other. Some of the students had received pre-teaching materials in their folders the week before. Each student participated actively, at his or her own level, and the objectives of the lesson were accomplished.

I noticed, while I was observing, a poster at the back of the room that read,

“If you don’t have time to do it right,

                                          you must have time to do it over.”

She probably hung that poster at the beginning of the year, in hopes of inspiring her students. I’m sure she has read it countless times. But get this: She was LIVING it.

She was encouraging kids to learn the first time, with gentle reminders and careful prompts, knowing that a stray reprimand or a thoughtless remark could ruin a child’s day. Or the whole learning experience. She demonstrated an understanding that although planning her own teaching behavior takes extra time and effort, it very likely prevented issues with behavior, frustration and attention.

She was the kind of teacher who knew that the time it would take to “do it over,” would mean more than re-teaching content; it would mean repairing a broken spirit.

She took the time to do it right.

Teaching Tips: More strategies for group discussions

Last week, we talked about helping kids to take turns during groups discussions. Most of that post focused on helping kids who “over-participate” to understand conversational turns. But what about kids who have trouble merging onto the “discussion highway?”  This difficulty can stem for a variety of causes, such as anxiety, language-based learning disabilities, memory issues and motor-based problems like apraxia. Whatever the reason, teachers and volunteers can help kids participate comfortably by trying some of the strategies below.

Offer choices: Sometimes, emotional or learning problems prevent kids from answering a question with confidence. To remedy this, offer the needed words in the body of the question. For example, “Joe, for our class service project, should we make a bulletin board or clean the toy room?”  Joe can voice his opinion without having to formulate a whole sentence. Similarly, yes/no questions can allow a quieter member of the class to participate verbally, or even through a nod or shake of the head.

Every Pupil Response: We’ve all led discussions during which a few kids do the majority of the talking. When this happens, it’s hard to assess whether everyone has mastered the content, and even more difficult to encourage some of the less-verbal kids to participate.   Instead of asking, “Who can tell me if Jonah was obedient?” the teacher would instead say, “If you think Jonah was obedient, give me a thumbs up; if you think he was disobedient, give me a thumbs down.” Once the kids show their opinions, the teacher can then ask, “Jane, why do you think that?” or “Mike, give me an example that helped you make your opinion.” This strategy allows every student to show what he/she knows without the risk of being put on the spot. The added benefit is increased attention for all kids because they know that the teacher is expecting a response from everyone. To keep kids even more engaged, teachers can change-up the response method. Instead of “thumbs up/down,” use a variety of prompts: hands on head, finger on ear, hand on heart, etc.

Stage a Set-Up  Kids who have difficulty with conversation sometimes do better with a bit of preparation. Covertly pulling a child aside and letting him/her know the question that will be asked during discussion time can allow the child to ready him/herself for participation.

Think-Pair-Share  Sometimes, it is easier for a student to share ideas with one person than with a whole group. When asking an open-ended question, like “How can you show that you love your neighbor?” try the Think-Pair-Share strategy. First, tell students that you are going to ask a question, and you would like them to think quietly about their answer. Next, ask the students to tell their ideas to one peer in the group. Finally, ask the students to have one member of the pair to tell the ideas. This allows kids to participate in a structured social activity which may be less threatening than jumping into a large-group discussion.

Popsicle Picks  When teachers ask a question, some students can quickly monopolize the conversation. One strategy that can add some structure is eliminating the hand-raising in favor of picking a name at random. My colleague, Sheri Halagan writes each student’s name on a popsicle stick and then picks a name to answer her questions. Lest you think that this might put a shy student on the spot, Sheri is quite savvy when “randomly” selecting names. Although the students believe that she is choosing names randomly, Sheri knows her students and their needs. She carefully matches kids and questions to set everyone up for success during group discussions.

Wait Time We are ALL uncomfortable with awkward pauses in conversations! However, as teachers, we need to embrace the silence. In an age of instant gratification, we need to remember–and teach children–that sometimes, we need to think things through, gather our thoughts, and consider the possibilities. It’s necessary to build some wait-time into discussions with kids: “I’m going to describe a problem in our community, and I want everyone to just think about what your solution to this problem might be.” This wait time helps every student! In addition, when calling on students individually, resist moving on too quickly when the student doesn’t answer. Allowing wait time can offer an opportunity for a child to be heard.

Got a strategy that works? Please share it with others here in the comment section!
I’ll give you some wait time…


Teaching Tips: Helping kids take turns in group discussions

“Oh! Oh! I know! I know the answer! Call on ME!”

It’s hard to ignore the enthusiasm of  a student who is so eager to share ideas. However, group discussions can be difficult for some students with hidden disabilities. These kids might struggle with turn-taking, reading social cues, impulse control and short-term memory. As a result, their contributions to conversations can be off-topic or repetitive. When called on, they may begin to “monologue” about a topic of interest, or struggle to retrieve the words and phrases necessary to answer the question.

Sound familiar? If so, here are a couple of real-life scenarios, along with solutions that really work!

Problem: A kindergarten student with autism who loves raising his hand during Sunday School discussions became frustrated and angry when he wasn’t called on each time. This frustration often led to tears, and sometimes even tantrums.  His volunteer buddy tried to distract him and help him to take turns, but he continued to struggle.
Solution: We suggested that the buddy give this child 2 or 3 legos. Each lego represented one turn in the group conversation. After each turn, the child gave a lego to his buddy. When the legos were gone, he was done with his turns for that conversation.
The Result: The student did very well with this tangible reminder of turn-taking. He was able to share ideas with increased structure and remained in his class for the entire hour.

Problem: When participating in a girls’ small group, a ninth grade student with ADHD blurted her opinion to every discussion question before the other girls had an opportunity to speak. The youth group leader noticed that some girls in the group had started to roll their eyes and tune this student out.
Solution:  The leader took the student aside and gently talked with her about the issue. The leader suggested that the student try being the third or fourth person to answer a question instead of the first. They also developed a non-verbal cueing system that helped the student manage the length of her responses.
The Result: More aware of her tendency to blurt out answers, the student has used her new strategy in youth group with great success. She also has applied it to school discussions and informal conversations with friends.

Okay…Raise your hand if you have another good solution for this problem! Please share it in the comment section…

Yours for peaceful and productive discussions~