Closing the gap between school and home :)

In an ever-busy and increasingly demanding classroom, it can be very difficult to forge strong home-school links. Too often, communication with parents is limited to reporting the ‘bad news’. Sometimes ensuring a strong social line from the school to the home is difficult because you don’t quite know the approach or tone to take.

This year I’ve found the opportunity to communicate with parents using ClassDojo to be integral in maintaining strong links to the home. From a practical point of view, the parent can check in on their child’s progress so they feel like more of an active participant than a passive bystander in their child’s daily school life. But moreover, I’ve found the simple messages of ‘Remember it’s Swimming tomorrow’ or ‘Don’t forget to bring your coat for the Sponsored Walk!’ to be a subtle but incredibly useful way to utilise the potential of ClassDojo. The parent gets an alert, they don’t need to say anything back. They’re happy to have the reminder!

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On the Right Track: A student engagement strategy!

A classroom where every student is hanging on your every word? Absolutely. Focused and learning every second? Without question. Even during whole group instruction? One hundred percent! Interested in what this level of student engagement looks and sounds like? Read on.

Students must be actively engaged for authentic learning to take place, and in a classroom where students track the teacher and each other, the level of student engagement is exceptionally high. What does tracking entail? Let’s explore.

Have you ever seen a primary student read using his or her finger to point at each word as it is read? We teach them to do that at a very young age – it’s called tracking. Tracking the teacher and one another in the classroom is much the same, except fingers are not pointed, eyes are following. Tracking others with our eyes and even our bodies shows focus, engagement, and respect for the speaker.

How do we track? When someone else is speaking, look at that person. Follow him or her with your eyes and your body. If he or she is walking across the room while speaking to you, turn your body to continue tracking him or her. Even lean in toward the speaker to show that you are paying attention and completely engaged.

Who should be tracked? Everyone in your classroom who speaks. Most importantly, students should be tracking the teacher. Any student, faculty member, or visitor in the classroom should also be tracked by teachers and students.

Who should be tracking? Everyone! Each person in your classroom should be tracking others when they speak. Teachers are most importantly the tracking role model! Students will take their cues from your tracking behavior, teachers, so track well if you expect your students to track others. Multi-tasking teachers, this means you! It is ok to multi-task and track at the same time, just make sure whatever you are doing with your hands can be done without looking if someone else is talking.

When should we track? All of the time! Students should be tracking the teacher from the first moment his or her mouth is opened. Students also need to be tracking each other when someone is speaking, whether it is their collaborative pair partner, a group member, or another student across the room during whole group instruction.

Why should we track? Tracking shows that we are aware of and focused on what is happening in the room. It demonstrates that we are listening and attentive to the speaker, and that we have respect for him or her. We track because it is an effective classroom technique that promotes and increases student engagement. We track because this level of focus and engagement inspires academic excellence.

Reward students for tracking appropriately. Give them candy, stickers, positive or reward points in your behavior management system. Rewarding students as a class encourages them to lead and prompt others in tracking, thus building community within your classroom environment.

Tracking is an excellent way for educators to increase student engagement and create a climate and culture that optimizes learning for all. Your students can be effortlessly engaged in instruction at all times when participating in this novel strategy. This ultimately leads to students who not only love coming to school and to your class, but also who are more successful, and perform better on multiple forms of assessments. What more could you ask for from a strategy that requires such little effort?

Signals for Success

What was that?! The bark of a dog? The whinny of a horse? The unmistakable “reeeep, reeeep” of crickets in the classroom? (Definitely not after you have just posed a question!) All of these are included in the plethora of ways you can alert your students that you want their attention.

What should be used to signal students? Any type of animal call or small percussion instrument – even the clap of a hand is easily employed as a student signal. There are literally scads of electronic sound files that could effortlessly be utilized in the classroom as attention alerts as well.

Why use sounds to signal students? Besides being novel, unique, and of high interest to students, audio sound signals for students are an essential classroom management tool. This strategy allows the teacher to gain students’ attention whenever he or she needs it. Signals are also more efficient and respectful than yelling or calling out “Hey, kids”, using too much talk to ask for students’ attention, or turning the room lights on and off. Keep these tips in mind for using signals successfully:

Model how students should respond to signals for attention. Teach them exactly how the signal and their response to it will look and sound, and give them plenty of practice.

Expecting immediate silence may be unrealistic. People have a natural need to get to a stopping point in their conversation or work (5-10 seconds should do it).

Don’t start speaking before everyone is silent. Waiting to speak lets students know that  everyone is expected to respond to the signal promptly – no exceptions, no excuses.

Don’t repeat the signal if it doesn’t get students’ attention the first time. Repeating the signal teaches students that they don’t have to focus and give you their attention right away—they can wait for the second or third repetition before they comply.

Be consistent when using established signals, or the signals will lose their power. A teacher could easily lose credibility as students will wonder if you really mean what you say and say what you mean.

Whether a clap rhythm, a drum, a chime, a rain stick, or a bird call, signaling your students and effectively gaining their attention and focus can be as easy as tying a shoelace. It takes practice, but once this simple and inexpensive routine is mastered it works every time! To learn more about signals, how to use them, and how to teach them, read “Signals for Quiet”, or watch Caltha Crowe in action using signals with a third grade class.

 

ClassDojo High School: Getting Started

When I was in kindergarten, my parents went to meet with Ms. Shanebourn and brought home what I would later call a report-card. In reality, it was like the check-list you fill in at a sushi-bar: plays well with others, cleans up after snack, spicy-tuna rising sun firecracker roll.

In middle school, the list was shorter, and letter grades appeared, but there were also areas for additional remarks. That’s where I learned that I am “funny” and “a pleasure in class.”

In high school, my grade was a letter with a few electronic tics next to pre-fabbed comments. There, no news was good news.

In college, just letters. Most were good. A few bummed me out. (Darn you, Stats!)

In short, from this trend, we learn that the older you get, the less “the system” cares about helping you to learn through providing thoughtful mentoring on your growth areas, and the more you are required to guess, assess, or maybe ask why you got a B and what you can do next semester to raise it.

ClassDojo, at the High School Level, can help you provide thoughtful, meaningful assessment on both “academic” and “character skills” which can lead to meaningful conversation, feedback, and growth. (I put those words in quote because while it’s useful to employ those terms to describe the range, it may be counterproductive to think of those categories as discrete or mutually exclusive).

Below, I’ve compiled four areas for using ClassDojo to provide meaningful feedback and a few strategies for using the data in meaningful ways. Mix and match, experiment, and let us know how it works for you!

ClassDojo Category 1: Student Ethic Modifier

How do you give a grade – or reward – or penalize a student for:

1. Contributing to discussion or disrupting discussion?

2. Showing up late vs. showing up on time?

3. Surrepticiously checking facebook during group work time?

4. Showing up for an appointment on time vs. not showing up?

5. Responding to emails promptly vs. ignoring them?

6. Coming to see you for problem-solving after a D- on a test vs. allowing problems to go unaddressed.

7. Helping students struggling with their work – or their technology – or not?

8. Talking out of turn, falling out of chairs, throwing things, leaving messes… cheering up a sad classmate, asking permission to assist a sick student, cleaning up after others…

It goes on and on.

Do you give a “Class Participation Grade?” If so, do you punish negative behaviors but “neutral” behaviors get nothing? Are they rewarded? Is a 100% class participation grade exemplary or normal? How do you weigh the relative merit of a student who raises his hand before speaking when also, he is late for class. Does he earn a B+? A-? C?

The Student Ethic Modifier is, on the one hand, the place in your gradebook where you assess everything that isn’t a quiz, test, or project. Some teachers call this a “class participation grade,” but for me, it’s at once more broad (covering not only how the student contributes to discussion or labs, but also things like correct computer use) and also more specific, covering things like whether a student deals with crises as they arise or lets them slide by until you chase him down in the hallway: aka the Cafeteria Intervention.

The Student Ethic Modifier covers some of the most important learning and growth goals; unfortunately, without gathering actual data, we rely on spotty recollection and anecdotal evidence.

How do you record this data and share this data?

ClassDojo

Step 1: At the beginning of the year, spend a class period talking about the Student Ethic Modifier. Cover how it:

1. Fosters a serious, constructive learning environment

2. Brings students’ attention to behavior patterns that can make them more or less effective in other classes, in jobs, and even in relationships.

3. Can ensure that the learning done in class sticks – and makes class worth their while.

Step 2: Present ClassDojo and the particular badges you will be assessing. In discussion or as homework, as students to review the list. What do they have questions or concerns about? What should be added?

Step 3: Present your ClassDojo Workflow.

  • Will you have the screen projected on the board for all to see?

My suggestion: at the high school level, and certainly in your first year, don’t project it. But offer that any student who wants to know what you’ve been recording about him/her can approach you after class or at your desk.

  • Will your tablet/smartphone ding or buzz when a student earns a badge, providing in-the-moment feedback?

My suggestion: for the first year, set all sounds to “off” while you get the hang of it. Then, experiment with it.

  • Will you hand out green chips for students in-the-moment which they bring to you after class to earn their badges, or will you commit to keeping on top of the badges on the spot?

My suggestion: keep ClassDojo on a smartphone for peripatetic feedback, and a tablet near your workstation for feedback during quiet worktime. If you can manage this, you may not need to hand out chips, especially at the high school level. That said, the extra visual, tactile feedback of a green chip may reinforce the behavior more effectively than a sound, and this technique might work well for certain students.

  • Will you provide them with the access code – and their families with the access code?

My suggestion: communicate with parents about the tool and your goals, field questions and concerns, but do not provide access in the first year, until you get the hang of it.

  • Will each red badge lower their grade and each green badge raise it?

My suggestion: reassure students that in almost every case, small mistakes that don’t reappear will have no effect on the Student Ethic Modifier. Trends (I usually call that three or more) will have an effect. Talk with students about what you expect of them if you inform them that they have been trending in a problematic way. For example, after 3 missed homeworks (yes, I count homework under Student Ethic), they are required to send an email to their advisor, apprising them of the situation. You and the advisor can then decide what the next course of action should be.

All this said, there is no “correct” or “incorrect” way to use ClassDojo. Make a decision you can live with and stick to it for a semester. Then reevaluate. This, by the way, is a great topic to discuss with your Mentor.

Step 4: At the end of the quarter and semester, when you sit down to grade and write progress reports or narratives, review the ClassDojo Student Ethic data, especially focusing on trends, shifts, and anecdotes noteworthy enough that, well, you took a note.

By the way, if you’re curious to learn more about the Student Ethic Modifier and would like to read more in depth about what adopting a Student Ethic Modifier can do for your class, check out the blog, here.

FTW is your BFF

“All beginnings are difficult.”

I remember the horrendous, red track-suit I wore on the the first day of sixth grade – and discovering that it did very little for my social cache.

I remember the anxiety of the first day of fifth grade; I was terrified I’d be assigned to the homeroom of the witchy-looking lady I’d seen in the hallways and I prayed I’d get the the tall, gangly guy. I got my wish, but it turned out that the tall, gangly guy was sort of mean. The witchy-looking lady, I later learned, only looked witchy.

I remember the first day of fourth grade, where our teacher introduced us to an octopus, pickled in a jar of formaldehyde. It lived in his supply closet. If he caught anyone messing with his supplies, he said, he’d lock us in there with “Octy.”

All beginnings are difficult.

This sentence, written in the Talmud, and which I learned on the first day of my Educator’s Program, helps us to anticipate difficulty – and to feel that the emotional challenges that accompany new chapters are normative.

And every class, four years of study, and 12 years of teaching later, features difficulty – I am both nervous and excited. I am prepared but I never feel utterly prepared from my head to my toes: there is unknown in every class.

The first 10 minutes of class is the time when students are most unruly, you are most vulnerable, and where getting down to business is most challenging.

The solution is First Thing Work. It is posted in the class agenda, it’s ready the moment students walk in, and their job is to do it first. My job is to avoid distraction, set up my computer, take attendance, and check in quietly with students who have emergencies.

Here are a few models for FTW:

Model One: Looking Forward

Offer one or two prompts on a theme related to class. For example, in a class on Hamlet, the prompt may be: “Tell a story about a time when you wrestled with a difficult choice, where the stakes were high?”

Carefully compose prompts that the vast majority of students could answer.

Offer a second, more general prompt: “How do you deal with making a difficult choice?”

A third, more general prompt, might be, “What advice do you have for people facing a difficult choice?”

After writing on their choice of prompts, students then work on “Anchorwork.” Anchorwork is, as it sounds, work designed to keep students focused – and not to drift away from the environment for learning you and they have created for the last five minutes.

Anchorwork can be a drill, a fascinating article, a creative project they have been working on for a few weeks, or even a headstart on the homework.

After five to seven minutes of quiet writing, ask students to share their stories, ideas, and conclusions. Offer a few summary remarks, and move on to your lesson plan.

Additional benefits: many students have reported in my classes that these sharing sessions help them learn about their classmates’ lives – people they see and interact with every day but don’t always really know. This bonding contributes to a warm class atmosphere and to better learning.

Alternate model: use an online service like Polleverywhere.com (or jerry-rig a low-tech silent poll with dry-erase markers) to poll students about something in their lives. Offer a second prompt where they assess or speculate about the results of the poll. For example: why did 75% of the class feel that Kale is the new broccoli? What factors might have contributed to this? What might lead to a shift in these results?

Model Two: Looking Back

Use bellwork as a time for summative assessment. (For those watching at home, “summative assessment” refers to mini-quizzes you do during a unit to see how students are coming along, evaluate your strategy, plan interventions, etc.)

For example, use an online service like exittix.com or socrative.com to have students answer some simple questions about the homework and, through the miracle of the internet, see their scores immediately. Students who struggle meet in a seminar with you for clarification. Students who “pass” move on to the next step.

(If you need a low tech version, prepare answer keys students can grab when they are ready – or have them grade each others’ work).

Summary

No matter what you do with your FTW, the following principles apply:

1. Students must be able to access it immediately upon entering the room, whether it’s online, in a binder on your desk, or rested in stacks in the students’ work area.

2. It should be work students can do with minimal questions or clarification, since you’ll need that time to check attendance, set up your computer, launch ClassDojo, etc.

3. It should not be work that needs grading. You have enough to grade as it is. That said, I do have colleagues who collect and grade them and, well, I trust their rationale.

4. Teach students, at the beginning of the year, that FTW factors into their Student Ethic Modifier. If a student is slow on the draw one day – misses a class – or misses FTW due to tardiness, s/he doesn’t need to make it up, necessarily – as long as it is not a pattern. For more on Class Ethic Modifier, I invite you to my blog, “The Most Helpful 3% In the Class.”

5. While bell work can, without much planning, make beginnings of class “less difficult,” with practice and effort, it can become an effective way to introduce ideas and materials for a powerful class experience.

“My name is Evan and I’m addicted to Koosh Balls.”: Using Speaker’s Lists and Koosh Balls for Discussion Facilitation.

It all started with a peanut.

The teacher was offering salty, shelled peanuts to students who answered questions correctly. It was my turn and she asked me the question, something about verbs. Or adverbs. I blurted out the answer, and hands shot up; I watched in horror as the teacher called on another student to answer and give him the peanut. My peanut.

The worst part was that the second I said the wrong answer, I realized my error… but I could do nothing about it. My peanut was gone.

Solution 1: The Speaker’s List

Years later, as an adult, I joined a housing cooperative in Madison, Wisconsin. The co-op system had meetings to decide everything: whether to invite an applicant to live in the house, how to invest our $10,000 budget windfall, whether to stop buying cheese.

Those meetings might have been nightmares (and indeed, sometimes they were), but one thing kept meetings orderly: when it was your turn to speak, one thing made sure your peanut was not given to someone else.

The speaker’s list.

If you wanted to speak, your name went on a list. When it was your turn, it was your turn. And you were not done speaking when someone else said you were done, you were done when you said, “pass.”

Was this abused? Sometimes. Rarely.

Mostly, it made people feel heard and seen and in control of their own words.

As a teacher, I quickly adopted this technique. I would ask a question, and instead of hands popping up and competing for my attention, I would simply assign numbers. No more than 7. And the next student didn’t get to speak until the previous student said “pass.”

This was not a good method for debate, but very good for exploring ideas, which is most of what my class is about.

Solution 2: The Koosh Ball

Still, something was not complete. I was still serving as the speaker’s list keeper and calling on the next speaker, and sometimes, the list felt a little heavy handed. Furthermore, sometimes, I would ask a question and find that getting even one or two speakers was a challenge.

In a groovy book on leading “Rap Sessions,” written by somebody in the 70s with incredible, spherical hair, I encountered the idea of a talking stick. The person with the stick speaks. Everyone else listens.

But what if the next person to speak is 15 feet away? Could a talking stick be easy to catch, easy to throw, and soft, in case someone got hit in the eye? The answer is yes. If the stick is a Koosh Ball.

A tennis ball will bounce and roll, creating havok. A hackysack is easy to throw but hard to catch. A bowling ball is too heavy. The perfect catchable, tossable, safe talking stick is a Koosh Ball.

They are no longer in production, but you can buy them here for a few dollars each. I have one in my backpack at all times. And I only go through one or two a year.

Here are some additional benefits to using speakers’ lists and Koosh Balls:

1. The koosh serves as a visual reminder of who is speaking. This is one piece in the classroom-management-without-raising-your-voice puzzle.

2. The Koosh gives you a way of correcting out of turn speakers in a concrete, non-judgmental way: “Make sure you’re only speaking when you have the Koosh” is much more clear than, “Stop talking out of turn.”

3. Some students like to fidget with the Koosh while they speak, and while I also teach articulate speaking in appropriate contexts, the kind of dreamy rhapsodizing that comes with having something to fiddle with while speaking can actually allow for freer, more creative expression.

4. While you can create a hybrid speaker’s list / koosh conversation, where the next person on the list gets the koosh, the koosh can also allow the currect speaker to choose who speaks next.

5. Facilitation through speakers’ list and/or Koosh Balls allows you to step out of actively facilitating the discussion, allowing you to listen more deeply to the individual students and the class “gestaldt” – after six or seven students speak, then, offer your observations and conclusions. I call this “curation,” you can read more about “Curation As Discussion” here.

6. Using a speakers’ list and Koosh Ball helps you focus on the quality of your questions. Fewer, clearer, open-ended questions are far more effective than many, guided, leading questions. When you get accustomed to asking questions that seven students can answer seven different ways, you’re developing your skills as a master teacher.

Conclusion: These two techniques are part of creating a class atmosphere that is lively without being frenetic, and where students feel seen and heard. Please share your tips and ideas for discussion facilitation below.

You know what I’d pay you for a good idea?

Peanuts.

Differentiating in Baby Steps, Part 2: Getting your feet in the Differentiation Kiddie Pool

You may want to read Part 1 on Differentiating in Baby Steps first, here.

The main books on differentiation are by Carol Ann Tomlinson; she stresses that you must enter into differentiating your classroom slowly, and trying one small thing at a time.

The problem with this very true statement is that, well, it’s sort of like the first time I went out for Dim Sum as a 17 year old. The adult friend of my parents said, “You can’t try everything, so just pick a few things and see what you like.”

But everything looked scary. I needed a place to start.

So to with that great, mysterious Dim Sum Dumpling of Differentiation in the Classroom: I’d like to offer you a great way to start.

Differentiate by Pace – Solve Behavior Problems at the Same Time

Here’s the scenario: students have an assignment in class. It might be solo, it might be in groups. What do they do when they’re done?

Here’s what I used to do: tell the students that they must tell me when they’re done with their assignment. Then, while supervising their work, I’d try to drum up some extra work for them to do if they finished early. Invariably, however, a couple of students would finish their work way too fast, and initiate WWF-style wrestling matches in the back of the room.

Me-as-beginner-teacher: “I told you to tell me when you were done!

Student: “But there were only 18 minutes to the end of class.”

Me-as-beginner-teacher: “You can learn a lot in 18 minutes!”

Student: “You can’t learn anything in 18 minutes.

Me-as-a-beginner-teacher: “Oh, you need to meet my friend TED. TED would totally disagree.

It was a lost battle. The student had unplugged. Net result: I disciplined the student. The student sulked for a week. Lose-lose.

More problematic than Sulky-Student-Syndrome is the fact that this student who finished early a) might have burned through the work early as an incentive to slack off for 18 minutes, and b) Might have gone on to learn (or produce) great stuff if I’d planned ahead.

ANCHOR ACTIVITIES

Tomlinson speaks about “Anchor Activities,” in her books: specified, ongoing activities that students can start class with or return to after completing work. It keeps them “anchored” in learning – preventing drift and preventing back-of-class-melee-combat.

As you can imagine, it needs to be interesting enough to draw idle students to it, but it must be educationally sound.

The IDEAL and the REAL

Ideally, the anchor activity would be deeply meaningful, build a skill-set, and engage the student in a long-range product. BUT…that’s sending a new teacher back to burn-out-territory. Let’s find a balance between anchorwork that’s easy to create, fun to do, and that will not require you to design two units instead of one.

My suggestions:

1. When you design each unit, comb YouTube for thoughtful videos thematically related to that topic. Assemble links to videos in a Googledoc or in a binder (you can use bit.ly or tinyurl.com to rename the links with helpful titles instead of URL gobbledygook). Students can pick and watch videos and can choose from the activities below (which you can set up, based on what you have the bandwidth to supervise / teach)

a. Write a short editorial on what you saw. For example: what resonates with you? What do you object to?

b. Use provided art supplies to create a poster, children’s book, or collage on the theme of the video.

c. Use an online source like Pixton, Toondoo, Powtoon, or GoAnimate to share your thoughts or experiences on the theme.

2. Comb blogs related to popular-science magazines for articles thematically-related to the unit; bonus points if the article is a little controversial. I teach literature, so I look for Pyschology Today articles, making for interesting reading – especially when the articles are about teenagers, and students may vehemently disagree with the premises! Here are some ideas:

a. Student reads the article and writes a response to the author: do you agree or disagree with certain claims the author makes? Thank the author for helpful ideas, and suggest alternate ways of understanding teens’ experiences in areas where you disagree.

b. Each student keeps a blog in which s/he writes editorials on the articles s/he reads.

c. Student keeps a journal – written or comic strip form – and writes about his/her own experiences in regards to the topic.

3. Homework incentive

Finally, if I don’t have time to arrange anchorwork or I choose not to, students can move on to homework when they finish their classwork.

On the one hand, this was always my preference (certainly over WWF wrestling), but here’s the catch. I used to just say (over and over, in fact), that when students were done, they should do homework.

template

But before, I didn’t use a lesson-plan template like this: I post this template each day on the class calendar, and if there is no anchorwork, I write, “See homework.” (For more on how I use templates, read my post here,)

Now, students see it. It’s real.

Finish your work early, and you’re are accountable for the next step. Even if it’s just homework.

No more WWF.

This is part 2 of a 4 part series. Read part 3, here

Scaffolding behaviors leads to intrinsic motivation

I believe that people inherently want to do the right thing.  This absolutely includes our students (although it sometimes might not seem like it). Most people like to know where they stand. We all like to know what is acceptable and what will get us into trouble. Students often test teachers in order to explore these boundaries. There is nothing worse than having a teacher leaping out to enforce rules and regulations that students were only dimly aware of.

Your students already know the rules

If your classroom’s rules are fair and clear, most students will be following them within a couple of months, if not before. I teach middle (and sometimes high) school. The students I teach have attended school for many years. They already know how to behave in a classroom. When I was their age, there was nothing worse than the first week of term when every single teacher’s first lesson was about their behavior expectations. I try to take a different approach. My first lesson is a real lesson, I teach them something. Then I decide if I need to tackle poor behavior or if they are already on track.

Seriously, they already know the rules!

Most of my colleagues ask students which rules they would like for their classroom. I have not done this since my first year of teaching when a 12 year old said “Miss, you’re the teacher. You tell us,” and would not accept my appeals that I wanted the class to have ownership. Anyway, the rules I would be asking them to ‘write’ are the standard “Listen to others, be respectful, be prepared for lessons” etc etc.

Beware the floating voters

Instead, choose five things that you want to see in your classroom, five things you want your students to do every lesson. And recognize them for it. Your major behavioral problems are not coming so much from the minority of children with behavioral special needs (although, of course those students are challenging), but from the floating voters. The children who need to see which way the wind is blowing before they act. If those children see that you appreciate their good behavior, they are much less likely to act up.

Consistency is not as big a deal as everyone says (sorry)

But, and this is a bit rebellious of me, don’t worry about consistency that much. Rewards are much more powerful when they are a bit unpredictable. Yes, students want you to be consistent and I’m not suggesting you should be actively unfair. But it is okay to forget to reward certain behaviors once in a while. Just as long as you get around to it the next time.

The ultimate goal is to be intrinsically motivated

You do not want to create adults who only do things because they will be praised or get 5 minutes of free time. You want adults who self-regulate their behavior because it is the right thing to do. Slowly start to wean your students off of extrinsic rewards towards the end of the year. See if they continue this positive behavior. If your students are doing the right thing without external motivation, then the rewards have served their purpose.

Engage students with the help of your interactive whiteboard!

Thousands of classrooms across the country now have interactive whiteboards (IWBs) at the front of the room. Many teachers use these boards the same way they once used a pull-down screen and an overhead projector: to show transparencies and presentations. But the IWB can be so much more than that. Without much change in your classroom routine, you can use the IWB as a valuable tool for classroom management.

Controlling the IWB from the back of the room

It’s difficult to manage a classroom when your back is to your students. With a traditional chalkboard or whiteboard, you had no choice but to turn your back to the class while you wrote.

With an interactive whiteboard, there are apps that allow you to control your IWB from anywhere in the classroom. The champion in this area is Doceri. Doceri allows you to control your computer using an iPad. Hook your computer up to the IWB and control it remotely as you walk around the class.

In addition to simple controls, Doceri allows you to annotate over content on your computer. For example, if you want to model close reading of a website, you can underline, make notes, and highlight as needed. If you really want to write a lot on your iPad, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a stylus.

Use ClassDojo on the IWB

ClassDojo works great on the IWB. Project your class on the board and provide real time feedback on class behavior. It’s an easy way to run ClassDojo with only one computer and the IWB. And giving away points keeps individual students and small groups on task! Just make sure you have rewards ready (5-minute dance party, anyone?) for students who reach your benchmarks.

Using the IWB for small group time

The IWB isn’t reserved for whole class activities or presentations. If you have small groups of students rotating through activity stations around the room, try having one station be the IWB. You can create a self-paced activity in ActivInspire, have students annotate a text or fill in a graphic organizer, or work together to play a game or complete an online activity. Check out sites like PBS Kids, BrainPOP, or game directories to see what’s available. There’s probably something already created for your lesson.

How do you use the IWB for classroom management? Leave a comment and let us know!

Boys on one side, girls on the other…

I went to a Catholic high school that had only become co-ed a few years before I attended. The boy to girl ratio was not yet balanced out, and the issue of gender bias became particularly evident in my 9th grade PE class when our teacher announced, “Boys will play football, girls can walk around the track and talk.” As a competitive gymnast, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be told not to exert myself, and there were several boys who warmed the bench for the entire quarter having been dubbed too “unathletic” to participate. But no one complained because, as 14-year-olds, it was easier to just remain in our gender enclaves where we didn’t have to deal with each other, or even worse, consider identity issues. For younger students, it’s routine that they clump themselves together on playgrounds like penguins in the arctic, but this is all the more reason for teachers to aim for a more integrated classroom, uniting students rather than dividing.

Here are some ideas for how teachers can integrate and unify classrooms no matter what the gender ratios may be:

Establishing a unified classroom

It often takes a bit of effort to encourage students to feel comfortable working with classmates of the opposite sex. Consider setting up a boy-girl icebreaker activity early in the year that requires students to interview each other. Give boys opportunities to act as leaders in reading groups; give girls the same treatment when it comes to math. Demystify the gender divide by reading chapter books that feature boy-girl friendships: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson is an excellent book, as is December Secrets by Patricia Giff.

Seating assignments

Some teachers opt for a “girl-boy-girl” seating arrangement, but this again sends the message that there is something oddball about boys and girls naturally working together. Instead, consider seating students according to personality or interests. Introverted students can be supported by a nearby extrovert. Quiet students can offer appropriate reminders to a chatty neighbor. Seat sports fans near artists and gamers—everyone is sure to learn something new. Celebrating diversity can help facilitate conversation, cooperation, and friendship amongst many groups of students—not just boys and girls.

Classroom arrangement

Pay attention to those areas in your classroom with single-sex groups tend to congregate. The art table, the fish tank, science materials, Bosu ball, computer and iPad stations, and makerspaces are all areas that have the potential to divide and conquer. Consider moving stations, and encouraging students to share and rotate groups. Jigsaw activities, where student-experts present information to another group, are a great way to pique new interests and integrate groups. Finally, consider setting up stations so that they include gender-neutral materials; art stations don’t have to be all glitter and heart stickers, and building stations can easily include blocks and sets that don’t discourage girls from handling them.

Consider your own attitude

How often do we hear teachers saying, “Good morning boys and girls”? A simple change to, “Good morning class” sets the tone for unity. Consider how you treat a sensitive boy. Do you comfort him when he’s upset, or do expect that he learn how to handle his emotions on his own? When working with a take-charge girl, do you discourage her?  Expect that she learn how to stop being so “bossy”? Do you give more attention to a compliant girl than to an energetic boy? Finally, remember to use gender neutral language and avoid generalizations. Always encourage students to do the same, and they will begin to follow your lead.