Hidden Gems of ClassDojo — The SUPER-Dojo!

This is the first in a series of blog posts highlighting some of the hidden gems of ClassDojo that you may not have heard of.

Sometimes the brilliant behaviour that your students exhibit deserves something more than the 1-point-ping from ClassDojo. Sometimes the student is so good, you end up pressing that reward button several times. Sometimes you want to make a behaviour just a little bit more special and sometimes a 1 point reward just isn’t enough.

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8 tips for training a student-teacher!

First time mentoring a student-teacher? After having many student-teachers in my classroom over the years, I wanted to share some of my best kept secrets 🙂

1) Focus on only one or two development areas at a time. Let them know what your focus will be. I had a mentor who would only give feedback on what I was doing wrong. Even after sharpening up in the areas she had perviously mentioned, she would instantly move on to the next thing I was doing wrong. I had no idea what my strengths were or what I should focus on.

2) Try to space your feedback. Giving specific feedback every lesson is can be excessive and overwhelming. Just like you, your student-teacher needs time to reflect on the lesson before they are able to make changes to their practice. I prefer to give feedback once a week at a set time.

3) Remember to praise! Being a student-teacher can be emotionally taxing. If they are on the right track, let them know. They might even come up with new teaching strategies that you want to try out — let them know you appreciate their ideas.

4) Show them how it’s done! After all, you are a mentor for a reason. I try to showcase the things that really make a difference for my classes. Some of the things we do as teachers are subtle, don’t be afraid to flag them up for the benefit of the student watching.

5) Consider what makes your teaching style unique and effective, and share this with your student-teacher! One of my amazing mentors had thousands of tips and tricks to tell me about. He could break down his technique into handy chunks and tell me about each step. He also had great advice about the non-classroom side of teaching. I think there’s a little bit of his style in my teaching today.

6) If you can, have your student-teacher sit in on parent/teacher conferences. They can either sit back and listen or contribute to the discussion. After all, they will need to know what to say when it is their turn.

7) Ask the student-teacher how they think a lesson went. People often have a very good idea of where they are going wrong already and just need your expertise for how to avoid it in future.

8) Enjoy it! Having someone in your classroom who has fresh insight into new teaching practices can give you amazing ideas and can help rejuvenate your practice.

Send delightful voice notes to parents!

Teachers can now instantly send voice notes home to parents using ClassDojo Messenger! Voice notes keep parents in the loop even easier than before 🙂 With just a tap (and hold) of a button, teachers send voice notes as a broadcast to all parents or as a private message to just one parent.

With Voice Notes, we’re excited that teachers can express empathy, passion, and excitement — all of which are difficult to do with text based messages. We believe that this will continue to help teachers save time while also building stronger teacher-parent relationships!

We are excited to have you try it out! Teachers can sign up to join the wait list here: http://www.classdojo.com/voicenotes

Learn more about ClassDojo Messenger here: http://www.classdojo.com/messenger

Every second counts!

How time flies! It is the first day of school, and then before you can turn around the end of the school year is approaching. Time in the classroom is a precious commodity. Every second counts! So what are some strategies we can use to improve our time management and increase productivity for both our students and ourselves?

Take a lesson from the Boy Scouts: be prepared. Get to school early and get materials and equipment ready for the day. This way you can “hit the ground running” when your students come in, and no instructional time is lost while you are getting ready.

Encourage a climate of urgency. Have the attitude that every second is precious. Every second wasted is a second that students are not learning, and that is not ok! After all, learning is the most important aspect of what goes on in the classroom!

Have a free choice board available for early finishers. Those who complete tasks early need to be productively engaged. If they are not peer tutoring or helping another group complete a task, they should be actively working toward finishing one of the items listed on the free choice board. This could include studying domain specific vocabulary words, writing in a journal, reading a book, or whatever you deem valuable and appropriate.

Use a timer and/or music for faster, smoother transitions. Give students a time limit. It could be 30 seconds to a minute, depending on what needs to be accomplished. Reward the first group of students that has completed all of your requests. Playing a short clip of music from a computer, CD, or mobile device is also effective and fun for the students. Vary the music to fit the mood and tone of your classroom, your students, and yourself. Challenge your students to accomplish the transition before the music stops. Consider even using this short transitional clip of music as a lead-in to your content lesson. You will be amazed how much time you save!

Time students when they are solving problems or discussing lesson content with partners or groups. This keeps the pace of the lesson moving, and students aren’t as likely to get stuck or distracted. After the time limit has expired, share and discuss the completed mini-task with the class, and move on to the next part of the lesson. This method is effective because it gives students a chance to process and share the content of the lesson verbally with a group or partner in short snippets. This breaks the lesson up, and as a result, keeps students more engaged.

Utilize signals for activity changes. Students love variety, so collect some noisemakers (or even sound files on your mobile device) to use as a signal when you want the attention of the entire group. This is a time-saving, immediate way to focus the group when needed.

Remember that children thrive on routine, so stay on schedule! Even if you don’t get to the end of your lesson, find a “Plan B” stopping point, and move on to the next scheduled part of your day. You can always come back to it later if there is time. If not, at least you are getting everything in that you originally scheduled. Will you feel sometimes like you never finish anything? Yes! However, staying on schedule helps you keep a healthy pace, and exposes students to the maximum amount of content you had planned.

Being an effective time manager in the classroom is one of the characteristics of a highly effective teacher. Remember to keep that sense of urgency about time and learning alive in your classroom!

 

Don’t let tech scare you – how to digitize your classroom!

As a teacher, I have a love-hate relationship with “what-ifs.” On one hand, I love dreaming. I love wondering about what’s possible if we make changes to learning environments, curriculums, and expectations. These thoughts propel me forward and empower my students to do great things. However, “what-ifs” can also put up boundaries to innovation. What if students make poor choices online? What if the laptop becomes too much of a distraction in learning? These kinds of “what-ifs” stifle innovation and can easily paralyze my teaching.

This past year, my school was lucky enough to pilot a 1:1 laptop program. I was a bit nervous incorporating this program into my classroom. I said to myself, “What if I can’t control all of this technology?!” Despite my worries, we went forward with the pilot program. Things didn’t go perfectly. However, through these mistakes my students and I learned a variety of life-lessons:

1. Staying on task

Before the 1:1 program students would find ways to be off task. They would pass notes or stare up at the ceiling. But now there was a beautiful shiny object in front of them at all times. We had to work together to find ways to stay focused. I loved seeing my students become more aware of their temptations and set better boundaries for themselves. They wrote themselves reminders and held each other accountable.

2. Paying attention to people 

About half way through the school year, my students became obsessed with an online game. Their recess became consumed with trying to beat the high score. Even class conversations surrounded who was currently the leader. Shortly after I realized this, we sat down for a heart-to-heart. I shared with them my observations and told them I didn’t want to see them on their screens anymore during recess. I saw relief wash over their faces as I freed them up to be social again. We challenged each other to pay attention to people and have real conversations about real things. We learned why it’s important to look up.

3. Helping others improve

Going 1:1 changed our classroom environment. Suddenly everything was collaborative. Through Google Apps for Education, students were able to easily share their work with one another and receive feedback. We learned to work together and seek out many voices throughout the creation process. A proud moment was when I discovered that each student had shared their final essay with an average of four other students. They are working together to become better readers, writers, and teachers.

So yes, the “what-ifs” of going 1:1 can be scary, and I promise you students will make mistakes. But I believe it’s worth the risk. My students and I learned so many life lessons through both the mishaps and the success stories — I would say our pilot program was quite a success.

New Teacher Survival (series) #4: Working with challenging students

Let’s face it, kids are human, and some of them are more easygoing than others. We’ve all had that one kid in our class who knew exactly how to push our buttons and seemed to make it his or her mission to ruin our day. Sound familiar? If not, you are lucky! I have at least one student every year who pushes all the boundaries and tests my seemingly endless patience.

There is definitely a spectrum of bad behaviors and I’ve seen them all. From subtle eye-rolling and forgetting to raise one’s hand, to literal assault and blood-shed. I could write multiple volumes about what works and what doesn’t, but for now I’m going to focus on the low-level, everyday annoyances that can disrupt learning and derail your class on a daily basis.

Just like you have tiers of intervention for academics, think of behavior management as having multiple tiers as well. Tier 1 would be your run-of-the-mill, whole class point system. This is the level that generally keeps things moving along and relies mostly on peer pressure to be successful. Tier 2 is an additional level of behavior support, think star charts for individual students, or weekly communication to parents.

If you feel like you need more behavior support for a particular student, ask yourself a few questions first:

1. Does the disruptive behavior happen at a particular time, or during certain types of activities?

If you can identify what is causing the behavior to happen, you are halfway to solving the problem. If you can determine that a student is bored, struggling, or having a hard time at home, you can try and adjust your teaching or help them in another way. Preventing the behavior from happening is better than constantly doling out consequences.

2. Does the student respond to positive reinforcement?

If so, try to capitalize on this. Give praise every time they do something right, even if it feels excessive. Make sure your positive comments are more frequent than the negative. Using a classroom management tool like ClassDojo is great for this, because you can actually see the breakdown of positive to negative feedback for each student.

3. Is their family supportive of your efforts?

If so, try to communicate with them frequently. The most powerful tool you have to improve student behavior is a good working relationship with their family.

4. Still not improving?

Don’t reinvent the wheel! My first year, I had four different students on four different behavior plans which was almost impossible to maintain. If you need to implement a behavior plan, use your existing structure, and focus on 2-3 behaviors at most. For example, if you use ClassDojo, or another point system, come up with a contract that states how many points for a specific behavior a student must receive each day or week to earn a prize. The prize doesn’t have to be fancy, it should be something that is easy for you to provide on a weekly basis. It also helps immensely if there is a reward at home as well. Your student should help design their behavior plan. Students are much more likely to buy in if they’ve had a voice in its creation.

Like I said before, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to behavior issues, but this is a good place to start!

 

This is Part 4 of a 4 part series by Emily Dahm. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here

New Teacher Survival (series) #3: Classroom management 101

As I prepared for my first year of teaching, I was so excited for the school year to begin. I wrote each of my students a postcard welcoming them to my class. I bought each student a pencil box and used my fancy new label maker to put their name on it. I felt so ready my first day, I had everything scripted, every moment planned. And then my students arrived. Within the first five minutes of my opening circle, one of my third graders had tied his shoes together, another student had locked himself in the bathroom, and two girls were crying. I only had 20 students in my class, but I had completely lost control. Unfortunately, this day set the tone for the year, and I never quite recovered. But I sure learned a lot! Here are my top tips for managing your class:

1. Have a procedure for everything

Before the school year begins, you should have an idea about how you want things to be done in your room. Write everything down, from sharpening pencils, to using the restroom. Within the first few days of school, teach these procedures explicitly, and practice them repeatedly. You can even make it a game! Challenge the class to beat their time lining up quietly, give praise or rewards when they succeed. Make them do it again when they don’t. This can seem tedious and time consuming, but it will make your class run much smoother.

2. Be proactive not reactive

Figure out what your classroom management system will be before the students arrive (like many teachers, I use ClassDojo). Make sure it is something that is easy to stick with. If you have a point system, make sure you know what will happen if your students receive a certain amount of points. Don’t make the prize too difficult to obtain, or students will lose interest. You also need to decide what consequences will occur when a student breaks a rule, or misses an assignment. Try to connect with every student, if a student is particularly difficult, go out of your way to catch them doing things right and praise, praise, praise!

3. Take it off stage

At those inevitable moments when someone misbehaves in front of the whole class, it can be hard not to react immediately. Especially because you don’t want your other students to think that kind of behavior is ok. The best thing you can do in the moment is acknowledge the behavior in a calm voice, and tell the student that you will be discussing the incident at a later time. As soon as you have a chance, take the student aside and discuss a consequence away from your other students. Sometimes this 1:1 conversation is consequence enough.

4. Be consistent, follow through

Give praise, follow through on consequences, then follow through, and follow through some more. No matter what you decide to use as a classroom management system, you have to be very consistent. Students will quickly pick up on your failure to follow through and may feel that you are being unfair, or may take advantage. A student teacher once asked me what to do when a student was constantly interrupting her. In my class, interrupting the teacher results in the loss of a ClassDojo point. I asked her if she took a point from him the first time he did it, and she said “no.” Of course he continued to interrupt, there was no consequence! She did say she felt bad taking points away from kids, so it is really important to consider what you feel comfortable with when designing your classroom management system. My feeling is that as long as you give a lot of positive feedback, negative feedback should have the desired effect of correcting the behavior, without damaging your relationship with your students. You can also think about it from the other students’ perspective. By taking away a point from someone who breaks a rule, you are being fair to the students who do not break rules, and protecting their learning.

This is Part 3 of a 4 part series by Emily Dahm. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 4 here

New Teacher Survival (series) #2: Establishing a classroom community

Can’t we all just get along?

Sometimes a class will just “click” on day one and you won’t have to spend too much time developing a sense of community with your students. This has yet to happen for me or anyone I know. It is easy, especially with all the pressure of new standards, to breeze through or even do away with this important first step of the year. I can’t stress enough how critical it is do something to create cohesion amongst your students from day one. It may just be the most important thing you do. Think back to your learning theory class, remember Maslow’s hierarchy? Feeling safe and included is a necessary foundation for learning.

There are so many great books and programs out there to choose from. I tend to pick and choose from several, but the one I keep coming back to is Tribes. It’s not just a philosophy, it is a treasure trove of useful lesson plans and resources. If you buy just one book about community building, I’d start here.

Embed it into your instruction and daily routine

I like Tribes because the “agreements” apply to every possible situation. Attentive listening, no put-downs, mutual respect, pretty basic stuff. If you review what each of these looks like, sounds like, and feels like regularly, it will be easier to discuss what went wrong when problems arise. At the very least you can do a community circle each day.

Take a look, it’s in a book

When I focus on social and emotional learning in the beginning of the year, I find it helpful to use great literature as a guide. These are some of the books I have used. Sometimes it’s a simple read-aloud, but I also love challenging groups of students to find the hidden lessons in each story. If you have older students, some of these might seem babyish, but I’ve used all of them with fifth graders successfully.

Enemy Pie

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This is a great story about befriending those you may consider your enemy, and not judging people before you know them.

Mr. Peabody’s Apples

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Yes, I know, Madonna. But it is a great story about how saying negative things about people cannot be undone.

The Sneetches

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A classic story about how physical differences don’t really matter.

Have you filled a bucket today?

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Great for all ages (even adults). This book teaches kids about how they have the power to make someone feel better or worse.

Simon’s Hook

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A great book about dealing with bullies and put downs, helps if you have a tattle-prone bunch.

The wonderful thing about sharing all of these books with your class is that you develop a common language. It can open up a dialogue and help kids solve their own problems. After reading Simon’s Hook, I don’t have to explain to students how to respond if someone is pushing their buttons. I just say, “Oh no! You took the bait, just like Simon!” Sometimes they think I’m ridiculous, but they get the point and they remember some of the strategies Simon used in the book. The more books like this you read, the more characters they can turn to for advice. So, read, read, read! Let me know if you have any other great books to add to the list!

This is Post 2 of a 4 part series by Emily Dahm. Read Part 1 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here

 

New Teacher Survival (series) #1: Setting up your first classroom

Let’s just get right into it! Here are three quick steps to set up your first classroom 🙂

1. Take Stock

If you are starting out your teaching career at a public school, in a classroom previously used by another teacher, you will probably be left with the dregs of furniture and junk. If that is not the case, you are lucky! I made the mistake of keeping all the items left by the previous tenant of my classroom and I never touched any of it. With the exception of books in decent condition, my advice is to throw it ALL away! It is best to start fresh.

The first thing to do after a good cleaning is think about your teaching style. This should determine the layout of your room. I prefer my students to be seated in cooperative groups. Four is ideal, but I’ve always had to do groups of six due to large class size. Depending on your grade level, you should also have a rug area. I recommend a group meeting area for all ages — if you have the space. I gather my fifth graders on our rug everyday for meetings and mini-lessons. I make it a point never to teach while they are all at their tables, too many distractions. You may not have a lot of space or choice in how you set up your tables, but you will most likely have a lot of empty walls. Do not feel obligated to cover every inch with decorations and posters, blank space is good for learning!

2. Design with a Purpose

“Oh Ms. ______ is such a good teacher! I learned so much from her campfire themed classroom!” said no student ever. Do a google search for classroom decorations, and you will be amazed at the elaborate designs out there. If some teachers spent as much time and money designing and planning lessons as they do decorating their classrooms, there would be no achievement gap. Okay, so I might be oversimplifying, but all of the research out there states that children need blank space, areas for their eyes to rest. I love the article, “The Culture of Cute,”  which describes how over-decorating has really become an epidemic in schools. And for what purpose? It certainly doesn’t help the students learn.

3. Resist the Urge to Over-Decorate

I’ll admit, I am a decorator. I love walking into teacher supply stores and finding that they have an entire aisle devoted to cute owl decorations. I allow myself one or two items, but that’s it! An owl sticker here or there, or even some owl pencils are not going to break the bank, and they will not distract from student learning. Decorating my classroom in floor to ceiling owls is not only expensive, it’s pointless. When you inevitably end up at the teacher supply store, or on TeachersPayTeachers.com, ask yourself, “What is the educational value of this item?” If the item’s sole purpose is to make your room “cute”, put it down, walk away, don’t look back. I also advise against buying pre-made “instructional” posters. You may find a poster that perfectly illustrates the water cycle, but your students won’t get much out of staring at it all year. It’s best to let them make their own. If you must have it, only take it out when you are teaching that particular unit, otherwise, it will just become a part of the landscape and the students won’t pay any attention to it. All you really need in terms of decor is space to display student work, which is decoration enough. A little fadeless paper and some tasteful borders should suffice! Remember, your classroom is a place for learning, it’s not your birthday party, it does not need a “theme”!

Now that your classroom is squared away, I’ll be sharing more ideas and suggestions as you venture on your path of becoming a teacher this year! Stay tuned!

This is part 1 of a 4 part series by Emily Dahm. Read Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.

First year teachers! Set a strong foundation for the road ahead

Congratulations, you made it! You now have your own classroom! You will probably spend the better part of your summer thinking about your classroom setup and decor. You are likely to purchase your first planning book and other teacher supplies. Even after 14 years in the classroom, I must admit I still feel giddy thinking about new supplies and classroom decoration ideas.

Your first year as a teacher will be both exciting and overwhelming. It will also be the best adventure you will take in your professional journey. As you embark on this endeavor you will want to examine and develop five basic “maps” to set you in a successful direction:

  1. Establish a support system: Whether it be colleagues within your grade level or a veteran on campus, these people will be your lifeline. One uniquely inspiring aspect about this profession is the willingness to share and mentor. Veteran teachers have all been in your position at some point in time and can ease confusion or unknowns for you.
  2. Ask a lot of questions: As educators, we are always reminding our students to ask questions, but we need to ask questions as well! You will need to know your school’s policies and procedures, school-wide behavior plan, schedules, and much more. I have taught in three different schools, each with a unique way of handling day-to-day tasks, so try not to assume too much!
  3. Developing a solid behavior management plan: Once you have established whether your school has a behavior plan, examine what your role is. Explore whether colleagues in your grade-level have specific procedures for handling encouragement and discipline. Hopefully teachers at your school are already using ClassDojo and you can jump on board. If not, there is no reason for you not to use ClassDojo for your own classroom. You might be the catalyst for change. Speaking from experience, it can happen.
  4. Establish strong classroom procedures: There should be a well-defined procedure in place for just about every classroom activity. This will save you an incredible amount of time that can be wasted during transitions. Your school might have procedures that all teachers must implement. If not, mentor teachers can help you develop procedures and there are plenty of ideas online. Whatever procedures you choose, put them in place immediately. Practice often with your students and maintain consistency. Both you and your students will be glad you did.
  5. Plan for more than you need: I develop detailed plans for the first three days. We practice procedures, go over the behavior management plan, gather materials, and perform icebreakers. I give a presentation about myself and students give “brown bag” presentations about themselves. We develop personal goals, class goals and set expectations. It’s always smart to plan far too many games and brain breaks just in case particular tasks take less time than anticipated.

Remember that you are setting the foundation for not only your first year, but for years to come. The goal is to establish who you are as an educator. Your methods and structures may change as you find what works or don’t work in your classroom, but your foundation will remain the same. Solid foundations support solid learning.