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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Best Resources for Blended Learning!

Even old-school educators agree with the fact that technology has made immense contributions towards the evolution of our educational system. With the right tools and methods, students can achieve great success even in disciplines they used to struggle with. Blended learning can take many forms in the classroom, but one thing is certain: it helps students to study and deliver projects more efficiently.

The following online resources, listed in two categories, will help educators explore the opportunities of blended learning.

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What is a Teachmeet?

The first time I heard about ClassDojo was at a Teachmeet – a unique opportunity to share and contribute the most creative and innovative ideas unfolding in our classrooms today. Since so many of us Ambassadors and Community Leads are hoping to engage in Teachmeets in our own countries, I thought it might be helpful for us to outline exactly what is involved in a Teachmeet.

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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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Team Building through ClassDojo!

As humans, we thrive on relationships and connecting with one another. Whether it be in the classroom as a student or a teacher, if people are working together then they can achieve far more than if they were to do so individually.

As part of introducing ClassDojo to my students this year, we decided that we should set a class goal. As a team, the class would need to earn 2000 ClassDojo points in order to earn a class achievement award. This has really added to the excitement of each student earning individual points — students are delighted to watch one another succeed! Daily, students are asking what the class total is, and they even take a few moments to work out how many more points they need and how many each student would need to earn (a little bonus maths lesson!) to reach their goal.

My students have quickly evolved into a fantastic team, working together towards a common goal. Unfortunately, from time to time some students do lose points (which is the case for some when homework is due).  However, when this occurs, these students have a positive support system behind them. Their classmates will say, “WE can get those points back!“. They truly have come together as a class, encouraging one another day in and day out. I am so proud of the positive and supportive relationships that are being built in my classroom. So, thank you to ClassDojo for promoting positive teamwork in my classroom. I’d love to hear how others are using ClassDojo to encourage teamwork in your classroom 🙂

Join us Wednesdays at 6:30pm AEST / 8:30pm NZ for #dojochatANZ

Whatever it takes: 6 strategies for student success!

Recently I had the pleasure of taking part in a I&RS (Intervention and Referral Services) meeting for a struggling student. Basically a team of teachers, parents, administrators, guidance counselors, child study team members, and others convened to problem solve student deficiencies. Many ideas were shared and an action plan was developed. The passion in the room was truly remarkable, especially the professional manner in which our staff conducted themselves. Each member of the committee took the “whatever it takes” approach in order to put this child in a position to succeed. In fact, throughout the school year other technology based strategies were utilized for other students as well.

Below you will find a sampling of strategies that were recommended for various students throughout the school year in order for them to be in a position to succeed with the help of technology…..

  • Teachers can leverage the power of ClassDojo to track student performance and behavior. This great tool can be very beneficial for students and parents in terms of communication, transparency, and buy-in.
  • Encourage student to utilize their personal computer in the school setting for organization and curation purposes. Often students feel more comfortable using their own device as they make sense of their learning.
  • Utilized the Dragon Dictation App so that the student can highlight their oral abilities on paper and/or computer screen.
  • Increase mental agility at home while at the same time providing breaks with the Pomodoro Timer App.
  • Focus on increasing typing speed using a program called EduTyping. This program can be utilized at home and in school.
  • Provide student with alternative assessment opportunities to show what they know on a given topic. For example, use the Audioboo podcasting app for a project in language arts.

Leveraging the power of technology and available web applications to promote the success of students is critical in the year 2014. Identifying student strengths in order to overcome weaknesses is important if schools are to put students in a position to be successful. As I said before, the strategies above are just a sampling of what was recommended. It’s truly amazing to see passionate school stakeholders collaborate and problem solve together. There is no doubt that struggling students will do a complete turn around and begin enjoying school once again.

Everyone wins when we are kind to substitutes! :)

I substituted for a year after I graduated from my teaching program, and it was the hardest thing I ever did. I was working in a district with 28 schools (my home district has 6) sprawled throughout eight cities. Everything was unpredictable. Most of the time, I had no idea where the school was, unless I had been there enough times to remember the side gate into the parking lot where I was not allowed to park. Sometimes, I got called to sub for the morning, then requested for an afternoon job at a school an hour away that started 45 minutes after the morning class ended, leaving me negative 15 minutes for lunch.

A sub’s life is frantic, so I implore teachers out there to be kind to subs, which basically means: Please leave instructions. Please. Subs want to be helpful (and sane). Having been in many classrooms where the kids had to teach me how to teach them, or I had to come up with my own lessons based on what the kids told me they were learning – here is, from a sub’s experience, how a teacher can get the most out of a substitute’s day’s work while keeping the sub sane:

1. Simplify. If there is something important or complex you were planning to teach on that day and you need to be out, don’t have us teach it, because the sub will not know what you want, and the kids will not get what you want out of it. There’s always the chance that you may get a fantastic master teacher who has taught this very lesson for 30 years (it could happen), but most likely not. Unless it’s absolutely necessary that the big lesson happens on that day, save it for when you can share it with the kids.

2. Bullet point. It’s much, much easier for a sub to read the lesson plan while teaching when it’s formatted vertically, versus giant paragraphs resembling a dissertation. We can easily check off what we’ve done and spot the next step.

3. Host. Have a conversation with the students the day before about expectations, being welcoming to a new person, and also appoint a few students who have shown responsibility during the week to be the sub’s helpers. This is also a good opportunity for students to try to earn this privilege, and it minimizes kids influencing each other to take advantage of the sub because there will always point people.

4. Routines. Tell the sub what the class’s routines and customs are, such as clapping 3 times to get their attention, or that everyone’s books need to be open to the right page before starting. This reduces chaos and gives the sub more authority in front of the kids.

5. Feedback. Leave a note at the end of the instructions asking the sub to write a few sentences of feedback about the day. I always did when I subbed anyway, pointing out the kids who showed exceptional effort and respect, and anything special that happened in the day. This way, you also get the sub’s name and can request him or her again if you feel it was a successful day. Good subs who know your class are hard to come by!

“Act like you own the place!” Tips for presenters :)

A few weeks ago someone came up to me and told me how he just accepted his first speaking gig. He was a bit overwhelmed by it all, and knowing I do a lot of presenting, asked me for a few tips. I gave him a few and have since been thinking about things I’ve learned in my first couple years of presenting at conferences.

1. Invest in a remote and a quality dongle. The only thing more frustrating than being in a conference session with someone who doesn’t have proper equipment, is being the presenter without the proper equipment. Most rooms come set up with a VGA cable, but most non-Windows computers will need a dongle adapter. Don’t pinch pennies here and buy the cheapest one. I speak from experience when I say it’s embarrassing when they stop working in the middle of a session. I also recommend a presenter remote so that you’re not bound to your computer. They’re relatively inexpensive and add a lot of fluidity to your presentation.

2. Act like you own the place! One of the many lessons my dad has taught me is to “act like you own the place, and no one will say anything.” When I present I have to believe in my ability and my authority. When I believe in it, everyone else does too. Because, as Taylor Mali reminds us, “it’s not enough to question authority; you must speak with it too.”

3. Use less words and more pictures. Resources like Haiku Deck make it easy for people to create beautiful presentations. Although it’s important to speak compelling things, it’s ineffective to put these long, beautiful sentences on a slide deck. Stick to photos that illustrate the power of what you’re speaking.

4. Manage your time wisely. Plan out how much time you’ll spend on each point. When you’re just starting out, practice your presentation. It’s always frustrating for conference attendees (who have paid for the conference) to attend sessions that are way over or under the allotted time or are filled with unnecessary information.

5. Don’t rely on the internet. I have yet to be to a tech conference where the internet works perfectly all the time. Be prepared to give your presentation without internet. Download your presentation and any necessary videos. Present like it’s 1995.

How to communicate more effectively with your students :)

Sometimes, students will resist because something is immoral or unethical. As a first year teacher, a student called me out for mocking a regional accent. I was defensive at first, but she was absolutely right.

But sometimes, students resist because that’s what they do.

In some cases (like class policies), as long as the policies are thoughtful, your best bet is to listen and then use some sort of formula like, “Unfortunately, a hall pass is not a choice. Please use it.”

In other cases, however, student resistance can undermine a learning goal: suddenly, you’re locked in a battle with a student about a concept that is not the point of a lesson.

Here are three classic examples of how to defuse student resistance. All three draw from a simple fable: a tree and a reed argue about their relative strength – but when the storm winds come, the stubborn, brittle tree is uprooted. The reed bends with the wind.

Pre-warning, affirming, joining – and redirecting:

The scenario: you are studying a story where a character exhibits behaviors, traits, or values the students will find objectionable, but it’s beyond the scope of that class to get distracted by those objections.

The solution: warn the students before they read that they will not like some of the things they see. Tell them that their objections are founded and justified. Join with them in agreeing that the behaviors are problematic.

Then, say, “However, we’re going to put those objections in the parking lot. We may get around to them. But we may not. Our goal is not going to be taking Character X to task for how he acts, which is pretty bad, we have to admit. But our goal in this particular class is to look at the circumstances that led him to those behaviors.”

If a student, mid-discussion objects to Character X’s behavior, reaffirm:

“Exactly, and that’s what I meant when I said that there were problematic things about that Character. I wish we had a whole class to dig into that, but I’m afraid it’s beyond the scope of this lesson. So, back we go to the historical circumstances.”

Set up the resistance as a straw-man and then “pretend” the best:

The scenario: a new policy in the school has raised student ire. You feel that students have complained enough about the unfairness of the new policy. You want them to reflect on the potential benefit of the new policy and not turn your allotted five minutes into more griping.

The solution: in your question or prompt, suggest exactly what the students are likely to have concluded, and then redirect:

“The new policy is either total hoo-hah, designed to put you into a prison for your minds, or perhaps it speaks to a conflict of two real values that we can probably agree are both important.  For the moment, let’s just pretend that the rule is not designed simply to take away your rights and make you miserable. What might have been the intent of the principle when she composed the new policy?”

Affirm frustration, relieve the student of needing to argue further, and offer a new option:

The scenario: a student has missed a deadline and has a lousy grade as a result. She has come to argue with you about the grade. You want her to stop fixating on the grade and think constructively about the future.

The solution: meet the student where she is, and paint the picture about what’s coming down the road.

You: Look, tell me if I’m not getting you. You felt like you put in a ton of work on this step of the project and the deadline ruined your grade, right?

Student: Right.

You: And it’s a bummer because why should the deadline affect the grade for the product, right?

Student: Right.

You: So look, on the one hand, I don’t expect you to agree with the late-policy of this class. That’s not your job as a student. You being upset about it makes total sense. If I were you, I’d probably be upset, too. But my job is to have policies that are fair and consistent. That’s what I’m expected to do as a teacher, and the policy can’t change. And we may not see eye to eye on that, and we’re going to need to be okay with that. But more importantly, my job is to help you move past this setback and plan for how the next phase of the project is going to well, and make sure it’s a huge success.