Classroom Management

Five Ways Common Curriculum Keeps Me Organized

Over the past two years I’ve had the distinctly gratifying and simultaneously terrifying experience of beginning my teaching career. As teachers, we begin our journey by assessing our learners and defining high growth targets, developing a robust arsenal of standardized less on plans and technology-aligned learning experiences, and creatively differentiating those activities for each of our students. Molding all of those goals into a comprehensive year-long curriculum is another challenge entirely. As it is with so many new educators, within weeks of beginning the school year I found myself lost in the abyss of faculty meetings, library resources, and professional development seminars – to say nothing of parent calls and meetings, progress monitoring, and the special education annual review process.cc-logo-ea8345429ede54f5e4d960950659bd25

Common Curriculum rescued me from uncharted territory. I had encountered CC early last summer buried in some random blog post or Pinterest board and, after giving it a shot this past year, I’m convinced I’ll never plan any other way. Common Curriculum focuses on the tactics of teaching: daily lesson plans. Scope and sequence mapping, unit plans, and inquiries obviously have their place in planning, but when it comes to actually crafting the minute-by-minute workings of the classroom, I found Common Curriculum to be invaluable to my own organization and my growth as an educator.

Here are five straightforward reasons you should consider getting an account:

1) It’s easy. Their website’s interface is simple and easy to navigate. After quickly setting up a Planbook you’re able to start tinkering around within a few minutes. Once you begin, you’ll notice that you can shift assignments around throughout your lesson, move them to a new day, or delete them entirely. If something comes up and you need to shift plans to the next day, CC allows it with the click of a button. Each day is totally customizable – including which classes you teach in a given day and the activities you plan for each period or block – meaning that you can implement your own style when designing your lessons. Creating these lessons is literally as easy as typing on your keyboard, and the web-based platform automatically saves your progress as you go. Upload files (just like you would to an email) and now your materials or resources are saved as well! Common Curriculum also links to my Google Drive, and seamlessly uploads materials I had already organized.

2) It’s safe. In addition to having my progress saved automatically, it’s highly comforting knowing that my curriculum isn’t living on a thumb drive or school-based software that can be discontinued next year if our district doesn’t renew our subscription. Like any geek, I live in a constant state of fear and anxiety, dwelling over whether or not my files are safe and accessible. Using Common Curriculum allowed me to save my work on the cloud, export it as an Adobe .pdf file, and still have it backed up on CC’s interface. My materials aren’t going to disappear from being lost, broken, or unsubscribed from. Relatedly, my lessons are saved so I can easily reference them next year, which also means next year I’ll be adapting my plans instead of starting from square one again. Some teachers have filing cabinets and drawers full of old handouts and workbooks that they’ve used (which is totally fine), but as a new teacher I have to admit that having every resource I used last year safely linked on a single document is pretty convenient.

3) It prompts me to use best-practices. When you begin setting up your Planbook you’ll be prompted to choose a lesson plan template for each course you teach. Some people like the Minimal template with the quick “Agenda” and “Notes” sections. Some people like the Basic or the 5E templates that each give a little more guidance when designing. Both of those are fine, and admittedly many of my own plans ended up utilizing the Minimal template, but what really intrigued me (and pushed me to write better lessons) was the Extra Detailed template. In this case the detailed sections include: Objectives, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Materials, Intro to New Materials, Direct Instruction, Guided Practice, Independent Practice, Extension, Assessment, Homework, Accommodations & Modifications, and Reflections. Obviously every lesson may not include all of those sections (CC allows you to delete, combine, substitute, or reorder them as necessary), but I found that something as simple as just having them listed as a rough guide reminded me to think about each one as I planned the daily activities of the classroom. My teaching improved because of this template.

4) It links to about a billion sets of standards. As I mapped out the skills, strategies, and content I wanted my students to explore, Common Curriculum helped me design my instruction to the specific standards aligned to my course. I teach social studies, so for me that meant the New York State Social Studies Framework’s Key Ideas, Conceptual Understandings, and Content Specifications, the New York State Common Core Learning Standards for Literacy in Social Studies, the National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework, as well as frameworks and standards to reference from the National Center for History in the Schools, the National Council on Economic Education, the National Standards for Arts Education, and the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. All of these are available on Common Curriculum to reference and link to your daily lessons.  With a Pro or Schools account, teachers can even utilize a standards tracker to map course outcomes over the course of the school year.

5) It’s digitally accessible to my students. I can seamlessly export all of this to my students’ iPads, the classroom SMARTBoard, or any computer/laptop. As a Pro user, I’ve linked my lessons to a website that I share with my students. I can choose which sections are visible to them, allowing them to browse the lesson’s materials independently. If a student is late to class or misses school, they can review the materials on their own time using this resource. I can link assignments online for students to complete, whether they’re printed handouts, webquests, or simple instructions for classwork. This also allows students to access a visible agenda for class, even previewing future classes if I mark them as visible in the CC interface. Not only does this lead toward a paperless classroom – it prompts students to seek and utilize digital resources, a timeless and necessary skill to build in the digital age.

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Categories: Classroom Management, Common Core, Dif-abilities, Education in the 21st Century, Online Learning, Teaching Resources, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

A Selection of Motivational Classroom Posters

(Feel free to steal… these were all found using a Google image search)

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Apps for Engagement

Originally printed in the September ’14 issue of Educational Leadership, found here (subscription required): http://www.educationalleadership-digital.com/educationalleadership/201409#pg13

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Categories: Classroom Management, Education in the 21st Century, Online Learning, Teaching Resources | Leave a comment

4 Keys to Student Engagement

 

 

 

 

Originally printed in the September ’14 issue of Educational Leadership, found here (subscription required): http://www.educationalleadership-digital.com/educationalleadership/201409#pg21 
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EdWeek: Want Passion? Re-Think the School Day

STU SILBERMAN NOV 25, 2013
Guest post by Lauren Hill, English teacher at Western Hills High School, Frankfort, KY & Community Organizer for the Center for Teaching Quality

We all know school can bore students to death. OK, not actual death, but something that looks and feels much like it to a kid. Bill Ferriter reminds us in his blog, Being Responsible for Teaching the Bored, that students who follow their passions, learn. Yet, how can teachers carve out time in the school day to guide students through the thoughtful, and sometimes arduous task of finding those passions, much less to pursue them? The Common Core State Standards encourage the depth and discipline needed, but they must be supported by a restructured school day set up to infuse passion into our students.

In our adult work, we don’t do English or Science or Social Studies or Math. We use all of these (and many other dynamic elements) to create, to lead, to build, to manage, to sell, to understand our task and produce products that meet a need. Some of us even love our work – passionately. Do our young people deserve any less? What better model to prepare them to love their work in the future?

I first saw this approach when I was 15, which would make it 1981, when I visited The Urban School of San Francisco. My first impression? These teenagers looked like the kids my parents told me to avoid. Long hair. Lots of leather. Cigarettes. At my school, these kids cut class and hung out in the parking lot. Yet, at Urban, these kids adored school.

At Urban, instead of English, kids took “Utopian Societies” or “Dialects and Culture.” In the two-hour block I spent with my friend, I discovered more about language and history than I had in a year in my own high school classes. Teachers and students learned together in a collaborative environment where students took responsibility for their learning – and they took that responsibility very seriously.

We cannot restructure our way to many of the variables at The Urban School. The staff’s accepting attitude and the administration’s creative and effective approach to discipline, certainly created the environment that allowed for other academic gains. But what became a permanent part of my memory and later, my educational philosophy, was the school’s organization.

Our high school in Frankfort, KY, has begun movement in this direction by adopting a Senior Project that asks kids to begin freshman year uncovering interests and learning research skills, and culminating senior year with a project, paper, presentation and community outreach program. It is a solid start. But we can do better. We can devise new models like the public magnet Brown-Barge Middle School in Escambia County, Florida, which organizes staff into “streams” that teach students in thematically organized groups focused on engaging kids in work toward authentic simulations. Since the restructuring, Brown-Barge Middle has earned “A” level status for more than ten years in a row – the only middle school in the district to achieve this honor. Also, the number of 6th grade applicants doubles the available spots.

One BBMS eighth grader says:

The reason why our subjects are combined is to make it easier to learn at school, so easy that students might not realize we’re learning. Instead of learning by subjects, we learn by streams, which is basically learning big topics at a time. At the same time we’re learning all of the school traditional subjects. We have big topics which are broken into many lessons which is good for each subject. 

Teacher Lalla Pierce currently teaches in the Ancient Worlds stream, which is described like this: From earliest civilizations, recurring motifs have inspired great art, literature, drama, science, math and music. By making connections with the past, we begin to understand the universality of creative expression.

Mrs. Pierce says:

I love teaching at Brown-Barge Middle School because seeing students participating in simulations where they are fully engaged in the learning process is incredibly rewarding. Whether building a model of an outer-space colony or putting on a musical performance written by the students themselves, the process is fun and exciting! I am always learning, never bored. 

To create and cultivate this environment, the school has provided:

  • Streams built around teachers with a variety of certifications.
  • Teachers in each stream with a common planning time to collaborate around the stream.
  • Flexible scheduling within each stream to accommodate a project when it requires extended time with a teacher.
  • Teachers of Record who keep track of the work and maintain records for a group of students, who can see the bigger picture evolve and provide support.
  • Collaboration between teachers and students in the development of new streams that meet the interests of the students. (Most requested? History and culture of music, leading to a final performance.)
  • Evaluative reports that take the place of “in progress grades”.
  • Math every morning.

When teachers at Brown-Barge are asked what they teach, they say “Students!’

A new structure like this one that starts with real-life, project-based learning that flows in a natural, progressive stream is a shift that doesn’t require substantial funding, just ingenuity, persistence, and passion. And, given the education professionals I know, there is no shortage of that.

The Common Core State Standards present us with a blueprint for the natural integration of subjects at every grade level. It challenges us to reimagine how we organize our traditional schools. Student agency and depth of study can add the passion needed to make our students soar. The CCSS emphasize critical thinking and 21st Century skills and give us a strong foundation; now, let’s redesign our schools to make them worthy to stand on it.

Categories: Classroom Management, Common Core, Education in the 21st Century, Reform Policies, Teaching Resources | Leave a comment

HBR: The Fine Art of Tough Love

by Joanne Lipman  |   8:00 AM December 17, 2013

FULL ARTICLE HERE: http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/the-fine-art-of-tough-love/

What does it take to achieve excellence? I’ve spent much of my career chronicling top executives as a business journalist. But I’ve spent much of the last year on a very different pursuit, coauthoring a book about education, focusing on a tough but ultimately revered public-school music teacher.

And here’s what I learned: When it comes to creating a culture of excellence, the CEO has an awful lot to learn from the schoolteacher.

The teacher at the heart of the book Strings Attached is on the face of it an unlikely corporate role model. My childhood music teacher Jerry Kupchynsky, who we called “Mr. K,” was strictly old school: A ferocious Ukrainian immigrant and World War II refugee, he was a tyrannical school orchestra conductor in suburban New Jersey. He would yell and stomp and scream when we screwed up, bellowing “Who eez DEAF in first violins?” His highest praise was “not bad.”  He rehearsed us until our fingers were raw.

Yet ultimately he became beloved by students, many of whom went on to outsize professional success in fields from business to academics to law, and who decades later would gather to thank him.

My coauthor and I both expected pushback against Mr. K’s harsh methods, which we describe in unflinching detail. But instead, the overwhelming response from readers has been: “Amen! Bring on the tough love.”  And nowhere has that response been stronger than in the business world, among corporate executives.

Indeed, Wall Street Journal readers responded in force to an essay I wrote about the book and Mr. K’s methods. “Time to move beyond the ‘self-esteem’ culture and get tough. The world is an increasingly competitive and dangerous place,” as one reader wrote, echoing many others.  He added, “I have numerous advanced degrees, but the toughest and best education I ever had was from the Irish Christian brothers in high school. They did not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Clearly, Mr. K’s demanding methods have tapped into a sea change that we’re just starting to detect in the culture, away from coddling of kids and the “trophies for everyone” mentality that has dominated parenting and education. It’s a shift that is equally evident in the workplace.  But trying to offer more honest feedback, and set higher standards, at work is tricky.  It’s especially difficult in the case of newer hires, those recent young college grads who were raised on a steady diet of praise and trophies and who never learned to accept criticism.

So, how best to put those “tough love” principles into action when it comes to inspiring excellence in the workplace?  Mr. K’s methods offer an intriguing roadmap:

1. Banish empty praise.

Mr. K never gave us false praise, and never even used words like “talent.” When he uttered a “not bad” – his highest compliment — we’d dance down the street and then run home and practice twice as long.

It turns out he was on to something.  Harvard Business Review readers will recall the landmark 2007 article written by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, “The Making of an Expert.”  That piece is most often cited for his pioneering work establishing that true expertise requires about 10,000 hours of practice.

But Ericsson also cited two other elements, both of which Mr. K seemed to know intuitively. One is “deliberate practice,” which requires pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, as opposed to going through the motions.  The other, as Ericsson wrote, is this : True expertise “requires coaches who are capable of giving constructive, even painful, feedback.” And “real experts … deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who could challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance.”

2. Set expectations high. 

There’s a tendency to step in when a less experienced colleague is having trouble. Sometimes it seems it’s just easier to do the work yourself. Or to settle for less.

Not in Mr. K’s world.  His standards were uncompromising – and while at first we students found that intimidating, we ultimately understood it was a sign of his confidence in us.  He never wavered in his faith in his students to achieve more and better.  When he first began teaching me the viola, his most frequent admonition was “AGAIN!” most often marked in capital letters on my lesson assignments. But his students knew that he was hard on us not because we’d never learn, but because he was so absolutely certain that we would.

3. Articulate clear goals –and goal posts along the way.

Mr. K insisted that his students audition and perform constantly. He constantly kept us focused on the next challenge.  How would we prepare, and what would we do to improve the next time?  By articulating these intermediate goals, he encouraged us to continually stretch our abilities a bit further while reaching for objectives that were challenging, but ultimately achievable.

4. Failure isn’t defeat.

Mr. K never penalized us for failure. Sometimes we succeeded at auditions; sometimes we failed. But Mr. K made it clear that that failure was simply part of the process – not an end point, but simply an opportunity for us to learn how to improve the next time. And he transferred responsibility for figuring out the solution to the student. His favorite saying wasn’t “Listen to me!” It was, instead, “Discipline yourself!”

Years later, his former students – now doctors, lawyers and business executives – would credit that approach for instilling self-motivation.  As one of his former students told me, “He taught us how to fail – and how to pick ourselves back up again.”

5. Say thank you.

This is the one we often forget. My old teacher had witnessed unspeakable horrors as a child growing up in Ukraine amid bloodshed and destruction during World War II.  He didn’t reach the U.S. until after the war, as a 19-year-old who spoke no English and had never had the opportunity to learn to read music despite his passion for it.  He never lost his sense of gratitude to this country for the opportunities he had, despite a catalog of horrors in his own life, including the disappearance of one of his beloved daughters.  He passed that gratitude on to us, with a huge heart, empathy for the underdog, and a commitment to public service, taking us frequently to perform at hospitals and nursing homes and then insisting we stay to visit with the patients.

In the press of business, that sense of gratitude is often the first casualty. Recently I complimented a young journalist on a well-researched article, telling her, “You must have gotten great feedback.”  She looked embarrassed, then confessed she had heard nothing from her boss. Her news organization, like so many others, has been financially hobbled, with a handful of reporters doing the work that was once shared by several dozen.  Her supervisor is spread so thin that he is putting out proverbial fires all day.  “He has the time to tell us what we did wrong,” she said. “He doesn’t have time to tell us when we do something well.”

*  *  *  *  *

Tough love has fallen out of favor, and it can be a jolt especially for younger workers. But properly applied – with high expectations along with a sense of shared vision and gratitude for a job well done — it is the highest vote of confidence anyone can offer.  Mr. K’s old students ultimately figured that out too: At his memorial concert, 40 years’ worth of them – myself included, toting my old viola – gathered in my hometown, old instruments in tow, creating a symphony orchestra more than 100 members strong.

I asked many of those students why they had returned.  They listed the qualities he had taught them: Resilience. Perseverance.  Self-confidence. He didn’t just teach us in the classroom; he inspired us to strive for excellence in our own lives when he was no longer in the room with us.  And that’s the mark of a true mentor: a leader who creates a culture of excellence, and whose confidence in us makes us better than we ever dreamed we could be.

Categories: Classroom Management | 1 Comment

Education Week: Managing the Digital District

EdWeek recently published this 28-page special report on K-12 education technology, available here:

Managing the Digital District – Education Week Special Report – Oct, 2013

Categories: Classroom Management, Education in the 21st Century, Online Learning | Leave a comment

(Very, Very Old) Video: How to Handle Misbehaving Students

I began watching this thinking it was a joke but it actually brings up some basic points for classroom management with a touch of humor due to its age.  There is room for improvement in the instructional techniques, but it’s a good place to start for learning more about behavior management. Enjoy!

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