Unpacking The Standards
Unpacking the standards is a way to ensure that teachers in the classroom become more effective as educators. A teacher cannot lead their class without knowing the expectations of the lesson and without knowing how to meet the expectations set, the same can be said for a student. Educators and students must work together to understand their role in the students’ academic growth. By working together to unpack the standards, teachers can work with students to create a more personalized learning plan and personalized goals (Goodwin, B. & Hubble, E., 2013, p. 7).
Setting Learning Goals
The key to success inside and outside the class and out is setting goals. We all want our students to be passionate and involved with their learning. Goal setting is an excellent way to have students fully engage in their academic success (Cox, 2017). Having something to strive for in the classroom helps students take ownership in their success or failures. To be effective these goals must fit within the SMART goal guidelines. They must be specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and they must be timely (Cox, 2017). We should create both short-term goals and long-term goals during the school year. Short term goals may be smaller goals, but they are something the students can see quickly and feel good about their progress (Cox, 2017).
Using Rubrics to Guide Performance Criteria
The main reason for a rubric in the classroom is to help assess student’s progress throughout a lesson or module. Rubrics can be tailored as needed to ensure they properly fit each assignment, test, quiz, or even overall participation (Peergrade, 2016). Rubrics allow students to have a full understanding of their expectations on any task they are being asked to complete. Rubrics also helps educators provide feedback. Knowing why the student did not get a perfect score and holding each student to the same standard ensures they can be advised where to make changes to be more successful next time (Peergrade, 2016). Rubrics should be used more as a tool to promote success rather than a tool to hold a student back. Having a clear rubric promotes transparency and therefore trust between the student and teacher. “A rubric is only as good as its design, support and explanation in its use and conversely the expectations from the use of the rubric should enhance the learning outcomes for the students. Without this, a rubric can lead to promotion of shallow learning whilst producing conformity and standardization.” -Cox, Morrison, Brathwaite (Peergrade, 2016)
Increasing Student Interest
Keeping student interest is a difficult task. However, there are ways to keep students engaged throughout a module. Some great ideas are: by allowing choice, making the lesson relative to the real world, mix-up how you are teaching (IE: book reading, lecture, interactive, debates, etc.) (Pino-James PhD, 2015). One of the best ways to keep a student interest high is to have them engage in their own learning path (Pino-James PhD, 2015). When students know what they want to get out of the course, they are more likely to strive and work hard towards their own success. Another key way to keep student interest is to make the lesson meaningful (Pino-James PhD, 2015). Related it to things the student would know. For example, they may not understand exactly how the 1500’s were, but relate it to today. In the 1500’s kids played with wooden toys carved by their parents, not iPhones.
Using Appropriate Feedback
Giving student feedback in a timely and effective manner can be the difference between success and failure. Teachers have the ability to empower students or send them away feeling discouraged (Grand Canyon University, 2017). Always be clear in the expectations you have for the student and let them know what actions can be taken to reach goals. Students need to understand they can still reach their goals, no matter how far or ahead they are in the lesson- hope can drive effort (Grand Canyon University, 2017). Feedback should always guide students on what they need to focus on most to reach the next milestone. One of the best ways to provide feedback to a student is a “feedback sandwich” (Grand Canyon University, 2017). This means positive, negative, positive. This helps ensure the student is not overwhelmed and left feeling bad about themselves or the work they have completed.
Accounting for Every Minute
Teachers have a very limited amount of time to provide a lot of information in- so it is very important to make every minute count. Teachers should always have a plan for their student’s day and the information they need to cover and want to cover. Another way to use the entire classroom time effectively is to set up blended learning. Many people fear technology, but when used correctly, it can be used as a benefit. Students can work one-on-one using the computers while the teacher pulls students who need additional hands on help to keep up (Maxwell, 2016). Blended learning also allows students to test and have fun at the same time, keeping them engaged longer and getting more information in a smaller amount of time. Now it is important to remember that blended learning is a tool, not a teacher replacement. Classroom discussions and lectures are still important to be successful in the classroom and discussions are a great way to keep students engaged during a long-period of time.
Checking for Understanding
As an educator, our goal is not just stand in front of the classroom and speak until the bell rings. We want to make sure students understand. In order to know for a fact that students understand we need to check for understanding. Some ways that are common for checking for understanding are assessments, but there are other unique ways to test students. When having classroom discussions avoid yes or no questions (Briggs, 2014). Ask students to keep a reflection notebook to reflect back on items learned throughout the lesson (Briggs, 2014). At the end of the course assign a fun, interactive assignment that requires research and presentation (Briggs, 2014). Throughout the course, checking for understanding will allow us as teachers to know when we are moving too fast or when specific students need additional one-on-one time.
Creating Challenging Assessments
Teachers cannot write a different lesson plan for each student- so how do we keep it challenging for everyone? This can be hard when there are students who find everything too easy and others may struggle through even simple tasks. One way we can keep the classroom challenging for everyone is by allowing choice (Scholastic, 2018). Choice allows students to pick an assignment that interests them. Students who understand the topic well will do a deep dive into the assignment, where others will do research needed to complete the task. Another way to remain challenging in the classroom is by integrated learning (Scholastic, 2018). Technology is a friend, not foe when used correctly. There are many tools out there that allow students to work at their pace and at their skill level. Through everything, it is important to always engage a student’s critical thinking skills (Scholastic, 2018). To ensure students are using their critical thinking skills, teachers should ask open ended questions. While multiple choice questions can be good when used correctly, they may not be as challenging. If the majority of an assessment is multiple choice, try adding in a written section to ensure a deeper understanding of the topic (Scholastic, 2018).
Interacting with Students
It is important to show students respect. Showing students you care and that you are invested in their learning allows them to feel safe and welcomed into the classroom (University of Illinois Board of Trustees, 2019). Teachers have the opportunity to make life-changing impacts on their students. How a teacher interacts with the student can have either negative or positive long-term impacts and it is our responsibility to provide them the support and motivation needed to be successful. Some great ways to interact with each student are: greeting everyone as they enter the classroom, call on students by name when asking a question, make time to answer questions, show non-verbal cues of approval when a student is talking, always remember to remind students there is no such thing as a bad question (University of Illinois Board of Trustees, 2019). Encourage them to speak up and ask if they do not know something.
Creating a Safe Environment
Students need to see their school and classroom as a safe environment where they can be themselves, feel supported, and where they can learn without judgement. One way to ensure the classroom becomes and feels like a safe environment for students is to work together as a team to create classroom rules that everyone can agree on (Wanatabe-Crockett, 2018). The common classroom rules are: Be respectful of student ideas and questions, work hard on all assignments, work together as a team, no bulling and always use common manners like please and thank you. Having a safe environment for students will help them feel for comfortable being present and to ask questions when they need help (Wanatabe-Crockett, 2018).
Developing Deep Understanding
Students can be engaged during the entire class session- but that does not mean they are leaving with a deepened understanding of the material being taught. Ways to ensure the student is getting the most out of their lessons are: encouraged active participation, have a student write down what they learned that day before they leave the classroom as a recap, quiz the students regarding the information covered previously and create a final presentation or project that must be completed at the end of the module (Education World, Inc., 2013). All of these items require students to reflect, research and put their learnings down on paper for later review and use. Knowing there are assessments and quizzes can act as a motivator to focus and student.
Extending Student Learning
Our role as educators is to work with the student and prepare them for the future. Students want to know and understand how what they are learning will apply to them when they enter into the real world. One way we can ensure that students have a firm understanding of how their classroom lessons apply to them is by introducing project-based learning. Project-based learning is a concept that prepares each student for success and pushes them to rise to challenges they are faced with (Buck Institute for Education, 2017). Project-based learning pushes students to spend an extended length of time focusing on their topic and researching it to answer complex questions (Buck Institute for Education, 2017). It helps promote a deeper understanding of the topic and allows them to draw their own conclusions. In the end- once they have an understanding of their topic, they can see the details of how it will apply to their future (Buck Institute for Education, 2017). When it comes to history classes, it shows students the importance of building off failures and how to avoid the same mistakes.