Friday, August 19, 2016

Building Relationships and Instructional Strategies

What an amazing week it has been! We had a blast presenting about Building Relationships and Instructional Strategies to Brenham ISD. Click on your campus below to find our presentation. We hope that you walked away with one new strategy to try in your classroom this year. 

Have a great 2016 - 2017 school year and remember: 
Meaningful Relationships + Meaningful Work = Success 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Welcome to BISD

Today we had the great honor to present to new teachers to Brenham ISD. It is always refreshing to get back to work and feed off of the enthusiasm of teachers. Our presentation focused on 4 survival tips that are a must when starting a new year. As we all head back to work, remember the importance of building relationships, establishing classroom procedures, maintaining classroom discipline, and focusing on standards based instruction. Click HERE to view the presentation and help start your year off on the right foot.

We are looking forward to a great year!

One Brenham...Better Together

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Now "Reel 'Em" In!

To "piggyback" off of last week's post, once you set the "hook" you gotta "reel 'em" in! Keeping our students attention after an engaging introduction should be an easy task, but not quite so with all those we have "hooked." One such area where we may lose a few is asking questions and expecting responses from most of the class, but only getting a handful to respond. What are the others doing during this time? Are they staying focused, are they understanding the lesson/concept, are we not finding out until we give an assignment? Today my focus will be on engaging our ELL students during questioning...although this strategy can help with all students. ELLs seem to struggle with participating for so many reasons. Give them tools to help them use and practice the academic language and be a part of the group without feeling intimidated or left out. Set that "hook" and be prepared to "reel 'em" in!

One of my favorite experts in the field of ELL learners is Joanne M. Billingsley, known as the "Vocabulary Magic" lady. She has a real passion for sharing strategies that have a positive and lasting impact on teacher effectiveness and student success. Her book, Making Words Real...Proven Strategies for Building Academic Vocabulary Fast, is a must for a reference of proven strategies that are really easy to implement and fun! Very tasty "bait", I might add! According to her book, Joanne found that ELL learners were very often not called on to share their ideas verbally with the class. In fact, she observed that most teachers were reluctant to call on them. Being curious about why the teachers were so apprehensive about calling on ELLs, she asked hundreds of teachers to share their ideas.

Here is a partial list of responses found in the book:
I think teachers are reluctant to call on ELL students because...
1. Their language skills are weak, and they don't want to embarrass them.
2. It can take a long time for ELLs to compose a response, and it wastes a lot of class time.
3. They may not understand the question.
4. They do not volunteer answers, and other students do raise their hands to respond.
5. They are less likely to provide a high-quality answer.
6. They get upset if I ask them to speak on the spur of the moment in front of their classmates.
7. Teachers have to frequently coach ELLs as they answer, and this causes others to become bored and lose focus.

Next, she asked ELL students why they thought their teachers might be reluctant to call on them.
I think my teachers are reluctant to call on me (an ELL student) because...
1. I am quiet and shy so they don't really notice me in class.
2. They know other students have better answers so they call on them first.
3. They mostly call on smart students.
4. They call on students that are not paying attention, and I usually listen during class.
5. I don't raise my hand to answer in class.
6. They know I struggle with English, and other students may not understand me.
7. They think other students might make fun of the way I speak.

After these observations and surveys, Joanne goes on to say that no matter the reason, the reality of not calling on ELLs delays their progress significantly as they try to acquire the English skills. Even shy, English-speaking students are penalized. A random system for calling on students is desperately that eliminates the "reasons" for not calling on certain students. This system tells all students that their thoughts and opinions are valuable.

Her system is Numbered Heads paired with Scaffolded Questions: Joanne has observed that with this system...class participation skyrockets...or in other words, get your line set to start "reeling"!

Here is a summary of Numbered Heads with Scaffolded Questions:
It is recommended that this strategy be used approximately every fifteen to twenty minutes during direct instruction...can be shorter intervals depending on the grade level and content. Each Numbered Heads question serves as a "mini" formative assessment, allowing the teacher to randomly collect immediate feedback from multiple students. It stops the teacher from talking and starts the students thinking!

* Students in class are assigned a number from 1 to 4.
1. Pose and post the question.
2. Post the sentence stem/sentence starter (includes academic vocabulary)
3. Have students gather/share information with a partner or group. (This can include a written response.)
4. Teacher models a response for students.
5. Select a number at random and have all students that are that number stand to share. (1, 2, 3, or 4)
6. Assess, stretch, and clarify responses.
The questions should be open ended requiring more thought and reflection. The first could have a quick and easy response and subsequent scaffolded questions can build up to more complex thinking.
When any struggling students or ELLs are the numbers chosen to share, be sure not to call on them first. Give them a chance to hear other responses and build their confidence in the answer they will share.

This teaching tip can work with any subject/level. Contact your instructional coach for more tips on using this strategy with your students. We can help design your questions to "hook 'em" and be sure your line stays taut and ready to "reel 'em" in!


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hook, Line, and Thinker!

As the school year pulls to an end and the "natives become increasingly restless", we are often scratching our heads, wondering "Why won't my class just stop talking and pay attention? They have already checked out." You can bet, once the STAAR test is over, "checked out" will be a minor term, right? matter the grade level!  Every year we are reminded of the importance of continuing to teach to the very end. Don't move into a relaxed schedule too soon, because this is often the very cause of students taking free reign of the classroom.  A simple way to help our  teaching remain strong to the very end , and therefore hold the attention of our students, is to "hook 'em" ( that means fish hook, you Longhorns out there!) and then " close 'em". Let me explain.

Hook 'em?

We had a power burst session, earlier in the year at our campus, on the importance of using a good hook at the beginning of a lesson.  A hook can be as simple as a powerful question that gets the students thinking or as involved as a short " one man" skit!  An interesting piece of realia, a song, short video, or even an unexpected piece of clothing or  accessory worn by the teacher are all examples of powerful lesson hooks.  The point is, we want to use a hook as a way of pulling the students in, helping them to frame their thinking and focus on the information at hand.  Engagement!  Once you grab their attention in this way, it's hard for them to let go, if they are hooked!

Close 'em?

The closure is just as important as the hook.  Our closure is the activity that ends a lesson and creates a lasting impression.   I might add that it is best if the students do most of the intellectual work here, NOT the teacher.  Thus, a closing is seen as the "thinker".  The cool thing about a good closure is it doesn't have to be boring!  You might want to check out these  great closure activities , especially when you are feeling the end of year chaos:

An added bonus of keeping your hooks and closings strong is your principal will be really happy as well since these are also two components of a powerful lesson cycle!

So in closing  , keep your students engaged ( and your classroom under control) as long as you can this spring by catching their attention.......
Hook, Line, and Thinker!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Reflection and Goal Setting

Image result for set goalsAs we near the end of 2015-2016 school year, now is the perfect time to reflect upon whether or not we’ve achieved our professional goals. 
Did you incorporate small group instruction into your classroom? 
 Did you confer with students more?  
Did you use more formative assessments to adjust your instruction?  

Recently I came across an Edutopia article, Mid-Year Reflection: Setting PD Goals by Monica Burns.  Even though the article addresses mid-year reflections, I found it to be relevant to year-end reflection as well.   There are many aspects of teaching that demand your time not to mention our busy lifestyles outside of school, and as a result we tend to push reflection to the back burner.  The author suggests teachers take the time to 1.) pause and reflect on your accomplishments to determine where they have spent the majority of their time and professional development on, 2.) Make a plan of action for where you would like to focus your efforts, and 3.) Plan to hold yourself accountable.   Even though the article addresses mid-year reflections, the points outlined in the article perfectly match a new teacher appraisal system many districts will be adopting next year.  

Next year, a new teacher appraisal system will be adopted by several districts across Texas.   The Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System, T-TESS,will have three measures of teacher effectiveness: observation, teacher self assessment, and student growth.  Teachers will be required to map out a plan to achieve their goals under the new system.  The plan could include all forms of professional development not just the traditional courses or district whole staff professional development.  Now, professional development includes working with professional learning communities (PLCs), with an instructional coach, administrators, and other teachers working on improvement goals. Take a proactive stance.  Start preparing yourself for the new appraisal system and taking steps towards self evaluation, goal setting, and developing a plan of action to achieve your goals.


You may be able to pinpoint your areas to focus on, or your may need to look back at your observations, talk with an instructional coach, campus administrators, or a trusted colleague to gather feedback to help you develop your goals and plan of action. Your Instructional Coaches would love to help you set goals and create a plan of action!   Find others that share similar goals and hold each other accountable.  Ultimately, the ones that will benefit the most are our students.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Student-Centered or Teacher- Focused?

 When thinking about your classroom, is majority of your day student-centered or teacher-focused? As teachers, we are always working to move towards a student-centered classroom. Having students "do" the work increases learning and engagement in our classrooms. This time of year is always a hard time to keep students engaged. What can you do to make your classroom more student-centered? Check out these wonderful resources from Amy Mayer to reflect on your classroom: 
Want more information or help reflecting on your classroom? Ask your Instructional Coach. We would love to collaborate with you.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Powerpoint Presentations...Design Tips and Tricks for a more effective “SHOW TIME” and “LEARN TIME”!

Been There, Done That...We have all viewed, created, assigned, graded, borrowed, and/or stolen slideshow presentations.  We have selected eye-catching photos, chosen dynamic fonts, used our favorite colors and backgrounds, spent valuable time searching for the cutest clip art, all to produce a presentation for the ages, BUT have they really been effective...did they really benefit our audience or our egos?
Check out these slide design principles:
(Nancy Duarte from the book slide:ology)
  1. Background:  Choose BLACK or WHITE!  Just as a painter starts with a clean canvas, so should you!  You will avoid creating busy and visually confusing slides which are much more difficult to work with. Using a black or white background allows your pictures, charts, graphs, and text to present themselves without unnecessary clutter and visual distractions.  
  2. Color:  Color is crucial to your presentation.  It sets a tone and helps establish what the audience will expect.  It helps communicate what type of journey you will be taking them on. Is it an exciting “journey” or a serious and dangerous one?  Pick colors that properly represent you, your stance, your content, and your attitude.  When choosing your colors make sure they contrast with your background.
  3. Text:  The decisions to use one font over another, where on the slide to place text, and whether or not to combine it with other slide elements, will have a direct impact on your visual message.  Here are a few tips on how to use TYPE to help you in creating strong visual presentations:  
           1.  Make it BIG! When presenting in a large room, with a bunch of people, 
don’t be shy!  For bigger rooms, avoid going smaller than a 36 point font.
           2.  Learn how to S P A C E out your letters. Different fonts behave differently
on your slides when you are enlarging the text.  
           3.  Choose your font wisely!  Limit yourself to no more than 2-3 different ones 
in your presentation.  This will add some continuity and flow to your design.  
      d. And two final tricks of the trade:

Dump the Junk! Clean the Screen! 

         Consider the 3 second rule.
         Can your visuals be understood in 3 seconds?
           Hope these tips and tricks are helpful to you as well as your students.