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August 12, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
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What Do You To Make Sure Small Groups Work Well In Class?

“What Do You Do To Make Sure Small Groups Work Well In Class?’ is the next topic of my “What Do You Do?” series.

I hope you’ll share your experiences in dealing with this question — just leave a comment on this post, and I’ll include it in my post on the topic. The deadline for sharing your ideas will be September 15th.

You might also want to check-out previous posts in this series:

What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?
What Do You Do To Keep Students (And You!) Focused Near The End Of The Year?
What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class (Part Two)?
What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class? — Part Two
Answers To “What Do You Do On The First Day Of School?”

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August 9, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
14 Comments

Answers To “What Do You Do On The First Day Of School?”

In this piece, I’ll be sharing lots of great ideas that readers shared when I put a call out for people to share their first day plans. First, though, I thought I’d share what I typically do (though it might change as I consider “stealing” some of the ideas people left), along with some other additional resources.

This is the latest in my series of What Do You Do? posts about issues teachers face in the classroom.

Previous posts in this series have included:

What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?
What Do You Do To Keep Students (And You!) Focused Near The End Of The Year?
What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class (Part Two)?
What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class? — Part Two

Here is what I typically do on the first day of one of my classes (this plan I’ll be sharing here is for my “double-block” mainstream ninth-grade English class):

First, I greet students at the door and refer them to a seating chart that is displayed on the overhead projector (at first, I make seating assignments just to ensure ethnic and gender diversity).  On each desk is a simple questionnaire, which I ask them to start working on as soon as they sit down.

When the bell rings, I ask students to stop working on the questionnaire for a moment and to give me their attention. Once I have it, I welcome them to the class, explain that this is a college prep class, and by the end of the year they’ll be able to read anything. I go on to say that I have a specific system about how we do work in the class, but the key rules to keep in mind are:

* When I say “Can I have your attention?” that means I need everybody to stop what they’re doing and look at me. I like to do a lot of small group work, and the more I feel I can get your attention when I need to, the more small group work we’ll do.

* Be respectful — to each other, to me, to my stuff, and other student’s stuff.

* We start class three minutes before the bell rings, so please be here on time. I’m excited to be your teacher, and I hope you’ll want to be here in this class. I’ll be sad if you’re not here.

* Eating can be a distraction, so I ask that you not eat food in the room. You’re more than welcome, though, to come here during lunchtime to eat. As long as I don’t see it or hear it, I usually don’t notice if people are chewing gum.

I keep that to a very short time.

Next I have students quickly introduce themselves to a person they’re sitting next to — their name, what school they went to the previous year, what they like to do for fun, where they live, and if they have any brothers or sisters (those questions are posted in front). After doing that for three minutes, I have them do it again with a different student near them.

I then quickly review a short syllabus that students need to bring home to have their parents sign.

I then quickly review my classroom management system, and emphasize that I hope to stop using it within a few weeks, if not sooner, as students show me that they are the responsible students that I expect them to be.

Then, students can go back to working on their questionnaire, making a simple “nameplate” that they can put on their desk for the first few days to help me remember names, and write their name on a piece of paper they tape on a binder where they will be keeping their papers during the year. I reuse the binders each year. During this time I circulate and began to have short conversations with students about what I see they’re writing down on their questionnaire.

After about fifteen minutes, I pass out “Book Pass” sheets, which is an idea I learned about from Janet Allen. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the file with the sheet I use, but it’s quite simple — one column for the titles of books, the next column for the name of the author, and the third column is where students rank them — 1 means they are not interested in the book at all; 2 for being “sort of” interested; and 3 for being definitely interested.

Prior to class, I have developed a stack of about one hundred of the most popular books in my classroom library. The idea behind the Book Pass is that each student gets some books, looks them over for a minute or so, records and ranks them, and then passes them to the next person. After everyone has gone through all the books, they decide which one they want to check-out.

Prior to the distribution of books, we have a discussion about what you look at when you have a minute to review a book.

Usually in the middle of the book pass, the bell rings for a break. When they return, the book pass continues for another twenty minutes or so and students pick their books. Again, I’m circulating to see who is ranking which books high and low, and having brief conversations.

I then give a more formal introduction of myself, modeling what each student will be doing over the next few days.

We make a schedule for introductions beginning the day-after-the-next-day,and then students use the remaining classtime to work on their introduction posters. I take that time to continue having brief conversations. My goal is to have a short individual conversation with each student about their interests by the end of the first day.

So that’s what I do.

In addition to the wealth of ideas I’ll be sharing from readers, here are a few other resources about the first day of school you might want to explore:

How to Create a Welcoming Classroom Environment offers specific advice for those teaching English Language Learners.

First Day Must-Haves shares some tech-related ideas for beginning activities.

This is a classic that John Norton recently shared: Discipline Tips from a Teacher-Survivor

The National Education Association also has a good first-day resource called Best of the Icebreakers.

Teaching Tips: The First Day

And, now, for the real good stuff! Here is what readers shared:

Amy Deschamp

I try to do something that shows the skills of a historian along with the kids finding out about me and me finding our about them. In the past I have brought in artifacts from my life, had them take notes with their own conclusions and then write a poem about who they think their teacher is.

shellterrell

I teach to several age groups so I will let you know what I have done for each age group. All these classes are at the beginner to intermediate level of English proficiency.

Children- I wear a big smile and say Hello and introduce myself in English and in their language. Then it is straight to game playing!

High School- I wear a big smile, say Hello, introduce myself, and give them a one page syllabus with their first homework assignment to email me with whatever they want to say for a free 100. I also collect index cards with their personal information. I have each student share some information of themselves with the class such as name, country they are from, and their hobbies. With more advanced classes, I do this as a pair interview where the partner introduces the student. I give my speech that everyone starts off with a 100 and clean slate in my class. We also learn vocabulary about the school and do a tour with each student acting as a tour guide the second time around.

Adults- I wear a big smile, say Hello, introduce myself, and start with this question game. One student is in the hot seat and the others must each ask the student one question beginning with the Wh question word I wrote on the board. This activity has been very successful in breaking the ice!

hcmurdoch

In my high school world history class I go over the syllabus and do all the typical first day stuff, then we start right in on the history! I have a handout on which students guess when and where common objects (toothbrush, bra, spas, sun glasses, etc) were first used. We talk about their guesses and why they made the choices they did. The next day they each get a post it with the answer to one of the objects on it, get in a chronological circle and go around sharing the right information. I tell little stories about each object. The information is from the book The Origins of Everyday Things by Charles Panati.

Kelly Hines

On the first day of school, students read letters from last year’s 4th graders about “How to Survive in Mrs. Hines” class. That’s always a lot of fun and loosens things up. We also review classroom expectations and rules, as well as setting up a basic calendar of things to expect. This year we will be starting on our overall yearly theme of “Healthy Living” with a lifestyle pre-assessment.

Briana Bancroft

I like the paper bag ice breaker. Before school starts I send out a letter asking the kids to bring in 3-4 items (small) that are important to them in a brown paper lunch bag (unmarked) and when they get to class on the first day of school I collect them. Then when they are gone to a special I pass out the bags in random order and have the students unpack them when they get back. They are allowed to walk around the room and look at the different things and then they have to try to guess who belongs to each bag. I have each student stand to show what is on their desk, make their guess as to who they think it belongs to, and then the person who brought them in will explain why they chose those particular things to bring in and show. With elementary students it is like a giant show-and-tell and then I don’t have to do it anymore for the rest of the year!

sanmccarron

This is a demonstration I do on one of the first few days of school. I get a local fast food joint burger (actually, I buy 5 because I have 5 classes). Before I reveal it, I have the students define what a quality burger is (it has meat, bun, pickle…etc.) Then I set it on my demo table and unwrap it. I ask if it is a quality burger. Then I smash it with a rubber mallet. While I am smashing it I am talking about the paper that is due the next day and how it is grabbed from the printer minutes before running out the door and slammed into the backpack and other books smashed on top of it.

Then I ask if it is still a quality burger. It has all the same parts. But it is a mess. And I expect to see tidy papers turned in.

They don’t forget the quality burger very quickly.

Natalie Wojinski

The first day of school is always hurried. Our classes are about 30 minutes each following a homeroom (with students that I will not have in class) period of 60 minutes where we hand out schedules. I always greet students at the door, check their names off the roll sheet and assign them a desk. Once the bell rings, I double-check that all students are present, then repeat their names again asking if there is another name they wish to use in class (i.e. nickname, middle name, etc.). I also stress the importance of them correcting my pronunciation if necessary. We review the syllabus and go over the recommended supply list. If it’s an AP class, I collect the summer assignment. At that point, I usually have time for a quick activity/demonstration. One of my favorites is to show them an overhead of a world map that has been cut into four pieces. The first view is centered on the Atlantic Ocean (which they are used to seeing), but then you move one of the pieces to the other side of the map to create a different view. We talk a little about our perceptions of what the world looks like and how sometimes we just need a different view to understand things better. If I had a full class period I’d add in a mental map of the world. It’s great to watch students’ maps progress over the course of the year.

Terri Harton

I spend time not only on the first day, but the first few weeks community building in the classroom. Taking the time to build community in the classroom from the very first day of school sets the tone for the rest of the year. Norms naturally emerge and relationships form that allow for productive cooperative learning. The students take complete ownership of the classroom, their own behavior, and their classmates’ behavior.

I also assign lunch groups and a topic of discussion. The groups sit together at lunch and report back the next day in class. Topics range from finding 3 unique things the group has in common to something that helps them to reflect on a previous day. We have 5 feeder schools that filter into our middle school and for sixth graders the lunch groups help to settle the anxiety that naturally emerges in regard to that time of the day. I only assign lunch groups for the first two weeks of school, but the students tend to continue sitting with each other throughout the year.

Mona

If it’s a new group, I of course want to know their names and a little bit about them. However, I know I don’t like boring introductions, so I’m guessing they don’t either. That’s why during the first meeting I sometimes ask “different” questions, like: “Do you have a nickname?”, “What book is on top of your shelf?”, “Who would you invite to an imaginary party?”, “What are you most proud of?” etc. These unconventional questions get them to open up and it’s always a fun class, especially since I too answer the same questions. Also, this type of getting-to-know-each-other exercise sets the ground for a good collaboration.

With groups with which I plan on using technology, I’d probably adapt the questions and ask stuff like “When was the last time you read a book/webpage?”, “When was the last time you received a letter/an email?”, “When was the last time you browsed an encyclopedia/wikipedia?”.

Heather Mason

I teach 8th grade Language Arts. By the time they get to me, they know most of the rules, so I go over them QUICKLY and pass out a supply list. Then I take any “I must know or I’ll die” questions, but I put off all the class info stuff until the next day (when all of the other teacher aren’t doing it).

We write the first day, usually a fun assignment and never a graded assignment. Last year they wrote an essay entitled, “What I Did This Summer” but the weren’t allowed to tell the truth. The crazier the better. They they shared with a partner and a few shared with the whole class.

This year, I think we will write a poem using the mini-whiteboards I have. Each student will write a word that describes school, then I will video the word while they say it and post the video to my website. If there’s time, we will do the activity again, this time with a word describing what they wish school was.

I want kids to know right off the bat that this class isn’t about listening or being quiet and following directions (although those are important skills), it’s about doing.

cthumphreys

Last year I taught 3rd grade, and I wanted the focus of my first day (and many after that) to be the cultivation of community. I showed pictures on the Smartboard of my husband, our dog, and from a trip I had taken to Argentina that summer. I let them ask lots of questions (they especially wanted to know all about the trip to Argentina because I had worked with kids their age). The purpose of this was to let them know that I wanted them to know me– to really know me, and this helped set the tone for the rest of the year. I shared my life with them, and they shared theirs with me.

We then played a game called “Connections.” I used a big piece of butcher paper and wrote all our names around the paper at the edges. Everyone sat behind their name with a marker, and we started the game with one student sharing something about himself. If a student found a connection with what he said, he drew a line connecting their names. They also wrote what connected them on the line. At the end, when the paper was a barely legible mess of lines and words, we drew conclusions about what this game taught us.

Dave

I teach fifth graders and have been doing this activity successfully for the past 29 years. After everyone is seated, I ask the students to look around the room to find THE most valuable item. I tell them it is not in a drawer or a closet, and that they can walk around and look if they want. After a few minutes I ask for what they believe is the most valuable object. Computers and stereo and ipod and TV and Smartboard are often mentioned. Sometimes it’s the artwork or books. I recognize that it IS valuable, but not THE most valuable. Eventually someone mentions the students and I concur… but add that it’s not only the students, but any person in the classroom, and I will not allow any damage to occur to the most valuable item(s) in the classroom. We refer to this lesson throughout the year as the first lesson they were taught in fifth grade. They don’t forget.

Marie

I am going back into the classroom after 10 years out so my main aim for the 1st day is to survive!!
I have a questionaire to hand out to the children. Although I already know them I hope this will give me more of an insight into each of them and make it easier to tailor my lessons for this class. It will also make it a bit easier to connect with each of them during the year. I will also spend time community building where we will discuss our expectations and how we all feel the classroom should be run (rules, consequences etc)

Dave

I introduce myself and tell the students a little about me and my background, hobbies, and interests. Then I have each student introduce themselves and tell about their hobbies, interests, or something interesting about themselves. I then talk briefly about the class and what we will be doing and what they can expect. They get a copy of the syllabus on their way out.

I teach high school physics, so I have grades 11 and 12.

I hand out the textbooks and go over class policies and procedures on the second day.

Thanks to everybody who contributed. Feel free to share more ideas in the comments section.  I’ll be announcing the next question in this series within a week!

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July 29, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
2 Comments

What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class? — Part Two

Earlier this month, I wrote an article titled Teaching Secrets: How to Use Leftover Class Time Wisely that was published by Teacher Magazine. It appeared a week ago as part of a series coordinated by the Teacher Leaders Network. That functions as a sort of “Part One” on this topic. In order to view the whole article, you have to register for the Education Week site. It’s free, though, and only takes less than a minute. You’ll see where it says “Free Registration” just below the beginning portion of the article that you can see.

I’d strongly encourage readers to check-out that piece, where I share a few of the ideas shared by readers of this blog in a previous post. I also share some of my own and frame them in a bit of a community organizing context.

In this “Part Two” post, I’d like to more completely share reader suggestions and also include some links to additional resources that you might find useful.

This is the latest post in my “What Do You Do?” series. Previous ones have included:

What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?
What Do You Do To Keep Students (And You!) Focused Near The End Of The Year?
What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class (Part Two)?
What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class? — Part

The next question I’ll be tackling is “What Do You Do On The First Day of Class?”

I’m eager to hear what readers do.  I’ll, of course, highlight your ideas (with credit) in the post.

Please share how you handle your first day of class each year.  You can leave a comment at my original call for contributions (the experiences that have already been shared are great, and you can see them there).   The “deadline” for comments will be August 15th.

Now, back to the primary topic of this post — What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class?

I’d like to give a framework for this post by quoting what I wrote in the Teacher Magazine article:

“My thoughts … fall into seven categories: Review, Summarize, Relate, Reflect, Intellectually Challenge, Technologically Engage, and (a student favorite) Chill.”

In this post, though, I’m adding an eighth one — Read.

1) REVIEW:

A common plan is to use the extra time for review.

Angela Cunningham:

I teach Geography, so the last 5-10 minutes of class time is always well spent reviewing maps. We grab atlases and compete to see who can find a random country the fastest. The first one with their finger on the country and their hand in the air wins. It’s easy and requires no advanced preparation, but has long-lasting results.

R. Turneron

I teach 3 subjects, but this doesn’t matter because they all need the review. I like to review the day’s topic with real-world applications. When I taught Area the application was painting. If you want to paint the classroom three colors what are the colors and a close approximation of the amount paint you would need? Some are still trying to figure out the amount of paint!

Karenne Sylvester

I have several options (to keep things from getting stale ;-)

1. Vocabulary Review – students go back through their books- previous units or through my conversation control sheets and look for highlighted words and make example sentences.

2. Vocabulary Review – students take two words from their lessons today and tell me how they anticipate activating these new words in English conversations during the coming week.

3. Feedback – how are we doing? What have we learned so far/ in the lesson today / how can we apply this knowledge to our real lives?

Amyon

I love to play the Princeton Review Vocabulary Minute for my students. There are always 4-5 words that go with the theme of the song. Whether it is a greek/latin/french root, or a list of synonyms, the students like to sing along and try to remember the words and meanings at the end (for a small treat, usually… cap eraser or m&m). Sometimes, for the really good ones that we play over and over, I’ll catch the kids singing them on their own, or even asking me to play them.

Mister Teacher

I teach 3rd grade math, so on days when we have a few minutes left (rare), we play little math games that don’t require cards, pieces, or any kind of equipment. “Math around the World,” or a “Multiplication Bee” or something like that. The kids enjoy it because it’s a game, and it helps to drill their basic facts.

Paula Mc

As a third grade teacher teaching South Carolina History and ELA I use the last 5 min. for a review of South Carolina Facts. Each week my students have 10 SC social studies facts that they have to know by Friday. So each day I review. I also take that time to read to my student.

2) SUMMARIZE:

Summarizing the day’s lesson is another good activity.  I’d highly recommend Rick Wormeli’s book Summarization In Any Subject: 50 Techniques to Improve Student Learning,

3) RELATE:

Using the time to get to know students is another excellent idea.

Gladys Baya

I teach classes of over 30 teens and usually assign some homework, so if I finish everything I’d planned before the bell goes off, I usually encourage them to start working on their homework so that they don’t need to go about it at home. If they have tests on other subjects after my lesson, they usually request permission to use that time for reviewing, and I let them. While they do whatever they’ve chosen to do, I walk around and try and start some casual conversation with those of them I haven’t had much chance to interact during the lesson, especially if they seem not to be using their time in any fruitful way… ;-) it’s just light-hearted chat on any topic of their interest, not on the point of the lesson!

adventurelearning

Reminds me of 2 years ago when I was teaching biology.. In last few minutes, I ask my student about their activities in campus or home…also about their boy/girlfriend.. I make a last minutes as relax as possible cause I want to also be their friend..

4) REFLECT:

Taking time to think about what students are learning actually “means” to them and their lives is a good way to spend a few minutes, too.

Edna

One of the thinking routines from Project Zero http://tinyurl.com/dgr79f (highly recommended reading !)
eg Connect Extend Challenge. How does today’s learning connect to what you already knew? How did it extend your thinking further? What challenges/questions do you still have?

5) INTELLECTUALLY CHALLENGE:

Using short mysteries or “lateral thinking” puzzles was also mentioned (as well as a number of other ways to stimulate students’ minds). Here are two good sources for lateral thinking puzzles:

Realistic Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Lateral Thinking Problems

Here’s another source: The Ten Greatest Lateral Thinking Puzzles is from Paul Sloane.

Kelly Hines:

I have a book of 5 minute mysteries. We read aloud and students use their inductive and deductive reasoning skills to try to solve the mystery.
I also have all of the review games that I’ve developed over the year for our interactive whiteboard. They are always readily on hand to open up and use to go back over previous units of study.
There are also some fun vanity license plates to decipher here (http://www-chaos.umd.edu/misc/). The kids love the challenge!

Lianne:

I play critical thinking games or read out brain teasers. I also have a student submitted (pre read) joke/riddle box.

Derek Smith

The kids love it when we get out the Brain Quest, or Trivial Pursuit Cards. Another good time filler we do is math facts around the world style.

P.ALES

I can always capture their interest with a SCIENCE DEMO of the DAY (related to the topic presented). Occasionally with 5-10 minutes left we close our books and brainstorm new vocabulary or even play a quick game of vocabulary challenge. Whatever I choose it keeps them going to the very end.

Here’s a teacher with a lot of options that cross all categories, but I’m putting all her ideas here:

Barb

I teach fifth grade. Here are some of the things I do when I have five minutes of class time:

1) Pick sticks (random selection) for one minute speeches for table points. Some of the topics include such things as, tell all the uses you can think of for chewing gum. They aren’t allowed to say what the topic is, the class has to guess. Another might be, convince the class that you would be a good president. I have over 100 topics on laminated papers prepared, so they never have the same topic in a year.

2) Spelling sparkle to review spelling words.

3)Watch a segment from http://www.thefutureschannel.com (all clips are five minutes or less) professionals showing their job and relating how math and science help them in their profession. (Free)

4) Watch a clip from Brainpop.com. My school purchased a membership for me, but you can have a trial with an email account for one week without purchasing. Excellent learning tool.

6) TECHNOLOGICALLY ENGAGE:

Technology can be a useful tool — inside the classroom or in the computer lab.  Some specific resources for these area can be found in these lists:

For Online Learning Games That Can Be Played Or Created Quickly please go to my “The Best” list and look under “Games” or look at these:

The Best online Learning Games– 2007
The Best Online Video Games For Learning Language & Content Knowledge
The Best “Fun” Sites You Can Use For Learning, Too
The Best Websites For Creating Online Learning Games
The Best Online Learning Games — 2008
The Best Sites For Making Crossword Puzzles & Hangman Games
The Best Fun Sites You Can Use For Learning, Too — 2008
The Best Online Games Students Can Play In Private Virtual “Rooms”
The Best “Cause-Related” Online Learning Games
The Best “I Spy” (Hidden Object) Games For Vocabulary Development
The Best Collections Of Online Educational Games
The Best Places To Read & Write “Choose Your Own Adventure” Stories
The Best Places To Find Online Video Games For Language-Learning

For Examples Of Ways Students Can Create Online Content In Minutes:

The Best Ways To Create Online Content Easily & Quickly — 2008

The Best Ways To Create Online Content Easily & Quickly — 2009

Here are some other ways teachers use technology during “leftover” time:

deyenbergon:

If I’m working with computers I get the students to “post” a highlight, lesson learned, or question on http://www.wallwisher.com/ In the classroom I love bubble basic facts practice on the Smartboard, throwing the koush(that’s definitely spelled wrong) at the circles to reveal the fact, and then the answer.

kirish43

I teach project based differentiated instruction so there are always diverse projects going on-but an idea I love to try and work in is using the classroom blog site.

This next teacher also has several different ideas she uses, but since the one she listed first related to computers, I’m placing her whole comment in this section:

Beth Diaz

We work on a quick Renaissance program called Math Facts in a Flash to practice math facts on computer. I read aloud math brainteasers and make up my own. I challenge students to come up with long “incredible Equations” for the number of the school day-How many days have we been in school? I read aloud from whatever read aloud chapter book we have going at the moment.  Or since I teach second grade all boys, we may take a one minute organize your desk or locker break.

7) “CHILL”

Just giving students a few minutes of free time to chat is something I do very occasionally, and others do, too.

Hadass

I teach high school, so if it is only 5-10 minutes, I let them chill. Everybody needs some downtime, and many schools have eliminated breaks during the morning and afternoon.

But it doesn’t just have to be a few minutes to chat — singing is another alternative..

TeacherC

I love to bring out instruments (if I have any) and sing songs. Sometimes the songs are related to content, other times, they are fun songs that we sing as a class.

erik

I teach 7th grade go and most of students get done at varying times, so on most days I send them to my free time page. It has tons of quasi education fun stuff for them to do. It keeps the fast workers occupied and allows the slower ones time to finish up.

8)READ:

Karen McMillan

I have a few things I might do if I have some extra time at the end of a class. My favorite is to read to them. Even seventh graders love to hear a story. On Friday, while we were waiting for the parents to arrive for our field trip, I started reading “The Phantom Tollbooth” to them. Within thirty seconds of starting, you could hear a pin drop in my classroom!

Of course, the fact that it’s so much fun for me to read out loud and do the voices and put on a little performance, has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Jenny

As a first grade teacher I’ve always got a book or two ready to read. Other options include various ways to practice math facts, playing spelling sparkle, or telling a story that we each add on one by one.

Thanks to everybody who contributed! And feel free to leave more ideas in the comment section of this post…

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July 22, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
3 Comments

“How To Use Leftover Class Time Wisely”

Teacher Magazine has just published my article “How To Use Leftover Class Time Wisely.”

You have to register at the magazine for free to view the whole article, but it’s a quick and easy process.

The article functions as Part One in my two part piece on What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class? Part Two will appear in this blog next week. Both are parts of my What Do You Do? series of posts.

Consider contributing to the next topic in this series: What Do You Do On The First Day Of School?

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July 15, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
19 Comments

What Do You Do On The First Day Of School?

As regular readers know, I’ve been writing a monthly “What Do You Do” posts focusing on specific classroom issues.

Next week, Teacher Magazine will be publishing my article on “What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class?” and a few days later I’ll be following that up with an extensive “Part Two” on the same topic. You can see many comments left by readers in my original post.

Previous posts in this series have included:

What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class (Part Two)?
What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class? — Part Two

What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?

What Do You Do To Keep Students (And You!) Focused Near The End Of The Year?

The next question I’ll be tackling is “What Do You Do On The First Day of Class?”

I’m eager to hear what readers do.  I’ll, of course, highlight your ideas (with credit) in the post.

Please leave a comment with how you handle your first day of class each year.  The “deadline” for comments will be August 15th.

I’ll look forward to learning a lot!

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June 25, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
0 comments

More On Summer Reading Loss

A couple of weeks ago, I shared an article from the Washington Post discussing some of the research that I also share with students that highlights the effect of the “summer slump.”  It’s titled Low-income students suffer greater summer-learning losses.

Reading Rockets has now published an even better article titled “Summer Reading Loss.”

Thanks to Colorin Colorado for the tip.

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June 15, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
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“Low-Income Students Suffer Greater Summer-Learning Losses”

In my Teacher Magazine article titled The Last Day Of Class, I share that one of the things I do is tell my students about the negative effects a complete summer absence from reading can have on their academic life.  I explain that I’ve arranged for them to get extra credit from their tenth-grade English teacher for reading, and let them check-out books from my extensive classroom library.

Today, The Washington Post just ran a good article discussing some of the research that I also share with students that highlights the effect of the “summer slump.”  It’s titled Low-income students suffer greater summer-learning losses.

You might also be interested in What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class? (Part Two).

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June 1, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
3 Comments

What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class? (Part Two)

Earlier this month, I wrote an article titled The Last Day Of Class, which appeared in Teacher Magazine two weeks ago.  That functions as a sort of “Part One” on this topic.  In order to view the whole article, you have to register for the Education Week site. It’s free, though, and only takes less than a minute. You’ll see where it says “Free Registration” just below the beginning portion of the article that you can see.

I’d strongly encourage readers to check-out that piece, where I share a few of the ideas shared by readers of this blog in a previous post. I also share some of my own and frame them in a bit of a community organizing context.

In this “Part Two” post, I’d like to more completely share reader suggestions and also include some links to good teacher evaluation forms that you might want to consider adapting for your own use.  In addition to “Celebrating and Appreciating,” I also recommend in the article that teachers consider “Evaluating and Agitating” (I’m now adding “Reflecting” to that list).

This is the latest post in my “What Do You Do?” series. Previous ones have included:

What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?

What Do You Do To Keep Students (And You!) Focused Near The End Of The Year?

The next topic in this series will be:

What Do You Do When You’ve Finished Your Lesson, But Have Five or Ten Minutes Of Classtime Left?

Feel free to leave your thoughts on that topic here.

CELEBRATING AND APPRECIATING:

One of the things I try to do is to have a simple celebration and student recognition ceremony.  I’m obviously not alone in doing something like this.

Jason Flom:

On the last day of school we tear down the remnants of an 8′ x 8′ wall map of Florida that we spent the entire year constructing (we use most of the content in making a year-end book). Then, we have an awards show. Students receive the Presidential Student Service Award for having more than 50 hours of community service during the year (this year’s class has over 100 per student). The finale is an individual award for each student where I have one last opportunity to roast and celebrate them before sending them off to 5th grade. We wash that down with cake and a round of boo-hoo’s.

Beth Still:

I teach at a very small school. We have 6 staff members and around 40 students. For the last few years we have gone to a local park and had a picnic to wrap up the year. Students enjoy bringing desserts and salads. My husband usually ends up grilling the burgers. Many of my students have children of their own and they bring them. We always have a great time!

Franblo:

Although it depends on what activities have been planned for the whole school, I like to have kids act out plays (some they’ve written during the year, some they’ve just enjoyed in the past). They love either acting, or watching others act, and this uses up all that pent up last-day energy.

Amanda Wu:

I teach EFL college courses in Taiwan.

I try to always find a way to celebrate learning on the last day of class.

For example, in my writing classes, students read aloud selections from their favorite pieces in their portfolios. In my business English classes, students have a mock full class role-play that covers the content from the semester. In my public speaking classes we have two whole class debates.

In all situations, I find ways to give certificates or awards as well . . . most improved writer, more interesting essay, most inviting introductions, and so on. If the class is small, I find a way to give an award to every one; if the class is larger, I only award those who earned them.

Teachin’:

On the last day, we’ll be playing Scattergories, with categories related to our content from this year. It’s a fun way to end but still ties in to some sort of actual learning. But mostly it’s just fun.

In the comments section at the Teacher Magazine article, Nancy Flanagan shared this plan:

In the last few years, the outgoing 8th graders have done a fun, raucous pops concert (I teach music) for the whole school first hour, pulling teachers out of the bleachers to be a guest conductor or vocal soloist, involving the cheerleaders, flag corps, spring season athletes, drama club skits, etc.. The musicians really are the stars, but so many kids get recognized (who weren’t part of Honors Night) that it feels pretty democratic. We begin with “America the Beautiful” (which is cool again, thanks to Ray Charles) and end with the school song and play lots of high-energy stuff of the “Louie, Louie” caliber.

EVALUATING, AGITATING, & REFLECTING:

One of the things I have students do is anonymously evaluate the class and my teaching.

Here is a link to one style of evaluation I use, and here’s another good one that Middleweb has on its site.

Other teachers also use the day as an opportunity to invite students to evaluate.

C. Wehde:

As a high school English teacher, I always had the students “grade” me on the last day of school. Their “assignment” was to tell me what they liked most in the class and what could be improved. In addition, I asked them to rate the literature we read in the class and projects we completed: what would they recommend I use again in the future and what to cut. They had the option of leaving their names off of the evaluation if they chose to do so. Most did not and were pretty honest about their experiences in the class. It was one more way to find a way for them to write the last day of school and I really appreciated their feedback.

Siobhan Curious has students do a somewhat different type of reflection:

I teach college. I sometimes use the last class of the term as office hours, when students can submit outstanding work, ask questions about any final assignments due after the last day, or come pick stuff up.

However, I sometimes use the last class as a sort of free-form seminar. I ask students to write down a question, any question, about anything they’d like to know about English language, English literature, being a teacher, being a writer, the class… Then I put them all in a hat, and draw as many as I have time to answer, soliciting their input. Sometimes I have them do a little writing assignment for the last half hour, tying together some of the things we’ve discussed – one topic I use for this is “Why is it important/not important to study English literature in college?” Their answers often surprise me.

I also generally have students write letters to future students entering the class.  Other teachers do the same:

Andria D’Errico:

I teach technology at a grade school. I have 2 projects I’ve done in different years. One is to write a letter to a child who will come in to that grade telling them what that grade will be like. I give them some guidelines, like your 3 favorite things, what you need to know about the teacher, something that will be a challenge. The teacher can use that at meet the teacher day, or the first day of school.

The 2nd project I’ve done is “3 Words”. Students pick 3 words to tell upcoming students about the grade. For example: Do Your Homework, Mrs. Smith Rocks, Tell the Truth. You can take a picture of the student with their words, and make it into a book or a slide show.

Feel free to contribute additional ideas in the comment section — no matter when you’re reading this post.  There’s always another “last day of school.”

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May 20, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

“The Last Day Of Class”

Teacher Magazine has just published an article I wrote titled The Last Day Of Class.

In order to view the whole article, you have to register for the Education Week site. It’s free, though, and only takes less than a minute. You’ll see where it says “Free Registration” just below the beginning portion of the article that you can see.

In the article, I share a few of the ideas shared by readers of this blog in my previous post “What Do You Do On The Last Day of Class?”. I also share some of my own and frame them in a bit of a community organizing context.

The Teacher Magazine article is part of a series written by members of the Teachers Leaders Network.

I’ll also be compiling all of the suggestions made by this blog’s readers into a post sometime in the future as part of my monthly What Do You Do? series.

It would be great if people could leave comments over at the magazine.

And, speaking of recent articles I’ve written, yesterday I posted about another one titled Parent Involvement Or Parent Engagement?, that was just published by Public School Insights.  Unfortunately, their site is having problems today and is off-line.  I assume it should be fixed quickly, and I’ll post when its available again.  You might also want to check it tomorrow.

That article is a good introduction to the book I’ve written (with Lorie Hammond) that will be published by Linworth Publishing this summer.  It’s called Building Parent Engagement In Schools.

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May 4, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
9 Comments

What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class?

I’m planning on writing a new “What Do You Do?” post — in addition to the upcoming  What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class?

I thought another topic might also be very timely — What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class?

Unlike the other topics in this series, though, I don’t really have anything particularly insightful to contribute.   I usually have shown a movie and had students relax — maybe have a bit of a low-key party.  And I might have students help me pack-up some things and clean the room.

However, I not entirely happy with using the time that way.

How about you?  Please share your ideas in the comments section.  Since the last day of class is coming-up soon, I’m putting in a deadline of May 15th for contributions.  Please include how you’d like me to describe you.

Also, feel free to suggest other topics for this monthly series.

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May 3, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
33 Comments

What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class?

The next post in my “What Do You Do?” series will be:

What Do You Do When You’ve Finished Your Lesson, But Have Five or Ten Minutes Of Classtime Left?

Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments section of this post prior to June 1st, and include how you’d like to be described.

Previous posts in this series have been:

What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?

What Do You Do To Keep Students (And You!) Focused Near The End Of The Year?

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April 23, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
11 Comments

What Do You Do To Keep Students (& You!) Focused Near The End Of The School Year?

It’s that time of the year when it’s not unusual for both students and teachers to have difficulty focusing — there’s a month or two left in the school year, everybody’s a bit tired, and summer is in the air.

It’s a perfect time for the second in my “What Do You Do…” series — posts that focus on questions or challenges that I face in my teaching and ones that I think others might share, too.

My original plan was to wait until mid-May to publish this so there would be more time to received reader contributions.  However, since I received so much feedback from teachers that they’d like to get some advice now,  I decided to publish early and still encourage reader suggestions in the comments section.  I’ll happily incorporate additional suggestions into this post or even do a separate “Part Two” version.

The first post in this monthly series was What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?

As I said in that post, I don’t pretend that I’m sharing any particularly original or earth-shattering ideas, but hope this post will generate some from readers…

Here is what works for me (and for others who have contributed suggestions):

IDEAS ON HOW TO KEEP STUDENTS FOCUSED:

A Big Field Trip: I typically schedule a major field trip sometime in May that requires a fair amount of lessons prior to the trip and educational projects afterward.  Usually, for me, it’s an insane one day field trip to Yosemite National Park with 100 students.  Langwitches has a great post on What Is In A Field Trip? sharing ideas on how to maximize the learning experience for students.

Start All Students With An “A” When The Final Quarter Begins: We’re in a two semester schedule, with each semester divided into two quarters.  During a semester, many teachers continue the first quarter’s grade into the second quarter.  Some of us, though, start all over — everybody begins with an “A” at the beginning of the third quarter.  The final semester grade, then, is typically a very generous average of the two quarter grades.   This has worked for some students who would have ordinarily “checked-out” long before the school year ends.

Students Spend The Last Two-Or-Three Works Developing & Teaching Their Own Thematic Unit: By this time of the year, students are quite familiar with the instructional strategies and materials that I use in class.  I’ll often have students self-select their own small groups and their own topics that they want to use to create a thematic unit.  It’s quite structured in terms of what has to be in the unit (clozes, data sets, read alouds, sequencing activities, think alouds), but the fact that students can choose their topic (subject to my approval) and their own groups tends to get students pretty energized.  Past topics have included video games, fashion, soccer, basketball, and Hmong food.  Each group is given thirty minutes to teach one part of their thematic unit.

Students Prepare Another Kind Of Presentation: Diane LaGrone, a Master Teacher at College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas, suggests using Aaron Shepard’s Home Page as a source of resources for Readers Theater.  I agree with that suggestion, and have used it myself.  Sometimes I’ve used scripts from his page as a model, and then have students write their own stories and scripts, and then they perform at a local elementary school.  I’ve also had students finish the year creating and performing puppet shows, as well.  The creativity itself tends to be energizing, and the fact they will be performing for an authentic audience helps, too.

NEW IDEA ADDED IN MARCH 2010:

Every Friday, I have students in my mainstream ninth-grade English class complete a short reflection. It usually consists of two or three questions they can answer within five minutes. Students then share in pairs, and then a few with the whole class.

This past Friday, these were the questions:

What are three things you can do to help you finish the school year strong academically?

What is one thing you can do to help your classmates finish the year strong academically?

People seemed to take it pretty seriously. Monday, I’m going to ask them to make posters highlighting what they wrote and illustrate them. Then I’ll post them in front of the classroom for the rest of the year.

I’ve written about studies that show the importance of making goals public. I figure having students see these each day, and me — at times when they might be forgetting what they said — being able to point out what they had written sure can’t hurt.

I might make a slideshow of the posters and and share them here.

I’ve also found that one of the best ways to keep students focused is to make sure that I stay focused.  Students seem to have an eeringly accurate sense of my mood and energy, and that obviously has an immediate effect on what happens in the classroom.

That observation leads me to the second part of this post….

IDEAS ON HOW TO KEEP TEACHERS FOCUSED:

Many of my experiences from a nineteen-year career as a community organizing have been very helpful to my teaching, including the strategies I used (and taught to other organizers) to “stay fresh.”  Here are some of them:

Work Fewer Hours: By this time of the year, “throwing time” at school doesn’t pay dividends.  Cutting back on my typical number of outrageous hours per week usually results in my feeling more energized in the classroom.

Read A Stimulating Book: Finding an intellectually-stimulating book (or article) on teaching and learning can get me excited to try-out some new things even though it’s at the end of the year.

Write Something Useful For Other Teachers: Whether it’s a blog post or a lesson plan (or something else), forcing myself to craft something public keeps my mind sharp.

Make A Point To Eat Lunch — Individually — With Teachers I Don’t Know Well, But Am Impressed With: We have well over 120 teachers at our school.  Since we’re divided into seven “Small Learning Communities” (each one has 15-20 teachers, and the same 300 students stay together for all four years, it’s easy to not be connected with faculty in other SLC’s.  I always get energized after meeting with another teacher to learn why they chose this profession, what they’ve learned about teaching and learning, what gives them energy, and just their “story.”

That’s all I got… and hope to hear more suggestions from readers.

The subject of my next post in this series will be:

What Do You Do When You’ve Finished You’re Lesson, But Have Five or Ten Minutes Of Classtime Left?

Feel free to contribute your suggestions in the comments section of this post.  The deadline will be June 7th.

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April 22, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
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Change In “What Do You Do…” Series

Because of an excellent suggestion from Beth Still, I’m changing the next post in my “What Do You Do…” series to:

What Do You Do To Keep Students (& You!) Focused Near The End Of The School Year?

Originally, I was only going to write about how to keep students focused.  However, I know that I sometimes have the same problem.

Please offer your suggestions by May 7th.

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April 21, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Beginning “What Do You Do…” Series

A few days I wrote a post titled What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?

Writing it helped my thinking and my teaching and, based on the response it has received, others found it useful, as well.

After thinking a little more about it, I’ve decided to begin (as an experiment) a series of monthly “What Do You Do…?” posts. Each one will focus on questions or challenges that I face in my teaching and ones that I think others might share, too. I’ll let readers know about that month’s topic a couple of weeks in advance, and invite people to offer suggestions that come out of their own experience.

The next question will be What Do You Do To Keep Students (& You!) Focused Near The End Of The School Year?

At least in the United States, many school districts have about two months left before summer vacation, and that always brings its challenges.

I hope readers will share their suggestions in the comments section. May 7th will be the deadline for contributions.

Future topics might include:

What Do You Do On The First Day Of School?

What Do You Do When You’re Feeling Burnt-Out?

What Do You Do When You’ve Finished You’re Lesson, But Have Five or Ten Minutes Of Classtime Left?

What Do You Do To Help Students Develop Intrinsic Motivation?

Suggestions for further topics are welcome.

Please share them, as well as responses to the question What Do You Do To Keep Students Focused (& You!) Near The End Of The School Year?, in the comments.

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April 18, 2009
by Larry Ferlazzo
6 Comments

What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?

I didn’t have a particularly good day at school yesterday.

A number of students are still having a hard time re-acclimating to school after the Spring Break, I didn’t show as much patience as I would have like to show, and my lessons weren’t particularly engaging.

Happily, this doesn’t happen often.  But it did prompt me to reflect a little more on why it happens when it does, what I try to do in advance to make sure that “all days are good days,” and what I do (and can do better) “in the moment” when things appear to be “going south.”

I don’t think there’s anything particularly insightful in this post, but I hope it might also prompt other people to share their thoughts, reflections and experiences in dealing with the same issues.

WHAT I DO IN ADVANCE TO TRY AND MAKE SURE THAT IT’S GOING TO BE A GOOD DAY

I obviously have an enormous amount of control about whether it’s going to be a good day in my class or not.

Yes, students are going to have bad days, and many students in our inner-city high school are facing multiple challenges in their lives that affect their attitude and behavior in the classroom.  But, in my experience, I believe I can minimize most of the potential substantive negative effects of those challenges in my class by doing the following:

Put a lot of effort into developing relationships: Yes, I know this is a “no-brainer.”  I need to share it, though,  because I believe it’s the most critical piece.  Many students have few or any relationships with adults who they believe care what happens to them.  By demonstrating interest, respect, and caring, students are more likely going to make an effort to try their best or, at minimum, will be less likely to be disruptive.

Have a positive classroom management plan in place: You can read more about the kind of classroom management strategies I use in these previous posts:

When A “Good” Class Goes “Bad” (And Back To “Good” Again!)
Maintaining A “Good” Class
More About Maintaining A “Good” Class
“Why Do You Let Others Control You?”
Have You Ever Taught A Class That “Got Out Of Control”?
What Do Pit Bulls & Cockroaches Have To Do With Learning & Teaching?

Prepare an engaging lesson: If I’ve prepared a good lesson, which includes containing interesting material, requires a fair amount of cooperative work, and doesn’t have me speaking a lot in front, then it makes it less likely I, and my students, are going to have a bad day.

Model student activities: Explaining what I want students to do is not enough — I have to model it.  It doesn’t have to take long, but whether it’s showing how I want students to work in a small group, or demonstrating how and where on a text I want them to write about a reading strategy they will be using, there’s no question that modeling minimizes confusion and increases learning (and the odds that we’re all going to have a good day).

Get enough sleep, feel rested, and be healthy: Generally, bad days happen when I’m feeling tired, run-down, or sick.  I’ve found that they’re less likely to occur if I’m regularly getting my exercise (which is playing basketball)

WHAT I DO WHEN A DAY BEGINS TO “GO SOUTH”

I am only human, after all, and some days I’m not going to fulfill all of the criteria I’ve mentioned in the previous section.  Plus, even though I have an enormous amount of control over what takes place in the classroom, I cannot control what goes on in students’ lives outside of school.  Holiday times, which is when some of the challenges facing students become particularly difficult for them,  can increase tension levels for many at the same time.  Any time of disruption in routine — whether it’s coming back from a Spring Break or if the class schedule temporarily changes to accommodate state testing — can do the same.

Here are some actions I take “in the moment”:

Look at my “Show Patience” Sign: I have a big sign in the back of the room (for my benefit) and in the front (for my students) that says “Show Patience.”  When I might begin to lose “it,”  the sign is big enough for me to catch in the corner of my eye and — sometimes — cause me to act on its message.

Slow down and be conscious of my breathing: If I begin to lose my patience, I try to become more aware of my breathing and slow it down, which generally has a calming effect.

Throw-out the lesson and play a learning game for review: If the “bad day bug” is affecting multiple students, getting them in small groups to play a game can work wonders. You can see a list of simple games I use and their instructions here.

Have a student go outside for a “time-out”: Then, after a few minutes (enough time for me, and, with luck, he/she to calm down) I’ll go out and have a conversation beginning with the question, “What can I do to help you ____________ (get focused, be less upset, etc)?”  I’ll always have a few ideas in my “backpocket” to share, as well (let him/her put their head down for a few minutes, go to the bathroom, etc.).  I’ll talk to the student the next day to get ideas of what they can do next time.  I might do this “serially” with multiple students if things are not looking so good.

Send a student to another classroom for the period or, as a last resort, the discipline office:  If a student has clearly “lost it,” his/her behavior is negatively affecting the entire class, and none of the options I’ve listed (here and in my other class management posts) have either worked or are not feasible, I’ll send a student out (with work to do) to a teacher with whom I have a reciprocal arrangement (and where the student I’m sending out doesn’t know any of the students who will be in that class).  If the student appears out-of-control, however, I’ll call for a hall monitor to them him/her away for the period.

Apologize for my part in it all: I apologize to individual students if I have showed impatience with them.  I might also apologize to the whole class for the part I have played in the class having a bad day.  Saying “I’m sorry” is a good way to “de-polarize” a situation.  This might happen near the end of a class period if nothing I’ve tried has worked.  After I briefly share my apology and the things I think I could have done differently, I usually ask students to take a few minutes to write down what they think they could have done differently, share it with a partner, and then we’ll have a short class discussion.  My starting thing off with an apology and accepting responsibility will often encourage students to reflect on their own roles.

Well, that’s all I got….  I’m looking forward to hearing from others about what has worked for them.  You can never have enough tools in your toolkit to respond to having a bad day!

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