Tag Archives: state assessments

Finland Is Making Me Mad, Again

For teachers the summer is a time to take a break and recharge. Many resent us. Many though, are happy when their kids return to us.

I’ve always relished the time and spend the weeks off catching up on household responsibilities. My yard and projects around the house require my attention — something I don’t actually mind as it’s a welcome change of pace.

All of which means I try not to get too involved in what my profession is currently in the midst of — education policy, changes in state standards, the newest and greatest approach to teaching.

I know that this is ignorant. Perhaps poor form of me. I just need some time to be with my family and be able to plan some adventures together.

And then there’s Finland.

I’ve never been. Although it does sound intriguing. It’s beautiful from the pictures I’ve seen.

However its beauty is not what makes me mad.

It’s this constant comparison of their education program versus ours.

I remember “U.S. versus…” conversations in my teacher certification courses almost 15 years ago. The luster of how we stack up against other countries around the world seemingly hadn’t, and still hasn’t, worn off.

Here’s the latest that appeared on my Facebook feed just today. Produced / directed by a fellow who likes to push some buttons. He’s not a favorite of mine, I admit, but I watched it anyway because it’s summertime. And I have some time. And I feel like I need to think about education. And it’s about Finland again.

Do you see what I mean?

I want more time for my students to play.

I like the idea of students being more engaged in their own learning.

I like the idea of teachers being less stressed.

I don’t like state assessment testing either.

What is it with the U.S.?

And just when I’m annoyed enough to wallow in how we’ve got it all wrong, because well, it looks like the United States is yet again behind other nations (#29 the video notes) I happen to look down and see Finnish viewers’ comments.

Viewers noted that the video had it wrong. Homework was indeed a thing that had to be done in Finland. Others mentioned how inaccurate the video is in its entirety.

Hmmmm… more to the story? Yet I clearly remember that this issue must have been a common theme, even 15 years ago.

From my journalism courses in college, I know it’s difficult to present an impartial article — and that’s if one strives to do so. Additionally, there’s only so much space on paper, only so many words allowed by editors in charge of editorial space.

Here are some other Finnish school bits and perspectives I came across.

Global grade: How do U.S. students compare?

So what’s my verdict on whether we really are that far behind our Finnish colleagues?

It is interesting to read about the number of Fulbright applicants interested in Finland seeking solutions to our nation’s educational woes. Seeing how U.S. students compare to Finland’s in various aspects is revealing. Knowing that the Finnish system was once equal to the U.S. yet made a concerted effort to improve forty some years ago is encouraging.

If the comparison was easy to make, we would have surely implemented changes and determined what we “should” be doing in the United States.

There are just too many variables in play.

Regardless though, there’s a lot we should be doing different. A solution to what we’re doing in the classroom needs to be sought out and implemented.

Why a solution?

I believe logic demands that we acknowledge that students being tested at the young age of eight and endure considerable stress learning strategies to “beat the test” seems downright counterintuitive.

How will a child love learning if they’re worried more about getting the answers right than trying out different solutions based on what they already know?

Isn’t it ok to be wrong and not endure a poor grade because a risk was taken?

Isn’t education’s intent to teach students to understand how each learns differently than their peers? To encourage them to solve problems collaboratively? To understand how to both lead and follow?

Isn’t it obvious that sitting all day without end is painful to us all – regardless of age?

Shouldn’t we worry about students enjoying their education? Be interested in their happiness? Seek a happy life?

So solutions are in order.

I challenge you to share your thoughts in the comments answering: How do you think we stack up against Finland?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Failing Our Students: Assessment Success

Boy Covering FaceEach year for the last fourteen I have stood at the front of the room reading from my Virginia SOL manual’s script.

I have been told to never veer off script. Which does in fact make sense if an education official far away is trying to get every teacher across a state to give the same directions without fault.

No unintended advantages, no intentional pauses, no giving secret signs that students’ answers are incorrect. It makes sense.

The whole prospect of testing every students across a state must certainly make someone at the top mighty nervous. When national nightly news reports that teachers have been found guilty of signaling to students in some predetermined way that their answers were incorrect, more testing documentation, parameters and scripts need to be written. It makes sense.

Except for one thing.

We’re dealing with humans and in my case, children no older than nine.

These are the ones that officials want to test in my take-everything-off-the-walls classroom. I even had to take down my clock so that no advantage would be had by looking at it. I tore down my classroom schedule. I had colleagues concerned about whether numbered coat hooks were worthy of covering.

Do you remember nine? I can’t say I remember much more than doing tie-dye during Art Class. I remember Recess where one day I sat on a warm piece of gum while swinging — that’s some serious trauma for a third grader who had to stand up on the bus all the way home. I remember my teacher’s name and where my class was in my elementary school. I don’t remember what happened for those one hundred eighty days I sat at my desk. Do you?

Fast forward to the present and I now stand in front of my students during a test session unable to encourage, unable to give a thumbs up, unable to lean down and convince them it will be ok.

If their little bodies require a bathroom break another adult must lead them to the restroom and determine that no other students are inside — ensuring that no conversation will occur having anything to do with testing.

Welcome to our present state of education and how we have chosen to assess our children – regardless of age, regardless of their fear and regardless of how fair or insignificant questions might be. I can’t bring a sense of calm or even introduce a pleasant you-can-do-it smile, because that would be a testing irregularity and that could send me to prison.

No really, it could.

I’ve been obligated to sign a paper that spells this specific consequence out.

What do I do? What should we do?

I would like to tell you I’ve got the magic dust and I’m ready to share.

I don’t.

Like many of you I continue to be amazed (well, disgusted actually) by what we’re asking little people to accomplish on a given day or two.

The expectation is that they will be amazing, be proficient, and use strategies that have been reinforced to the point that why we do math or read has long since been forgotten. Students will do exactly that which would make any adult nervous – choose the right question when given the answer, interpret a question in math that has more to do with one’s reading ability than computation skills, and choose all the multiple correct answers to one question in order to advance to the next confusing question.

It would make adults nervous. It makes me nervous and I’ve been doing this over a decade now.

Just yesterday we finished our last SOL. We’ve been doing a LOT of math earlier this week. It was like a factory in my classroom with all the worksheets flying from student to teacher, back to student and back to me to assess their success, and mine, at remediation.

For fourteen years I have done this. For most of those I taught fifth grade. Now it’s third.

That’s a Science, Reading, Math, and Writing SOL for most of those years. At an average of 25 students for 12 years, that’s about 300 SOLs plus another couple of years at 3rd grade equaling well over 400 SOLs under my belt – some years I had over 30 students.

That’s a good amount of worry for both student and teacher.

That’s a huge amount of focus on the importance of a few numbers each year that supposedly defines my success as a teacher.

Those numbers are also intended to define a student’s knowledge in a specific academic area. It’s all quite backwards, in my humble opinion, because how can one day’s assessment sum up a year’s worth of learning?

Regardless though, I and my colleagues around me, have all bought into the importance of these numbers because we stress, we worry, we do our best to motivate, and we remediate right up to the last day hoping that each students’ scores will be what we hope.

We know if our scores aren’t acceptable, next year we will have a microscope placed upon us to determine what we haven’t been doing “right.”

Whether students came to us prepared by those that taught them previously, whether students come from homes in which education is valued, whether students’ lives outside of school is a place where the importance of character is reiterated — those aren’t assessed or taken in account at the beginning of the state assessment.

Regardless, we teachers do not want our efforts to disappoint.

Repeat any mantra long enough and it slowly becomes both understood and heartfelt. Tell teachers that scores matter and reiterate it through countless workshops and school wide endeavors and we believe. When we believe it enough, we both unconsciously and intentionally pass on this importance to students. Goals have to be met, we’re told, and we tell to those that sit in our classrooms.

First goal: pass. Second goal: pass advanced. Ultimate goal: perfect score of 600.

Students, teachers, principals, specialists, school divisions and states all celebrate when those scores hit passing and above.

There’s cheering when it goes well, and downcast eyes when it doesn’t. There’s serious anxiety, walk down any school hallway this time of year and tell me you don’t see it on the faces of both students and teachers.

All of it outrageous. Just go ahead and let’s call it child abuse of the testing variety.

Perhaps these thoughts convey to you that my students didn’t do well and therefore I need a place to express my frustration.

Actually they did an excellent job. As students finished, their scores were posted for our administrator to view who in turn shared them with me. Impressive pass rate. Had some pass advanced scores too.

I was relieved, administration was complimentary, but for me, I’m not happy.

My frustration isn’t that students can’t do well or even that there’s an assessment. My frustration is that our educational system has gotten to the point in which a whole year’s worth of teaching, student success and challenges overcome comes down to one assessment.

How have we gotten to the point in which students’ scores are valued more than students themselves?

 

A Simple Story About A Farmer And A Pig

This is a simple story about a farmer and a pig.

Last Wednesday my class had just finished another benchmark assessment which was intended to determine who was progressing adequately according to our county’s learning objectives.

My students had taken them on laptops and gotten their results immediately, so they knew their score and knew which specific problems had stumped them.

This is the story I told to my class the next morning which I remembered first hearing from my former colleague Will. It seemed appropriate and timely.

This is a simple story about a farmer and a pig.

You see, a farmer doesn’t buy a pig or doesn’t allow a piglet to be born in his barn without a reason.

He feeds that pig and over time that pig gets larger – some would say fat.

The farmer keeps doing what he’s doing and waits it out. There’s cleaning, there’s worry about the cold or heat, and there’s quite a bit of anticipation.

And every day: food and time, food and time.

And then one day the farmer decides that enough time and feed has been fed to that now very large pig. The time has come.

The time has come to make sausage.

Because, again, the farmer doesn’t just raise that little piglet to become a very large pig because he likes pigs, or thinks pigs are cute, or is a fan of Charlotte’s Web.

The farmer instead knows that with enough time and enough food, his pig will one day be ready to become some very yummy sausage that he will use to feed his family.

Teachers are like farmers is what I told my class.

We spend a lot of time and a lot of effort on students. We spend this kind of energy because we have a goal too.

Our goal is to get you to learn and understand.

And we do it all kind of ways.

We do it by being creative in our lessons, having you help one another, and having you complete projects. We talk in front of you, tell funny stories, use videos, remind you to stay on task, and ask you a lot of questions.

We do it because we know that time will run out and if we’ve done our job, you’re supposed to know what you have been taught.

And then it will be time to make some sausage.

Except the sausage we’re making will be how you do on your SOLs.

I expect all of our effort to pay off.

I’ve worked hard every day, listened to when you didn’t understand, and tried again in a different way to help you understand better.

Now the farmer out on the farm might be able to spend some more time getting that pig ready. Maybe give that pig some more feed. Maybe wait just another couple of weeks or months.

We can’t do that here at school – and I know that might seem pretty unfair.

So instead I need you to understand that we only have so much time to finish what needs to be done.

Our day of sausage-making will be here soon and I guarantee you and I will both be disappointed if all this effort won’t have worked.

Just like you can imagine the disappointment of the farmer whose pig isn’t ready, even after caring for him for months and months.

So if you know you’re not ready to sit down in front of a computer and prove what you know answering forty questions about math or reading. If you feel like you haven’t understood it no matter how hard you’ve tried.

Well, then it’s time to spend more time asking questions and trying to understand why you don’t understand.

Oh, and let’s forget about the SOLs for a second.

If you haven’t left this classroom understanding more than when you came into this classroom in September. If you have been waiting for time to just tick on by every day instead of really trying your best. If you still aren’t kinder toward other people in this class because you’re now a whole year older than you were last year…

Do you think that you’re ready for 4th grade?

I ask each of you that question because I cared about each of you since the first day of school when you walked into our classroom. Each day since I’ve done my best to make our classroom a place you would want to come to.

If that didn’t help you get ready for what’s coming in the 4th grade then I either didn’t do my job, or you didn’t do yours.

Which do you think it is? And would it be fair to you if we sent you to the 4th grade and you weren’t ready.

This is really, just a very simple little story about a farmer and pig.

It’s about working day after day and getting ready for something much bigger. It’s about working on yourself to be better tomorrow, than you were today.

So, how will you spend today?

Overcoming Teacher Frustration

If you don’t get frustrated, then you don’t care.

I keep saying it like a mantra, it makes me feel a little better.

It’s the first week of December and I’m frustrated.

As the holiday music blares from the car radio and we feel compelled to sing about the wonderful time of the year, we’re also now into the not-so-wonderful part of the school year.

Assessment time. The first quarter has passed and people want numbers that will indicate our success at the front of the room.

In my county, we use benchmarks created by someone I don’t know in a far away office. This person has created a series of questions that will determine whether my students have grasped what I have taught them these last few months.

All of this is really important to some really important people I suppose.

Of course you could just ask me and I could tell you who has grasped the learning – no lengthy, confusing test is needed I assure you. I’ve been at the front of my classroom, after all, since early September.

Regardless, computer schedules have been determined, class schedules have been rearranged, and then the hold-our-breath begins as the scores roll in.

It’s then that percentages appear, heads are scratched, eyes are rubbed, and groans are heard throughout the building.

Each of us then finds our colleagues we trust enough with which to have a candid conversation. We lament, we commiserate, we voice our displeasure, we let our colleagues know how our students could have done so much better.

We carry on the way we do, because, well, we care about our students’ success.

Even if those computers keep shutting down and booting off our students. Even if my third graders, who have enough of a hard time concentrating, now have to sign in to their assigned Chromebook like it’s Fort Knox. Even if they can’t remember where their pencil just dove off to when they turned their head.

These same 8 year olds have to remember multiple procedures to begin an assessment that often aren’t even developmentally appropriate.

I care about my class’s scores, I care about my team’s scores, and I care about how our school is doing. The problem is that I only have control over one of those populations.

Well, control is a relative concept.

I’ve done my best to motivate my students.

I’ve logically explained why strategies work. I’ve highlighted to my students the future and why doing one’s best is in their best interest.

I’ve even talked about real estate values once or twice and how they’re tied to a school’s scores – I know, I know, that was probably over their head, but I couldn’t help myself.

I repeatedly tell my students, because again I can’t help myself, that each of them has the ability to overcome any challenge. I share that I care about them as soon as they were put on my class role. I tell them that I believe in them.

So what to do when you’ve taught all the right strategies that worked in the past, yet the students fail to do as you’ve asked?

What to do when students rush even after you’ve told them to double check – at least a hundred or two times?

Where to turn when it seems that all that time sharing life lessons seems to have fallen on deaf ears?

Here are some solutions worth considering.

1) Beat your head into your classroom wall until the result is that you’ve passed out and awaken later to only vaguely determine the square footage of the ceiling tiles – holding true to your desire to bring creative approaches to teaching state standards. Arise and continue.

2) Go home and refuse to return until all assessments have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Wait for all computers to be adequately equipped to work properly when called upon. This waiting will of course continue into the very foreseeable future and your students will progress into the next grade without your influence.

3) Climb onto the roof of your building and take it upon yourself to strengthen the bandwidth of your building’s internet signal by erecting the largest set of rabbit ears conceivable. You will of course be labeled a hero (like Don Quixote attacking the windmill) although the monstrous antenna will certainly not be seen as an architectural adornment.

4) Lastly, and I think the most prudent solution is this: hold fast to who you are and your care for your students.

Certainly not all will take to our instruction regardless of our desire for our students’ best efforts.

Our students may not yet understand that we care for them as individuals. Our students may not yet trust that what we teach and desire for them to do is in their best efforts.

Hold fast to your efforts to continue down the path that you know will lead to success.

Let’s not let an assessment that unnerves students of all ages to change the course that we know will be effective.

Teaching is not easy. Teaching is not selling widgets. Teaching is a craft that takes more than a quarter of a year.

Learning is determined by untold variables and cannot be assessed by one benchmark alone.

Hold fast my colleagues. I will do the same.

Why Teaching Might Not Be For You

Are You Sure You Want To Teach?

Been thinking of joining the ranks?

There will be no special letter in the mail saying we’d be happy to have you join us.

Nor will your doorbell ring and on your stoop be a man dressed in his best and ready to have you sign on the dotted line.

However, allow me to say, we’d be happy to have you join us.

Teaching is a profession often misunderstood and has certainly changed from when you and I sat in the classroom – so it is misunderstood even more so.

Teaching shouldn’t, however, be misunderstood by those interested in making it a career choice.

Each year I have the privilege to speak to students at the University of Richmond who are in the process of earning their bachelors or masters and then their certifications to teach.

I tell them this:

“I will be honest with you about the teaching profession, if you honestly think about whether you really want to enter the profession.”

As a student sitting in an evening course over a decade ago, I so appreciated when a high school principal came to our class and shared with us the truth about his job. There were no punches pulled; it was all unfiltered truth.

Hearing him share his experience, made a difference to me.

I am hopeful the following has the same effect on you.

Before you decide to call yourself a teacher, here are six unfiltered realities about teaching you need to know:

  1. It isn’t just about the kids.
  2. It isn’t easy.
  3. You won’t go home and be able to forget about your day.
  4. You won’t go home and be able to not do anything until you go back to work the next day.
  5. The first year is hell.
  6. You will be under-appreciated.

You’ll notice that there isn’t much positivity there and I don’t like that a bit because I pride myself on being positive when life throws a curveball.

There’s no positivity in those six realities above because you should go into the profession knowing that it isn’t all popsicles, pigtails, patient parents, pink bowties, and paper bows. Being the teacher isn’t always pretty.

You’re reading this because you know there must be a reason you’ve been called to teach – I really do believe it’s a calling.

We all love the little people – I get that.

But do you love the little people enough to endure all the challenges you’ll have to overcome?

It Isn’t Just About The Kids

It’s about a lot more than what might have drawn you in at the beginning.

Teaching is about being with students for a year and then hoping you’ve imparted enough, impressed enough, for them to go on to the next grade. Hopefully, once there, they will leave upon others the impression that they can and will be successful.

It’s about the future and your impact upon it now – and how that manifests itself later.

It’s about those that your students live with at home. It’s their experience at school that often shapes dinnertime conversation. It’s their challenge at school that dictates the worry parents share with one another. It’s your students’ success that bring celebration at the ice cream counter.

It’s about the value of their parents’ homes – state test scores are often one of the first qualifiers prospective homeowners research when deciding to moving into a neighborhood. It’s about district accreditation and the politics of school boards and their decision making.

Again, it’s about more than kids.

It shouldn’t be, but it is.

It Isn’t Easy

In fact, expect to be frustrated.

If there’s anything I’ve realized it’s that teaching doesn’t come naturally. Sure, there are some that can command a room, but there’s so much going on in the classroom. It’s going to take some time to feel competent.

From assessments to learning objectives to group dynamics to motivational strategies. From  student meetings to recess duty to grade book peculiarities to district focus to recertification classes. From training modules to faculty meetings to student files to parent-teacher conferences to morning meetings.

It is going to take some time to get comfortable up at the front – and that’s to be expected.

You Won’t Go Home And Be Able To Forget About Your Day

If my day didn’t go as well as I would like, I often want nothing more than to do a redo. Mostly though I’m trying to figure out how I could have done a lesson better or how I could have had a very different conversation with a student.

Your drive to your home may include a call to a student’s home to share not just challenges, but also a positive experience at school.

You are going to arrive at home and if you’re lucky enough, as I am, to have a family waiting for you then you’ll probably repeat the entire day’s experience to them.

There will be days you’re bothered by a parent’s remarks about you or the low assessment scores from the last test. Other days will find you smiling and laughing at the dinner table remembering what happened earlier in the day. Either way, you’re going to daydream about your students during the day, and perhaps even have some schoolmares at night.

You Won’t Go Home And Be Able To Not Do Anything Until You Go Back To Work The Next Day 

I have yet to figure out a way to leave work at work – literally.

At the end of the school day I’ve seen teachers roll suitcases, pull milk crates on wheels and have canvas bags hanging from the end of each arm as they head toward home. Others use backpacks or shoulder bags. I’ve even seen a grocery bag or two.

I would very much like to tell you that you won’t need to do any work at home, but I would be lying to you.

I won’t lie to you.

Between beginning of the year reports, getting your classroom organized, figuring out your first week of lessons, getting to know your students’ names, remembering the copier code, and understanding the acronyms that are mentioned between colleagues in the hallway – you’re going to be exhausted.

There’s no way you’re going to be able do the other million and one items on your to-do list at school.

Well, you could if you got a cot, a nice soft pillow and warm comforter, but they frown on that nowadays.

Your family will most likely frown too.

The First Year Is Hell

I hate to say it this way because I am grateful that I really don’t know what hell is like, nor do I have any interest.

It got your attention though, right? The first year is definitely the toughest.

Like swimming in a pot of water being slowly heated on the stove, the first year is going to get increasingly uncomfortable.

For returning teachers, we all start the year on a positive note after we acclimate to once again not being able to sleep in as long as we would like (note: actually full disclosure: not all teachers start on a positive note which I don’t truly understand – the time we have with our families during the summer is awesome).

We envision great things and try to improve on areas in which we didn’t do well last year.

For a new teacher, you really do go into that first year largely blind no matter how well your college classwork might have prepared you. Perhaps though, ignorance is bliss as some would profess.

The year starts slow and consistent. The year then begins to get frantic.

And then it quickly becomes a rollercoaster of emotion brought on, not only by uncertainty and inexperience, but also from utter exhaustion.

Your students will test you, your colleagues will often be speaking a different language during team meetings, and your principal will try to determine whether they’ve made the right decision hiring you.

The experience will be similar to that of being on a moving sidewalk – the kind you find at the international airport between departure gates, with no exit point ahead that you can see. You can try to turn around and go backwards to seek an escape, but that’s no solution either. Face forward and you will be rolled into the unknown.

You’ll be on the ride every first-year teacher has taken – it ain’t much fun.

You Will Be Under-Appreciated.

Your own parents will initially be supportive (or not) – it’s hard, after all, to say with an honest face that one disapproves of teachers.

Your spouse will be happy that you’re now getting paid after all the unpaid student teaching you did, but they won’t have counted on all the extra work you’re now doing at home.

When people ask you what you do and you share your career decision, they will remember all the unhappy experiences sitting in the classroom.

They will ask how you in fact do it? How do you manage all those kids? They may even place their hand on your shoulder and proclaim that you are a saint – but do it with sad eyes.

Perhaps during the summer you will feel elated that your new year has yet to start. That there’s still time to take another trip to the beach. Then you hear your neighbors talk about who their child has this upcoming year and they share their displeasure.

Ready To Change Your Major? Ready To Throw In the Teaching Towel?

So why do it?

At this point, if you’re still reading this, why in God’s name would you even consider teaching?

Simply, there is no more noble profession than teaching.

We teach every child.

Whether they come to us from homes where they’re well taken care of or come from homes where they’re an after thought, they arrive to us each morning.

They come to us hungry and well fed, happy and sad, well loved and mistreated.

They arrive full of hope and tired before they ever sit down. They sit down excited about a favorite subject and never having found joy in anything that has to do with school. They want to tell stories and not ever utter a word. They begin the year at the start line and they begin well behind because of challenges they’ve had their entire life. They want to impress you and they could care less.

We teach every one of them.

They are the little people entrusted to us and regardless of how they arrive, you are their teacher.

You will always, from here on out, be their teacher.

You will be on their class picture hidden deep in a pile in their attic, and found when they move from one home to another. You will be in their thoughts when their own children are in the grade you’re now teaching.

You have the opportunity to change lives at an age in which your students will look back and include you as the reason they are who they are. That’s pretty amazing.

It’s an opportunity few others have.

And that’s why you should join the ranks of teaching.

I hope you’ll join us.


Do you have some realities I failed to share? Please share in the comment section so that those new to teaching might know the challenges you faced and they in turn can be convinced to become a teacher. Thank you.

Classroom Toolbox: Strategies for Survival

boy swinging

They outnumber you.

While the calendar says you have about 180 days together, those days will fly by unsuccessfully if you don’t wrangle and redirect your students.

Here are nine strategies from my classroom toolbox I use to motivate, entertain, refocus attention, and encourage reflection.

I hope one or two will prove useful to you in your own classroom.

Laser Focus: Last year, two of my students were beyond impressive in watching my every move. I called it “laser focus” and I still refer to them both as examples of how to listen to me as I try my best to teach them. It was even more impactful that they both performed at an advanced level once those state assessment scores were returned. When students’ eyes are wandering to the far reaches of the room – I prompt them with the laser focus command.

Why or How?: After years of being given the assignment of teaching concepts that are sometimes developmentally beyond the understanding of my students, I have the following conversation.

During a lesson some students will want to know why and grapple with understanding a concept until the why is fully understood – this may, of course, take some time. For some students this will be accomplished in a matter of minutes, while for others it could very well take days. For the remaining students, even after repeated attempts using various approaches, a concept just may never “sink in” within the current academic year.

Time to go to How. I clearly remember blindly following my teacher’s instruction in math when I was in school. Instead of why we were regrouping (as an example) I immediately went to the just tell me what to do and I will do it exactly that way. This is obviously not what we want our students to do – we want questions and thought provoking conversation, however we also can’t have students participating in mass melt-downs as the curriculum becomes more difficult as the year progresses.

Sometimes teaching the how, and waiting for students to ask why is ok. Sometimes acknowledging that students just asking how is perfect for that moment.

The Success Board: When my students have achieved an A and have shown the paper off at home, I ask them to return it to school so I can staple it on our Success Board. I then frequently refer to it as the days pass claiming that each of them can indeed achieve awesomeness. Each of them has within them the ability to achieve anything they desire – I hope that seeing it, will help them believe it.

Your Choice: When I ask my students to read as they sit in the hallway and wait to use the restroom, or when I want them to begin their homework and instead they want to stare at the ceiling I tell them it’s their choice. They can do as I ask or they can do it during recess. While some teachers may get upset and raise their voice, I prefer a little logic prompted by a carrot.

Crush It: The other day my students and I spoke for some time about the state assessments and the choice each of them had. They could take them and hope for the best, or they could crush it. I continued telling them that my hope was they would not just prove their capability to people who loved them, but they would prove to themselves that they could overcome any challenge. The constant battle of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards is one with which I continue to struggle as society looks to equate learning to getting a reward

The Worm: Students’ nature is to be competitive with one another. Often this leads to a race to the front of the line. For some reason being first is worth falling on the floor or pushing others out of the way. This is when I introduce “the worm”. As we reach our destination, whether lunch or resource, I have the last person swing around and become the first person. As they curl around, I remind them to worm around behind one another.

Teaching With My Head Down: Too often students feel it appropriate to put their head down and listen to my instructions. So I pretend to teach with my head on my desk. It leaves the same impression on them – except I’m sure I look sillier with my head on my desk.

Foreign Language Redirection: when we have a student in class who is a non-English speaker and we’re determining how to help him, I pause and speak to them in German for a minute or so. Hearing an unfamiliar language of an uncomfortable amount of time helps hit home how our ESOL students might feel each day, every hour, every minute.

Speaking in a different language also encourages sleepy heads to perk up and look around while they wonder for a moment if they haven’t in fact fallen asleep and awoken in a world where no English is spoken.

The Mumble: Some students are really loud. Others are very quiet. I can relate to both. Until I entered my senior year in high school, I was that quiet boy in the class who hoped no attention would come to him. If I can get my student to smile, perhaps I can get that quiet person inside to show a bit of themselves.

So occasionally I will repeat a student’s question with a reply that doesn’t have a thing to do with what was asked. For instance: “why yes, when the moon spins backwards my hair does grow quicker.” Not done too often or when my student is having an off day, I make sure that the smile I’m hoping for will likely come quickly. I then prompt them to ask me their question again.

I’m curious what tactics you have for those everyday occurrences in your classroom. I know I need to add a few to my toolbox to keep both myself and my students interested.

What tools do you pull out when necessary?