KIAT Book Club: Becoming a Better Teacher Ch. 4

In the last chapter of Becoming a Better Teacher, it discussed curriculum design and went through steps to help teachers implement a functional curriculum in their classrooms.

This chapter is all about assessment. This is close to my heart as I have always been opposed to teachers teaching to end of year or unit exams rather than teaching to their students’ needs and passions.

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The chapter focuses specifically on what it calls “authentic assessment”, which states that assessment is authentic when it has students engage in real-life problems. This makes school and our education system less removed from the real-world and what we are, in theory, preparing kids for, but which often gets lost in practice.

The book gives excellent examples of authentic assessment and then delves into the attributes of authentic assessment. It notes that assessment needs to have a purpose, it needs to touch upon learned skills and content, it needs to be explicit in its scoring criteria, it needs to be flexible, and so on and so forth.

This chapter spoke to me; it felt as though it put into words what I already try to do with all of my assessment; make it meaningful and helpful for the students.

If you want to buy the book, here’s the link to its page on Amazon.

Mini Office

A few months ago, a co-worker of mine stumbled upon a Mini Office made by Kristen Vibas on Teachers Pay Teachers (my Heaven!). She forwarded it to me because she thought my students could benefit from it, and I am hugely grateful that she did!

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The office itself was created for English Language Learners, but I use it with my fourth graders (who all suffer from Learning Disabilities and are very weak at reading and writing) and it’s an awesome tool! They use it if they’re on writing centres in the mornings or if we’re got a writing assignment, and they have all told me that it is extremely helpful.

Obviously the visuals are excellent for aiding kids in finding and understanding the correct word. Further, when I am trying to help the entire class with writing and spelling, many words they need are here, so it gives me extra time to help elsewhere that’s needed.

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I’m trying to find a lot more visual aids to help my students with reading and writing, and this has helped a great deal. I still want more, though! Anything to help my stands improve their reading/writing, as well as their confidence. Any suggestions?

KIAT Book Club: Becoming a Better Teacher Ch. 3

We’re on to chapter three in Becoming a Better Teacher! The chapter itself is titled “Standards-Based Curriculum and Assessment” and begins by asking some pretty important questions: how can teachers define learning in completely different ways and grade completely differently yet still be considered following standards. How is this something that can be controlled? Essentially, the books suggests there be a standard practice for creating curriculum and presents one in this chapter.

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I find this chapter interesting because it’s all about planning and organizing; which are two things I love to do. It’s also all about curriculum as a process; reflecting on past lessons and recognizing what does and does not work.

The book lists nine steps it deems necessary for properly planning out a curriculum:

1. Elect an organizing centre.

This will be what holds the unit of study together. So something like a concept, a problem, a topic, or an issue.

2. State the rationale.

Here is why we are doing a unit. What skills and knowledge will students learn and is it relevant and important for them?

3. Describe the context and present an overview.

What grade and level are students at? What prior knowledge will they need to access in order to be successful in the unit?

4. Devise essential and guiding questions.

Essential questions were discussed in chapter one; they act as “hooks” to keep students interested and focused on material presented in the unit.

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5. Determine exit outcomes and indicators.

What will students know and be able to do at the end of the unit? This is how you will measure students success.

6. Review district, state, and national standards.

For me, these are provincial standards. Make sure you are hitting all of your curriculum outcomes and students will be where they are supposed to be in relation to their peers.

7. Devise learning opportunities.

A fancy name for creating lesson plans and activities in which the students will actually learn the desired outcomes.

8. Develop assessment opportunities.

How will you assess students’ learning in different ways? This is important as it allows us to stray away for the traditional test to view students’ growth from before the unit to after the unit.

9. Develop reflective prompts.

These allow students to think about the learning process as it’s happening. Instead of waiting until the end of the unit or the end of the year; it gives them a chance to think about what they’ve learning at the end of each day or week for example.

I enjoyed this chapter overall and it got me excited for planning. I wish I hadn’t just begun work again because I would love a nice full month off to really focus on planning the year out with some of these great ideas. It will of course now be a slower process, but it will still get done! If you want to buy the book, here’s the link to it on Amazon.

KIAT Book Club: Becoming a Better Teacher Ch. 2

Hello again, and welcome to our discussion of Becoming a Better Teacher. Last chapter talked about incorporating essential questions into the classroom. This chapter is titled Curriculum Integration as a Tool for Coherence and discusses the need for teachers to rely less on textbooks and more on their own designed curriculum focused on student need.

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The chapter is short and outlines reasons why creating integrated curriculum is important and broad concepts around the idea. The actual development and steps in creating your own curriculum come in in the next chapter (I have you excited for that, don’t I?).

The argument the book makes for curriculum integration is that students often move from one class to the next or one unit to the next without any sort of cohesion; everything is individualized and not part of a larger whole.

With integrated curriculum, students’ brains naturally store information as it is stored in relatable patterns. Further, they recognize how to apply knowledge rather than simply memorize facts. Finally, it also works to view school and education as a whole rather than as being made up of separate subjects.

The opening of Chapter Two
The opening of Chapter Two

I personally am a huge fan of subject integration as it blurs the lines between traditional subjects and makes students recognize that they are all interrelated, just as all things are in the world. Further, it lessens the likelihood of separation between the maths and sciences and arts and humanities; increasing likelihood of students enjoying and appreciating all subject matter.

The chapter continues on to discuss how to organize essential questions as a central theme for units, years, or subjects and makes excellent suggestions for pulling planning and organization all together.

Chapter three coming up next! If you want to buy the book, here’s the Amazon link.

PAX Good Behaviour Game

Does anyone else use the PAX Good Behaviour Game in their classrooms? It comes from the PAXIS Institute and our school is one in our district which have begun using it on a trial basis.

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I will admit that I was skeptical at first as to how well it would work; but I’ve found it working very well. For me, in a year-round classroom, school begins again in a couple of weeks and my goal for this year is to implement PAX more often in the classroom. It recommends playing three times a day, but last year I only played about three or four times a week. So one of my goals for the upcoming year is to begin playing twice a day and hopefully three times a day by the time the end of year rolls around.

I began last year, even before playing games in my classroom, by using the harmonica that comes with the kit. Even using just that, I noticed a difference in my students’ attention. The harmonica is much less aggressive than a bell or whistle (and obviously less aggressive than yelling), and they all hear and respond very well to it.

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One of the concerns I had before beginning, was that I feared the game and prizes were geared toward very young students. I teach grade 4, and the kids are still young, but I worried they might be too mature to enjoy some of the PAX lingo and the silly prizes. To my surprise, not only was a wrong, even the sixth graders in our school and junior high students in other schools enjoy the terms and prizes (this genuinely shocked me).

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I’m still planning out if I should use other behaviour tools this year. I always use a sticker chart, but that’s it. I’m not a big fan of behaviour charts because I find that something that public can hurt kids’ self esteem, especially those with ADHD (which our school population has a lot of).

I guess the new year will see what else I implement! Yay for trial and error!

KIAT Book Club: Becoming a Better Teacher Ch.1

The latest book I’d like to talk about is one I found in our school resource library one day while I was looking for Math resources; Becoming a Better Teacher: Eight Innovations That Work by Giselle O. Martin-Kniep. The title struck me immediately because, obviously, I’m always looking for ways to become a better teacher!

Sweet new library book to read!
Sweet new library book to read!

The book discusses eight teaching innovations, so I’ll be talking about each innovation during my upcoming posts and sharing my thoughts. So let’s begin with the first innovation: The Power of Essential Questions.

The book begins by talking about how students feel that school is
“devoid of any meaningful content”. This hits home with me as it was something that I focused on during all of my curriculum development during my B.Ed. I wanted to make content meaningful to students, not just because it would make school more fun, but because things that interest us and we are passionate about are much easier for us to remember.

Chapter One
Chapter One

Essential questions are those that deal with, what I refer to as “universal questions”. These were something I talked about a lot of High School English because students could not understand why they were not getting As for simple regurgitating the plots of Shakespearian plays to me; they didn’t understand that I didn’t want them to tell me what happened, I wanted them to use what happened to draw comparisons to universal truths or big questions.

Some essential questions the book talks about are things like “is there anything original?” and “are we really free?”; things that make people (not just students) really think.

The chapter delves into how these questions can be used and has some great ideas. From starting units, to introducing assignments, to aiding in assessment. Essentially (see what I did there?), essential questions aide in our ability to apply our learning to our reality, removing the void between school and life and making education more meaningful and enjoyable.

I know I’m only one chapter into the book thus far, but so far I’m finding it enjoyable and worthwhile. If you want to buy it, here’s the Amazon link.

Imagination Questions

I stumbled across these amazing cards one day when an education assistant found them in our school library. I can’t stop singing their praises because I can see them being great for pretty much all age groups.

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One of my centres for English Language Arts is writing, in which I give the kids a prompt and have them write and/or draw pictures, depending on their abilities. My prompts were simple questions like “What are some of your favourite sports?” which I would write on the board. These worked well, especially at the beginning of the year when most of my kids needed very simplistic questions they could easily answer. However, as we progressed through the year, they became a bit boring and simply had me assessing how well students could answer basic questions and their time management skills. It didn’t let me assess creativity or critical thinking in any way.

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These Imagination Cards have great prompts that allow kids to be creative and to really think about how they could answer the various questions. Further, you could definitely use them for elementary, junior high, and even high school and simply alter how you assess the final product.

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Obviously, I am obsessed with these cards! I’m on the hunt for similar products. If you want to buy these, here’s the link to Amazon.