Posts Tagged 'teaching strategies'

How good am I at answering student questions?

network-782707_960_720.pngBy Nick McDaniels – Today, as often occurs, an interaction with my daughter, Charlie, led to some reflection about my teaching practice.

Charlie and I were on the road when she, holding my iPod (yes, I still have an iPod because I don’t have a smartphone), frustrated that she could no longer use the internet because we were away from the wifi at home, asked me, “Daddy, what is the Internet?”

Yikes! “Well…” I said, buying time, “it’s complicated… you see… there is a network of wires, kind of like a web…”  In my head I am thinking, “my goodness, WHAT IS THE INTERNET???”  But, Charlie cut me off.  She said, “Daddy, there are no wires with this iPod.”

She had me there.  I backpedaled more: “Well, you see, now signals travel through the air, not with wires…”  She was lost.  I was lost. When I finished describing what my imagination believes the internet looks like, I asked her if she understood.  “Not really,” she said.

This made me reflect about two things: 1) What the heck is the Internet?; and 2) When a student asks me a challenging question, am I always this bad at coming up with an answer that is understandable?

You see, these are the things  upon which we as teachers rarely receive valid feedback.  I am sure I often give unclear explanations to students and, unless the student asks for clarity, I simply move on.

This is where checking for understanding becomes an extremely valuable habit for a teacher.  If the only person who is capable of telling me I gave a bad explanation is a student, I must habitually create time and space for students to let me know I need to try again. Perhaps, I don’t focus on this enough, but I will now, thanks to Charlie and the Internet.

Five Thoughts for My Fifth Year

downloadBy Nick McDaniels — By many accounts, some of them well-researched, the fifth year of teaching is the time it really starts to click.

This is it for me, then —  the year when I become a good teacher.

Doubtless, I have survived the years that force most new teachers out, and I can’t imagine experiencing too much else that would really surprise me at this point. So now, it is up to me to take what I’ve learned over the last four years and put it all together.

In thinking about how to do that, knowing that I now have no excuses if I am not at least marginally good in the classroom, I figured I’d make a list of five things with which I will concern myself this year.

Five things for my fifth year…this is both good for professional reflective practice and quite convenient for blogging.

  1. Plan Better – I have not gone a day in my teaching career without a lesson plan, but I would say that I have always relied too much on my desire to think on my feet rather than really plan out potential moments in the lesson where learning would happen best. I have always planned the arc of lessons, but this year I am going to focus on specific moments in lessons where I can maximize learning. I am planning on which students to call on, how to call on them, which questions to ask, all things I have done on the fly before, but with more structure now. To accommodate this I built a new lesson plan template around our district’s Instructional Framework.
  2. Create More Meaningful Home Assignments – Last year I started creating weekly assignments that students had to complete with an adult. The adults had to make comments on the assignments, and I logged all the information. I have great data. This year I need to streamline those assignments to make them easier for families and also need to develop a less time-consuming method of data collection because I started running out of time to log all the information at the end of the year.
  3. Provide As Many Outside Resources as Possible – I have a unique opportunity this year because I am teaching Criminal Law and Constitutional Law to fill my classroom with guest speakers and to take field trips. If I don’t make this happen, I am doing a dis-service to my students.
  4. Boost the Confidence of My Students – I have always been a very supportive teacher, or at least I’d like to think so. But I need to make a real concerted effort this year to make sure I am doing something each day to make my students, each of them, feel successful and valued. I have added a time for praise into my lesson each day for this purpose, but I need to generally very purposeful about making my students feel good about what they are doing.
  5. Be Positive – The job we do is a hard one, one that can be overwhelming quickly, one that is often thankless. I can’t let any of this get to me this year. For a number of reasons last year, I had a rough school year, but I didn’t self-reflect on my feelings enough to pull myself up through it as much as I should have. This year I need to be more conscious of my feelings so that I can be as solid, steady, and positive as my students need me to be.

I’m excited this year. I have a great group of students coming in, an exciting teaching schedule. There is no reason for this year not to be my best year yet.

A Great Professional Development Experience

By Nick McDaniels — Last week, after finishing the school year, but before starting work for the Summer, I was fortunate enough to attend three full days of professional development training. Admittedly, this is the first time that I ever used the words “fortunate” and “professional development” in the same sentence, as P.D.’s are usually known among teachers at best as an easy paycheck and at worst as a profound waste of time. The professional development I attended last week, however, was better — much better. It was so good, in fact, that I didn’t mind spending three full days in the same room, with the same colleagues and the same teacher.

Having taken a class on creating good professional development, I know that good P.D. is like good teaching; it is well-planned, responsive, and a differentiated. But none of that mattered last week. It was good P.D. because the facilitator was amazing.

Ms. T, a teacher for four decades, a master at teaching kids was so full of information and details that every goal of the professional development was fulfilled and everything I was supposed to learn, I did. Still, what I will take away from those three days has little to do with the teaching of English, but more with the love of teaching.

Ms. T. loves teaching children and adults. Her presentation clearly shows that. For three entire days, she modeled incredible teaching strategies that have been honed over the years, but what stood out was the way she talked about her former students and teachers she had mentored. She speaks with exceptional pride about every person she has impacted, but not about her impact upon them, about their achievements. She knows their stories, what they were doing when she taught them, and what they are doing now. Like most P.D. facilitators, she filled her session with stories from her classroom, but unlike most P.D. facilitators she resisted the urge to talk about the things she did inside her classroom, but rather things that her students did.

Leaving the sessions after each day, I could not get over the pride she had in her students and how openly and passionately she talked about them.

As a teacher, I am proud of my students, and I try every day to express that pride to them, but I am guilty of not talking about my pride in them passionately and to others. This kind of pride in students is infectious and can transform schools, and transform public perceptions. And while I might be a better English teacher next year because of this professional development, I will definitely be a better teacher, and quite possibly a better ambassador for our students, because I listened to and was inspired by Ms. T.


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