Published on March 6, 2014
Kitty Kelly Epstein, PHD firstname.lastname@example.org A SECONDARY CLASSROOM THAT WORKS
PROCESSES, FORMATS, AND ACTIVITIES TO TRY • You have probably learned lesson planning, the use of standards, and pacing to cover the whole curriculum through your teacher education classes. However, you may need additional ideas about how to make your class “work” by making it human and interactive
Humanizing Your Classroom: • Secondary school is especially anonymous, alienating, lonely, and difficult for many young people. In order to make your classroom more welcoming try some or all of the following:
1. Take time to “check in” at the beginning of class several times a week. Happy Face/Sad Face. On a piece of colored paper, draw a happy face on one side and a sad face on the other. Demonstrate the process by holding up one side and saying one sentence. “I’m happy today because…” Or, while holding up the other side, “I’m sad today because…” Then pass the paper to your right. The student next to you does the same thing and passes it on. I Am poems. You can find the format for “I Am” poems on the Internet. Ask every student to write one, share it with a partner (See creating pairs below). Perhaps you will want to publish or put on walls. There is a version in Spanish also.
2. Spend time with a student as a reward. Take a student out for pizza for being a) exceptionally kind and helpful to other students; b) having the most improved attendance; c) having the most improved academics
3. Creating groups and pairs • Create groups and pairs randomly by numbering off, cutting up playing cards and having students find the other half of the card they hold, cutting up comic strips and having students find the other half; placing two parts of someone’s name on cards and have students find their other half (Cesar Chavez; John Steinbeck etc.) • Do not have students choose their own groups or pairs. It always leads to someone feeling left out.
4. Seating arrangements • Use a square, circle or U-shape as much as possible and always use it for Socratic seminar or other substantive discussions • It is really not workable to “discuss” when people have their backs to each other
Keep Up the Pace • If you went to the gym, and the leader of the yoga or Zumba class did the same exercise with the same music for an hour, you’d rebel and demand your money back. The same goes for your class. • Plan for an average of three activities every period, including frequent use of a brief check-In (happy-face; sad face, for example, at the beginning). You and the students should be breathless by the time the class is over.
Learning About Your Own Teaching • Several times during the semester, ask students to write you a simple anonymous note to be turned in at the door answering these questions “What class activities are most useful at helping you learn?” “What class activities are least useful at helping you learn?” “Other thoughts.”
Keeping Parents in the Education Loop • Call parents within the first few days or weeks of school to praise something about their youngster • Call when students are absent • Organize a “Parent participation” Day. • Invite parents to a regular class to participate in an activity with you and their youngsters. Example – Read and discuss a story together. It should be part of the curriculum but organized in such a way that a random adult can “do” the activity without having been in the class all semester. Yes, many parents work, but the thrill of actually learning with their teen-ager in a regular classroom will get a lot of them there. (Give enough advanced notice)
Struggle Against Your Own Defensiveness If and when students say mean things to you or behind your back:
• a. Grit your teeth and think about it before you snap back (advice to myself, believe me!) • b. Practice your humor strategies. Learn some jokes. Watch old Richard Pryor or Bill Cosby videos. • c. DO NOT confront students in public. Take the student aside for a one-on-one. If the student is being really disrespectful, call the parents. If it’s just unkind, try telling the student she hurt your feelings. That will be such a shock she just might stop.
• d. Remember that it is probably not about you. Your students are teen-agers living in a society that does not provide routine support (and often not even basic essentials) for humans living through this transition • e. Avoid sending students to the office unless it’s really dire. Try asking the student to step outside for a moment; set the rest of the class to some written work; then go outside and agree to a penalty that does not involve the principal
Formats for Reinforcing Facts and Skills using Games • • • • • Bingo Jeopardy Pair and share Concentric Circles Random Calling (Now called “equity sticks” by some) Have each student put his/her name on a card or a coffee stick. Put them in a jar or a bag. Ask a question. Then pull out a stick and call on that person. Important: Ask the question first before calling the name, so that all are trying to figure out the answer before hearing who has to actual answer aloud.
Tactics for a Multi-lingual classroom • Check out Patricia Richard-Amato, Making It Happen, for a multitude of interactive strategies. Formats for generating deep thinking • Socratic seminar
Homework • 1. Think about this in a critical way • 2. Do not turn your whole class into a fight about homework. • 3. Do not assign homework that wrecks the next day’s class if it has not been done. In other words, do not plan a discussion on a reading that a lot of students probably will not do at home. • 4. One idea is to wait until the students love you, before you make this into an issue. • 5. The other idea is to teach so intensively that less at home work is needed.