Tag Archives: K through 12

Book: Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms

Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms

Tells incompetent teachers in dire classroom settings to “hang in there”.
160 pages, ★★

I’m so happy I’m not in a position where I need this book.

Paul Blum’s hard-hitting, “blunt, truthful account” of the UK’s most troubled schools delves into territory I didn’t know was allowed in the field of education. Contrary to the other books and articles I’ve been reading, he calls students “nutters” and “angels” on page 15. Even more extreme, on page 27, he says, “the really crazy ones will climb out of windows [to avoid detention]”.

He describes some atrocious situations: students who tell teachers to “fuck off”, parents who can’t afford phones, families who live in “poverty and squalor”, and classes with unexplained 20% absence rates. Gangs enter the school premises to attack a student towards the end of this book, and he advises his readers that “the police are probably required immediately”.

Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms is more of a rant than a book. It alarms you to the most extreme scenarios that some teachers dig themselves into, and makes you wonder how they got there. Even though the book blames school chaos on poverty alone, I’m young and optimistic enough to believe that teachers can do something more than tolerate it, or just “hang in there”, as this book tells them to do. I think we can sabotage the fizzy drinks machine, make students more physically active during class, study pop music in English class and make everything active and relevant. We can give kids the respect they don’t get at home—even when they tell us to “fuck off”.

My favourite quote is on page 75, The Don’t’s:

10. Don’t waste too much time preparing copious written lesson plans.

There’s not much I agree with in this book, but on that line, I agree 100%.

The cover really doesn’t match the writing style. On the outside, this book is a $36.00 work of academic literature. On the inside, however, it’s a colloquial, 2-for-$5 self-help book that fails to motivate… and there are no references.

The author might like you to give this book to any teachers you know who are struggling in terrible schools. However, by offering no solutions to turn these schools around, the author’s effectively telling his readers to give up hope. If this book resonates with you, then it’s time to consider a career change. ★★

Book: Developing and Using Classroom Assessments

I just put my résumé online. Take a look (there’s a link in the menu bar).

Here’s another education book: a testing bible.

Oosterhof
There’s more science to classroom assessments than students think!

Makes designing professional-looking tests a whole lot easier!
304 pages, ★

Teachers spend 25% of their time on designing, invigilating and marking written assessments. For the other 75% of the time, they’re doing what’s called ‘informal assessment’—observing all the tiny cues in the classroom that they pretend not to notice: the cellphone, the yawn, the shy know-it-all, the one who’s not concentrating, the eager hand-raiser who really loves your class… all these observations end up in a secret notebook (or in the teacher’s head).

Developing and Using Classroom Assessments tells you step-by-step how to design all kinds of classroom assessments. Assessments can be:

  • Formal/informal (informal assessments are daily observations)
  • Diagnostic/Formative/Summative (and preliminary)
  • Internal/External (we will only deal with internal)
  • Curriculum-based/Portfolio-based (students love portfolios: they boost confidence and self-esteem, and allow students to discover their strengths; but portfolios are time-consuming for students to create and for teachers to read)

When designing tests, pay attention to:

  • Purpose: tell the students how you’re going to use the information gained from the test.
  • Specifications: design the test carefully
  • Validity: test everything you taught in the right proportions
  • Consistency: different skills tested together hides a student’s true ability. Give separate grades for each skill used (argument, handwriting, spelling, style).

Score your tests according to:

  • Ability: self vs. best ever self
  • Growth: self vs. previous self
  • Norm: self vs class
  • Criterion: pass/fail grading for each question.

Always put grades into context. “Henry scored 90% in geography” is useless information. Say, “Henry understands our plate tectonics class very well” or “Henry’s score on the plate tectonics test was the second-highest in year 9 in our school”.

Test by:

  • Computer: students prefer this method and get higher scores on computers than on paper. It’s also more convenient for both teachers and students, and closely resembles any job in the ‘real world’.
  • Pen & paper: while some schools are emphasizing pen and paper tasks, the main reason for this was “it will help the students get used to paper examinations”. In my opinion, this is not a good reason.

Never use grades to discipline students.

Always give students feedback and a chance to improve their grade. Usually, they will in the ‘real world’, too.

When analyzing grades, use these statistical methods:

  • Percentiles
  • Quartiles
  • Standard deviations
  • Year-group-equivalent scores (use median of each year-group to make a standard curve, then find the year-group-equivalent of each student, e.g. “Johnny attained year 6.7 level”).

You don’t always need to show these grades to the students. Keep some on paper, and some in your head, and be mindful of how your students will react to a bad grade (will they give up?)

I love the balance of theory, pracrice and examples in this book. Let this book guide you step-by-step to design innovative, varied, valid and reliable tests time after time.

Like Marsh’s Becoming a Teacher, this is one of those books I’ll be referring to repeatedly at the start of my teaching career. Buy a copy, and it’ll make designing good-looking tests so much quicker and easier. 

Book: Teaching for Effective Learning: The complete book of PEEL teaching procedures

Teaching for effective learning: The complete book of PEEL teaching procedures
Keep this on your teacher’s desk.

Directory of best teaching methods. A logical, concise teacher’s bible.
250 pages,
★★★★★

The Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL) was founded in 1985 by a group of teachers and academics who shared concerns about the prevalence of passive, unreflective, dependent student learning, even in apparently successful lessons. They set out to research classroom approaches that would stimulate and support student learning that was more informed, purposeful, intellectually active, independent and metacognitive. The project was unfunded and not a result of any system or institution-level initiative. PEEL teachers agree to meet on a regular basis, in their own time, to share and analyse experiences, ideas and new practices.

PEEL has evolved into a global education reform movement with supporters in most developed countries. Its creed, pooled from teachers (not theorists or politicians), has been expanded into an abundance of numbered lists: “the 6 PEEL goals”, “the 10 journeys of change” and “the 12 PEEL teaching practices”.

Fortunately, their main text, Teaching for Effective Learning, is still a practical teaching guide with maximal classroom significance. I’ve already used many of the methods in this book in my own classes, and decided to give my own views here on how effective they all are.

From my 3 years’ teaching experience, here’s my list of favourites (with star ratings)…

A1: Concept mapping (basically character mapping). I love this method and use it myself. Interestingly, PEEL tells you to extend it by including characters, themes and objects in the map (which would be very complicated). ★★★★★

A2: Concept grids (basically tables). Seldom applicable, but useful when they are. ★★★★

A3: What’s my rule? This works better the other way around. Put two headings no the board and ask for differences and similarities from the class to stimulate discussion. Also a form of diagnostic (preliminary) testing. ★★★★

A7, A8, A9 and A10 (and to some extent A26) are ‘translation’ activities, in which your subject of instruction (e.g. Chemistry) is translated into another (English, Drama, Art and Media, respectively). “Write a story about an apple being digested…/ Make a poster that advertises a plant of your choice”. These are time-consuming because students generally aren’t used to linking subjects together, but are fun and students learn a lot from sharing their work in front of the whole class. ★★★★★

A12: Brainstorming. Small groups (individuals or pairs) results in greater participation per student. Ask open questions, let students brainstorm the answers. ★★★★★

A16: Cloze exercises. Choose a new text and use software to automatically replace every (usually 7th) word with a blank space. Ask the students to fill in the blanks. Research shows that cloze exercises are a reliable (formative) test for reading comprehension level. ★★★★

A18 and A29 combine to form a “Reading Process”, or a form of active reading. Highlighting characters, underlining new words, and summarizing each paragraph are standard practices for improving reading comprehension. (They are scaffold techniques, which can be mostly abandoned later, or evolved into more natural forms of note taking). ★★★★★ (as a “Reading Process”)

A25: Silent class. Do this sometimes! Tell the students they’re going to spend the entire class reading in silence. When you read attentively and visibly and silently, making notes, the students will start to imitate you. You can’t do this often, but done occasionally, it improves discipline and independent study habits. ★★★★★

A34: Whole-class simulations. Works well for enacting historical events, which are relevant in almost all subjects. Memorable, but can’t be done too often. Requires planning. ★★★★★

B1: Predict-Observe-Explain. Central to science education. ★★★★★

B3 and B7 are types of assisted discussions. This should be standard practice in all classes where group discussion is allowed. Always facilitate and mediate students’ discussions by walking around the room and talking to all the groups. Scope for group-work is limited in Chemistry, though. Pairs work best. ★★★★★

B8: Probe prior views. Diagnostic testing (a.k.a. preliminary testing) should always be done before a unit is taught. Use A3, A12 or simple question-and-answer as a whole class to probe prior views. ★★★★

B19: Complete statements from a stem. “A paragraph is…” makes both a good start-of-class quiz, and a good summative testing technique. ★★★★★

B28: Buzan® mind mapping should be compulsory education. ★★★★★

I excluded three types of PEEL techniques:

First, I’m not a fan of gimmicks. The ‘Y-chart’, the ‘thought balloon’, and the ‘postbox’ method (a bizarre secret-ballot-brainstorm combination) were among the ‘gimmicks’ that I omitted from the list.

Second, I’m also not a fan of non-educational classroom games. “the 5/3 method”, “brainstorm bingo” and “circuses” might make kids happy but won’t teach them enough to justify the commotion.

Finally, some quality PEEL methods were only suitable for primary schools. ‘Mingle/match/mate”, “guess the picture”, A19 and A20 were some of those.

The ones in this list are the best of the rest—the ones I’ll use as a secondary school chemistry teacher.

This book is relevant for every teacher: primary and secondary, sciences and arts, both high and low ability streams. I’ll be referring to this bible when planning my own lessons as a constant reminder to diversify my teaching style and keep my classes interesting. ★★★★★

Book: Becoming a Teacher: Knowledge, Skills and Issues

My teacher training classes begin at 10 am this morning, so I spent the weekend reading the first book on the reading list: Becoming a Teacher (5th ed.) by Colin Marsh.

Becoming a Teacher: Knowledge, Skills and Issues
One of the key texts in my teacher training

Stylistically, it’s like drinking honey: viscous and sweet. An excellent, comprehensive starting point for all new teachers.
497 pages, ★★★★★

Becoming a Teacher (5th ed.) covers every aspect of education imaginable. There’s half a page on the ideal temperature of the classroom, and 1½ pages on the ideal colour for the classroom walls. There’s several pages on how the ambience of the classroom doesn’t influence the students’ grades, but does influence the students’ behaviour and happiness, to all of which, scientific studies are cited. Abundant references attribute published, peer-reviewed papers to every facet of classroom management, including teaching styles, curriculum content, examination methods, and modes of school governance. Not one aspect of education is left to opinion. The whole book is written in lucid prose with no interrupting fact-boxes or other distractions—tables and figures are inset, though, where they’re necessary.

Two facts stand out. First, the 2 × 10 strategy (Smith & Lambert, 2008), in which teachers engage problem students in a 2-minute conversation for 10 consecutive school days, has been proven an effective way to improve students’ wellbeing (and their manners in class). Second, you can use a the results of an innocuous quiz to create a sociogram (which is basically a character map), to create visualise friendship networks in the classroom. The resulting data can be used to foster social cohesion, improve group work, assist seating arrangements, and even break up gangs.

I was most surprised to learn how child psychology underpins basically everything that teachers do:

  • Kohlberg’s 3 stages of moral development
  • Erikson’s 5+3 childhood stages
  • Vygosky’s 4 stages of the development of thought
  • Piaget’s 4 stages of growth, and 2 stages of morality
  • Borich & Tombari’s 2 types of student motivation
  • Bloom’s taxonomy
  • Gardner’s multiple intelligences
  • …and, of course, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Tests, curricula and teaching styles are engineered to cater to every stage that your students might be in. Teaching is clearly a science—yet I used to think it was an art!

I made seven pages of notes while reading this book (I usually make one or two) so there’s a lot to take in: don’t talk too much… you don’t need to shout… give students 5 seconds to answer questions… there are 3 types of test… be fair to all students… don’t just call on boys to answer questions… there’s much more. My internship in April will help me put this wealth of theory into practice.

Becoming a Teacher (5th ed.) is an excellent starting point for teachers-in-training. I loved reading this book. ★★★★★