Monday, May 18, 2015

Do You Have Teacher Cred?

Teacher Cred:  What is it?  Why is it important?  How can you earn it?

What is Teacher Cred?
I grew up in the 90's, listening to artists like Dr. Dre, Tupac, and Eminem.   For these rappers, street cred was extremely important- being true to where you came from and representing the neighborhood accurately was at the heart of the lyrics. I won't pretend to know all the nuances of street cred or pretend that I have it, but I will borrow the term cred and show how Teacher Cred is necessary for teaching and reaching struggling adolescents.
The word part cred is Greek for belief and is in words like credit, credentials, and creed.  Having teacher cred means having your students' respect- they believe in you as a teacher. 
Why is Teacher Cred important?
It is well documented that students work harder for teachers they like, teachers they respect-- teachers that have Teacher Cred.  Struggling students in particular have had a history of failing at reading and have heard it all before.  Each year they hope things will be different, but by the time they are in late middle school they have lost faith in their teachers--you have to prove them wrong.  You need to earn Teacher Cred.

How Can you Earn Teacher Cred?
The older your students are, the more difficult and the longer it takes to develop.  Older struggling students often "test" their teachers to see if they really know their stuff and if they will keep their word.  Here are a few ways of earning your Teacher Cred.  Please excuse the use of slang, it is for effect!

1.  You need to "have their backs"
When you have someone's back, you are on their side through thick and thin.  Students need to know that even on the days that your patience is wearing thin, that you are still there for them.  A simple way to develop relationships with students is the two minute rule.  Talk to students for two minutes, as they enter the room, during Do Now time, during independent work.  Think of it as an investment.  Spending two minutes asking a student about her weekend now, will improve her attention in your class, her motivation, and her behavior in the future.

I remember a student from years ago...  He was often in trouble in his classes, kicked out from one class and in another.  Kevin just left my class where I reprimanded him several times for not being on task and he came back after class ended because his next teacher kicked him out.  When my class was working on their Do Now I walked over to him an asked what happened.  I talked with him about the misunderstanding he had with his other teacher and then he said, "Ms., how come you always still care even when you are mad at me?" 

Too often students aren't given a clean slate.  Kids are kids--they are going to get in trouble, mess up, disrespect, make poor decisions, make their parents and teachers lose their patience--and sometimes their tempers.  The adults in their world can't take it personal, these are teachable moments--and perfect opportunities to earn some Teacher Cred.

2. You need to "keep it real"
When you "keep it real" you are true to who you are and not "putting on a front", or being fake.  Students will see right through empty threats.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  If you make a mistake, admit it and simply say sorry and move on. 

Another facet of "keeping it real" is transparency.  Letting students understand why they are doing something is incredibly important.  Too often struggling students are given busy work that is not important to their growth. 

I had a turning point with one of my students not too long ago...  He burst out "You are always picking on me!" and he put his head on his desk.  Instead of reprimanding him or ignoring it I told him, "You know, sometimes I feel like you are picking on me too."  He looked up, surprised.  "When I am talking it seems like you are being disruptive on purpose.   We really need a better way of getting along for us to work together."  I asked him to tell my why he though I was picking on him---basically he didn't like when I reprimanded him in from of the class--so I let him know that I would work on that and use signals instead, or talk to him personally.  I told him that I needed him to pay more attention and not talk when I am.  We came up with a rating system and "graded" each other at the end of class.  After this, his behavior improved dramatically--he appreciated the authenticity of the conversation and my sincere intention to improve, so he improved too.

3. You need to "give them props"
 When you "give someone props", you are giving them their proper respect, or acknowledgement.  Students need to be recognized for the positive things they do, not just criticized for the negative.  There was a study done on the differences between students in low and high socioeconomic settings.  One major difference was the type of feedback they received.  Children in low socioeconomic settings hear negative feedback nearly five times more than those in higher socioeconomic settings.

In addition to keeping things positive with our students, they also need be given respectful instruction.  I have seen teachers, with the best of intentions, give their struggling students much easier work than they give others.  On the surface, it seems like the best thing to do--they are struggling after all, so an easier task is in their best interest.  You don't want to frustrate them, right?  I have found the exact opposite to be true.  These kids are savvy, they know if they are being given dumbed down work.  The single best thing we can do for all of our students is to hold them to high expectations and build their strategies and skills to help them reach those lofty goals.

A few years ago, I talked to two men that I know who dropped out of high school when they were younger. They do not know each other and I spoke to them separately, on two different occasions.  I asked them why they dropped out--their answers were strikingly the same.  They dropped out because they didn't like being treated like they were "dumb" and "bad".  Both of them said that their teachers didn't teach them, just let them fail. 

Teachers often say "I taught it but they did not learn it!"  It was not truly taught is the students did not learn it.  Using formative assessment throughout the lesson and unit, breaking it down to smaller steps can help teachers make sure that the students are learning it.  When students have not mastered the material, teachers with Teacher Cred continue to revisit the material until everyone has learned it.  Interestingly, one of the top factors of dropping out of school is academic performance--specifically in Reading and Math. Helping students master these subjects just may keep them on the right track. 

It is said that teaching is all about relationships--having Teacher Cred is the pinnacle of building relationships with students, especially your struggling learners.  With that said, here is a list of what Teacher Cred IS and IS NOT:

Teacher Cred IS NOT...being friends with your students.

Teacher Cred IS...being a warm, demanding adult that provides your students with the guidance that they need.

Teacher Cred IS NOT...being the "fun" teacher who gives "easy" work.

Teacher Cred IS...  being the firm but fair teacher who gives students challenging and engaging work and puts in extra effort to help students when they need it.

Teacher Cred IS NOT... getting down to the students level and using slang and teaching only the things students can relate to.

Teacher Cred IS...being professional at all times (only using slang in the occasional blog post ;) )and raising the bar for students by helping them see the relevance of rigorous curriculum material to their lives.

So...have you earned Teacher Cred today?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Strategies to Scaffold Complex Text in the Age of Comon Core

One of the most bloody battles in the Common Core War is frontloading.  This is the method of choice by literacy teachers to scaffold complex text.   According to the authors of the Common Core, little to no frontloading should be done--instead, the text should be analyzed, or closely read by the students.  In the classroom trenches, however, teachers know that students simply do not have the skills or background knowledge to comprehend complex text--especially since what is grade level today was about two years higher BCC (Before Common Core).  So, what is a teacher to do?  One of the ways of ensuring that students are engaged with text, and are building the skills and knowledge to be able to comprehend independently is to scaffold text--with text!

Scaffolding Text With Text

Reading Ladders by Teri S. Lensene

Probably the best source for scaffolding text with text is Teri Lesense's book, Reading Ladders.  In her book, Lesense talks about creating text sets that lead student from where they are to where they need to be.  Lots of wonderful examples are given, mostly with rich children's and young adult's literature.  The same strategic grouping of texts can be done with anything that we ask our students to read--from poetry to nonfiction texts.  In fact, Common Core Reading Standards 7 and 9, and Writing Standards 7, 8, and 9  require students to analyze or write based on more than one text--including multi media texts.  The same step ladder scaffolding of texts also enriches student's understanding of a topic and enables them to think critically at higher levels that are required by these standards.

Interactive Quote Analysis

Narrative Text:  Select quotes from different characters (enough for every student for pair of students to have) that reveal each character's perspective on one of the key themes.  Students read and paraphrase their quote and then determine the perspective on the theme revealed. Next, students sort their quotes into the differing opinions.  This previews the themes and characters by exposing students to the text and really gets them talking. 

Informational Text: 
Select a topic students will be studying and look for quotes that represent various perspectives on the topic.  Examples:  The Effects of Technology, Gun Control, The American Revolution. is a great resource for quotes!

Next, select several categories that students will sort the quotes into.  Examples:  Technology is beneficial, Technology does more harm than good, or Technology is what we make of it;  For/Against concealed weapons laws; Americans should/should not revolt against the British

Pass out a strip with a different quote to each student or pair of students. Give students time to read and paraphrase the quote then have them discuss amongst each other which category their quote belongs in.  Finally, have students move to the corner of the room that represent their category.  Students must be ready to discuss their support.

This pairs nicely with other reading strategies like text coding, where students read and place a symbol in the margin where they read details that support one of the categories.  It is also a great segue to argumentative writing and debate!
A LieracyLightBulb! Lesson

Quote Analysis Activity for Gun Control is available here!
Quote Analysis Activity for Technology is available here!

Poetry Pairs
A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

One of my favorite lessons is showing students how they are already poetry lovers--music is simply poetry set to music, after all!  I tell them how rapper Tupac Shakur wrote poetry in a journal that was published under the title of one of his poems The Rose that Grew from Concrete.  I play his song Dear Momma as they read and discuss the lyrics, then I play a recording of the poem Mother to Son by Langston Hughes.  Students now have the tools--and most importantly the motivation to analyze the poem and make comparisons to Tupac's song. 

This lesson was so successful that I developed other Poetry Pairs:

In addition to Tupac's Dear Momma and Mother to Son by Langston Hughes...

Superwoman by Alicia Keys and Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou both about women's empowerment
A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

Firework by Katy Perry and George Grey by Edgar Lee Masters both about making the most of your life

A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

I Hope you Dance by Lee Ann Womack and If by Rudyard Kipling both advice to young people

A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

I even have students present their own Poetry Pair where they choose a topic along with a song and poem that explore the topic.  It is my tricky way of getting students to read a lot of poetry--and it works!  After presenting the song and poem in class and analyzing each and making comparisons students often say that they like the poem better than the song!

Paired Passages
I rarely teach a single text in isolation.  Instead, I teach a set of texts on the same topic--each exploring it from a different angle.  Often I use events that are ripped from the headlines that students care about that also have roots in literature. 

A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

One of my favorites is a lesson on Privacy Versus Security.  With laws regulating who has access to our smart phone data, this topic is both timely and of interest to teens.  I begin with a discussion on the topic:  Is it ever ok to invade someone's privacy.  All or nearly all students will say no, some will even refer to the Bill of Rights.  Sometimes I might need to provoke the discussion a bit by asking "well, what about at the airport?"  and the discussion takes a different turn as most students agree that our security is more important in this setting.  Now they are ready to look into the Bill of Rights where "unreasonable searches and seizures" is mentioned.  We read an editorial on the laws dealing with phone data---which refers to "Big Brother" and is a perfect segue to the first chapter of Orwell's 1984. 

Other Paired Passages include:

In addition to the Privacy vs Security Paired Passages lesson...

"A Piece of Wood" by Ray Bradbury and a passage on gun control
A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

"Their Bullet, My Life" and concealed weapons editorial

A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson
"The Fan Club" and an article about cyberbullying

A LiteracyLightBulb! Lesson

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Resource to Teach Teens about the Events in Baltimore

A Resource to Teach Teens about the Events in Baltimore
A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

Developing Historic Perspective in Teens to Help Them Understand the Events in Baltimore and Current Events

Teenagers are quick to give their opinions on just about everything—from their favorite brands, music, sports, and hot news topics like the events that are now unfolding in Baltimore.  Teens have not fully developed their reasoning capacity and often do not have the background necessary to formulate an informed opinion, they are susceptible to biased media coverage often make snap judgments based on unverified facts.   They need guidance and practice in analyzing information and drawing conclusion based on valid sources.  They need to build their historic knowledge to give them perspective on current events.  They need opportunities to listen and speak about issues that are important to them. 


Knowing this about teens, I was inspired by the events in Baltimore to develop a unit of instruction.  Through a series of engaging activities, students are guided to build their understanding of the concepts Protest and Riot and analyze examples of each throughout history.  You can access the materials here!

Sequence of Activities

1. Historic Photograph Analysis: Students examine details from several historic photos of an event and make and support inferences then they read an article about the event and write an unbiased summary of the event.  The first event is the March on Washington.  Notice how the sequence of photos draws students into the event.  The same process is repeated with a series of photos from the Watts Riots.
A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

2. Concept definition Building: Students work together to build their understanding of the concepts of Protest and Riot.  Discussing examples and nonexamples in relation to the characteristics helps build critical thinking skills as students much justify their selections.
A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

3. Word Splash- Students learn and interact with words related to Protest and Riot.

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

4. Voices Calling for Change through History: Students explore various text based, video, and audio sources bout carious calls for change through history. Students discuss these events and select one to learn more about. Here is a padlet with resources for students to refer to.

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

5. Class Museum of Social Action: Students create a visual and report for their selected event and present to visiting classmates.

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

6. In The News: Baltimore-A Socratic Discussion:  Students read several news articles and participate in an academic discussion, incorporating all they have learned.

A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson

7. Take Action! Service Learning Project: Students select a problem in their school or community to raise awareness of and document their journey in a scrapbook or video and journal.


A LiteracyLightbulb Lesson