Casey* got an email yesterday from his daughter’s teacher. He instantly panicked. In a few sentences, it seemed the teacher was informing him that his daughter was having severe behavior issues in the classroom.
So, Casey reread it. He vacillated on what to do. He called his spouse. He called a friend. He vented to co-workers. Eventually, he went back to the source: he re-connected with the teacher, but this time over the phone.
Hearing Casey’s voice, the teacher sensed his anxiety and assured him that the email had been misunderstood. The teacher had meant to convey, I’m going to explore some ways I can best support your daughter; but Casey had interpreted it as, your daughter needs some immediate behavioral interventions.
This misunderstanding, and all the anxiety that came along with it, could have been avoided by skipping the email and picking up the phone instead.
As teachers, our lives are hectic. We have to manage our time, and often an email appears to be the quickest route for parent/guardian communication. We hop on Skyward, grab the parent/guardian’s email address, open Outlook and we’re off—just a few clicks, some tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard, and we’re all set. Communication home is done. But, in truth, it’s rarely that simple.
In my last classroom, the phone was on the other side of the room from my computer. Calling home meant (1) clicking into Skyward, (2) writing down the number [and crossing my fingers that it wasn’t a long-distance number since my classroom phone blocked such calls], (3) walking across the room to dial, (4) crossing my fingers that the parent/guardian picked up, while also (5) crossing my fingers that if s/he did there were only questions asked that I could answer without having to reference something on my computer which was still across the room... But, despite this complicated process, it was worth it.
Calling home has power:
While, calling home can may be daunting to some, here are three ways to make it more manageable.
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When thinking back to when my brothers and I were in school, the phone calls my parents received from teachers and administrators were almost always negative. One of us had been in the principal’s office, one of us had an unexcused absence, or one of us was struggling in math class. Where were the phone calls when I had been selected to attend a poetry workshop, when my brother got a ribbon in the science fair, or when my other brother had managed to not be in the principal’s office for an entire month?
This is where the strategy “8 Greats” comes into play.
If you’d like to read more on this idea--or similar ones--consider exploring the following:
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Make a Sandwich
I’m from the generation labeled as ‘xennials’. Much like many of my millennial counterparts, I am uncomfortable making phone calls. I’d prefer to send a text, an email, or even leave a voicemail. The thought of actually having to talk on the phone with someone gives me anxiety.
Whether you are of a similar generation or are simply not sure what to say once you get someone on the other end of the line, the “Make a Sandwich” strategy might be for you.
Start each call with a respectful, collaborative, and positive opening.
In the middle, add in the details, listen, and adjust. Know that the more complicated or negative the message, the more effort we need to use when selecting our words and tone.
End each call with a respectful, collaborative, and positive finish.
If you’d like to read more on this idea, consider exploring chapter 6 “Positive Communication with Parents” from the book Dealing with Difficult Parents by Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore; as well as chapter 13, “Delivering Bad News.”
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Making phone calls doesn’t have to take a lot of time. A few years ago I worked with a middle school teacher who often had students make the calls home, whether the news be uplifting or difficult. There was power in how these students took ownership of communication with their parent(s)/guardian(s).
This is where the strategy “Quick Calls” works well.
No matter what information is shared, imagine the conversations that will happen between those students and those parent(s)/guardian(s) when, later that day, they get picked up after school or sit down at the dinner table.
Whatever structure you use to make phone calls home, keep parents/guardians like Casey in mind. We want to work collaboratively with our students and their important adults, and that often begins by picking up the phone.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
*The name of this parent has been changed for data privacy purposes.
Top 10 Things to Keep in Mind
For me, it was typically second quarter where I started to feel more like a chicken with no head than an actual teacher. The Thanksgiving and winter break made it hard to pace my lessons, my personal calendar was full with family dinners and social events, yet the assignments kept pouring in. Keeping up with my life and with the papers I had to grade often seemed impossible. When faced with a stack of 160 tests/essays/projects to mark, it’s frankly overwhelming. This is why I would commonly give such stacks rides home at night and back to work the next morning without ever tackling a single paper. It is also why I was always on the lookout for new ways to grade smarter, faster, and better.
Images by Heather Lyke
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Don’t ‘Grade’ Everything
Most things we do in our classroom are designed to be formative, so why put such tasks in the gradebook? Sure, you’ll want to track students’ progress, but does all the progress you monitor have to be accounted for in Skyward? Does it have to be every assignment? What I’m seeing in a lot of classrooms in the district are students who are working just as hard, if not harder, for a comment in the margin or a verbal “great thinking in this paragraph.” So, if our students work harder for feedback that never goes into the gradebook, then why kill ourselves grading everything and then account for all of it in Skyward?
Want to explore this idea more? Consider reading the first two parts of our Grading for Learning series by Brandon Macrafic:
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Provide Feedback Verbally
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- In class one-on-ones — Teachers meet with each student individually (either at his/her desk or by popping by each student’s desk) to talk over a particular task that’s already been completed, work through a problem together, or discuss the student’s thinking.
- Small group — Teachers pull students back in groups of 2-4, often pairing them with others who share similar struggles/successes. Together the students explain their thinking on a shared task, work through a problem that all of them are struggling with, or brainstorm solutions to ensure future academic successes.
- Scheduled one-on-ones — Schedule meetings with each of your students to have them discuss their learning while minimizing the distractions that come from having a classroom full of other students. These can be sessions for all students focused on their accumulated learning/skills, or make-up sessions for students who missed an in-class verbal feedback day or for those needing a bit of extra help. In fact, some of our high schools have weekly Academic Seminars which is a great time to ask students to come in for a verbal feedback session. (Don’t have Academic Seminar? I’ve also seen teachers opt to use their lunch period, Target hour, prep period, and/or before/after school for this same purpose.)
- Make the most of your time together by having talking points sketched out in advance.
- Let students know ahead of time the general area(s) that will be discussed. This limits anxiousness that can sometimes turn into poor behavior choices while students wait their turn.
- Ensure that students, when not being conferenced with, are engaged fully in the day’s activity before starting to pull individuals/groups back for verbal conferences. This often means a culture of engaged learning has been established earlier in the semester, prior to the introduction of verbal feedback conferences.
- Keep conferences short and focused on the topic at hand. It’s easy to let other concerns and agendas squeeze in, but then there’s a risk of students not understanding the purpose of such conferences as well as you potentially not getting to all students in a sufficient timeframe.
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Have Students Assess Each Other
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Homework feedback — Rather than collecting and scoring what student did the day before, have them get together with a partner or a small group and go over the problems or questions you’ve assigned. Have them identify what answers they agreed on and then what answers they disagreed on. Have them compare how they came to their answers—whether they be the same or different. Then, facilitate a full class discussion on the elements that the duo/group struggled with.
- Essay editing — Whether you have partners swap, do paper rotations with no names attached, or have students get together in struggle-alike groups, this is a great way for students to learn from each other while simultaneously being exposed to others’ writings, helping them broaden their own personal understanding.
- Lab report evaluation — Lab groups commonly follow differing procedures, arrive at different results, and/or have varying degrees of details in their notes. Giving students opportunities to see other groups’ lab reports allows them to see their own gaps, struggles, and errors (along with their own successes).
- Project evaluations — Putting students into like-topic or project-type-alike groups and having them provide feedback often gives students a chance to see what they personally missed.
- Students don’t often know intrinsically what good feedback looks like, so first model what these conversations should sound like and consist of.
- Consider norming their expectations by having them look at a “high,” “medium,” and “low” example (specifically when doing peer editing or having peers provide feedback on labs/projects) and having them provide feedback as a whole class, then you can guide them into what feedback is helpful, on pointe, and constructive before they go it alone.
- Provide a guide, such as a rubric or a checklist, to help them stay focused on the learning at hand.
- Commonly teachers have students do this before they turn in the final, often graded, assignment/essay/lab report/project. Adding in this step helps students see what to change before turning in the final version—helping them achieve a better outcome on the final version AND making that final version easier for you to provide feedback on (since work done well is often faster to mark).
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Have Students Assess Themselves
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Self-scoring homework/quizzes — After students have completed a homework task or a quiz, give them some possible correct answers or some specific questions to help them decide if they went down a path that’s viable. Then, have them reflect on what they did well, what they could have improved upon, and what they misunderstood.
- Peer-scoring homework/quizzes — After students have completed a homework task or a quiz, have them join a partner or small group. Then, have them collectively decide on what answers are correct/viable. Once they’ve worked with peers, provide them with a key or detailed rubric, have them score their own work, and then reflect on what they did well, what they could have improved upon, and what they misunderstood.
- Metacognition on processes followed/learning gained — Have students reflect on their score/answers/feedback after you’ve returned a marked homework task, quiz/test, essay, or project. Go over what parameters you used to score them and then have students agree/disagree with this score using the parameters you shared (debate—making an argument that’s supported with detailed explanations—also has a high effect size).
- The trick here is to not simply have students score themselves using an answer key, checklist, or simple rubric, but rather to have them really look at how the decisions they made, the thinking they followed, etc. lead to the outcome. So, while an answer key, checklist, or rubric may be the first step, it’s important to then have students identify areas of struggle, answer questions about how they studied, and plan for how their learning today will impact their actions tomorrow.
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Embrace the Google Suite
Ways I’ve seen this used:
- Quick individualized feedback— In Google Forms, when you turn it into a ‘quiz’, you can provide individual feedback. Students receive the feedback almost instantly this way. Plus, for many of us, typing feedback is faster than handwriting it. (Likewise, for many of us, reading typed responses from students is easier than reading their handwriting.)
- Quick rubric feedback — Especially with writing, timely feedback can be difficult. However, in 2017 many of us are collecting our essays online. If you’re not already, consider having students write their papers in Google Docs and then turn their papers in via Google Classroom. If you do this, then you can utilize the Google Add-ons of Doctopus and Goobric. When used together, this makes returning feedback via a teacher-created rubric quick, simple, and paperless.
- Unless you’re super tech-savy, avoid tackling both of these at once.
- Providing individual feedback via Google Forms is the simpler of the two ideas listed above. Want to start simple? Try starting there.
Ideally, some of these tools can help ensure that you have a holiday break free of stacks of tests to grade and/or papers to mark.
When you return from break, hopefully refreshed and ready for the new year, let your instructional coach(es) or one of us from the secondary C&I team know if you’d like to explore any of these ideas together. We’d love to help you save some time.
Originally posted on the RPS Elementary C&I website on 11.21.2017.
Examining a traditional lesson plan template forces us to consider who our students are as learners, the learning objective of each lesson, what mastery of that objective will look like, and the materials needed to engage our learners by differentiating for their needs. Your overall instructional plan will also include interventions and extensions for those who fall below or far exceed the learning target.
That’s a lot to plan for, and for some, our pedagogical tool boxes are just full enough to carry us through the instructional phase; however, mindfulness about the desired learning results and evidence of learning should not be overlooked as we plan. Through John Hattie’s extensive research on student achievement published in Visible Learning (2009), we know that there are some educational practices that are more impactful than others. He found, “effective teachers set appropriately challenging goals and then structure situations so that students can reach these goals.” Being mindful about what we want our students to know and be able to do as a result of the learning experience and determining what that learning looks like is what Hattie termed “teacher clarity.” Teacher clarity ranked in the top 10 or over 100 positive influences on student learning that Hattie studied. He further defined teacher clarity as “organization, explanation, examples and guided practice, and assessment of student learning,” which brings us back to the lesson plan.
What if my lesson plan included:
- Pacing targets
- Differentiated experiences based on students’ prior knowledge, skill level or interest
- More than one strategy for engagement
- Planned time for all students to speak or lead
- Plan B for students who need more time
- Plan C for students who need more challenge
You might be thinking: “Won’t this take a lot of time to plan? I teach many grade levels or different content within the same grade—I am not sure I have time.” Determining the learning objective and success criteria are often already embedded in curriculum; making a purposeful plan to share them with students in a meaningful way may take time. Most classrooms post daily learning objectives already; taking those visuals a step further to include what success looks like may be the first step you could take to make the learning more visible.
Planning instruction that engages students, increases student voice, includes instructional dialogue, and is differentiated takes time; however, you do not need to reinvent the wheel. Many instructional strategies work well within many different content areas and for various ages and can be used in rotation. See what works for you and your students. Knowing what it looks like when they have met your objective, though, is an important piece of the plan.
Making changes to how we’ve always done something is uncomfortable and can be difficult and overwhelming. Try not to take on too much or overthink—start small. Don’t keep the learning objectives and what success looks like a secret to your students—clarity precedes competence! Successful experiences builds confident learners and teachers.
Feel free to connect with Kari on Twitter @KollingAnderson, via phone at 507-328-4122, or via email.
Hattie, John. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement; Routledge, 2009.
This is what the first day of class looks like for students coming into my chemistry class:
The teacher (that’s me) greets students as they make their way to the door.
Students are a lot like adults in that their anxiety level is raised when they are about to meet a new person. By greeting each student, I take care of this anxious moment quickly and help the student put a face with the name. I continue to greet the students at the door as the year progresses. The greeting also allows me to give quick instructions to students who may have been, or soon will be, gone from class.
The room is arranged in double rows allowing for a quick share/pair with a partner or a lab group discussion. The student’s name is written on an index card on his/her assigned seat. There is also a handout entitled: “Class Rules for Conduct and Grading” set out for easy access.
Giving a student an assigned seat to start the period has many advantages that help to support student learning. The teacher knows where his/her students are so that (s)he can quickly and efficiently take roll and the student knows that you have a place reserved for them and that (s)he can quickly get started on the warm-up activity for the day. A seating chart gives the students a predictable starting position and allows the teacher to easily transition to the day’s activities. As opposed to a seating chart, a seating arrangement only informs the teacher and class of the location of desks. No matter the seating arrangement, I always have the students start the day in an assigned seat.
(To read more about various seating arrangements, please visit our previous posts entitled “Room Arrangement Matters”.)
“Objective: To learn the first few of our class routines as a foundation for future learning.”
“Assignment: Record the homework assignment in your notebook/planner..."
After taking attendance, I turn the class’s attention towards me with a raised hand and an attention getter. I pause for a moment and then tell the class that we will start each day with assigned seats and a warm up. I then formally introduce myself to the whole class and then state two truths and a lie about me. I pause for them to guess as to which is the lie and them talk about my truths.
I have students pair with their elbow buddy and take turns listing two truths and a lie. I give the students a few minutes to go through the process. I will use the same attention getter when it is time to end the activity. I collect the index cards and keep them for reference.
With this simple routine, the students see that there will be steps to follow when going in and out of groups. The same procedure is used for each activity that the class will do throughout the year. I describe the activity and make sure the students know how I plan to get their attention for transition to the next activity.
A well planned first day lays the groundwork for the coming days by helping our students know that you are a teacher who has a place for them in class and that you will use procedures and routines to assist them in their learning.
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