Squeeze Fewer Lemons

 

I have, on a few occasions, enjoyed a delicious glass of fresh squeezed lemonade. I would say it’s superior to the kind of lemonade I usually drink, which comes from this:

But that could just be priming at work; tell me it’s fresh squeezed and I’m inclined to believe it’s going to be better before even bringing the glass to my lips.

For the sake of this article, though, let’s say that fresh squeezed lemonade is, in fact, a better product than the stuff that comes from mixing flavored powder with water.

In spite of its superiority, how often do you drink it?

How often do you buy lemons and squeeze them yourself?

My guess is not very often, and for good reason. Fresh squeezed lemonade is a hassle to make, and while it might be better, it’s not that much better. The payoff is rarely worth the extra effort, especially when you have an alternative that takes seconds to make and tastes enough like real lemonade that you can overlook its inferiority.

We make choices like this all the time. We don’t need top-of-the-line running shoes because we just don’t log that many miles. The Kraft cheese is fine for our purposes; we don’t need the expensive artisan stuff for a cheeseburger. Sure, the $4500 saxophone produces a better sound, but the $270 one on Amazon will do.

Most people have no problem admitting they sometimes settle for an inferior product because it’s not worth their time, money, or effort to have something better.

But not teachers. We rarely make such an admission.

Teachers, many of them, are spending too much time and effort squeezing far too many lemons, and people who aren’t in the classroom are encouraging them to do so. Too often, we aim for “best” practices when “good enough” practices would be the better choice.

There is no better example of this than how administrators shove John Hattie’s work down teachers’ throats, the unmistakable message being that good educators employ those practices with the highest effect sizes, without giving any thought to what those teachers sacrifice to do so. They want their teachers to make fresh squeezed lemonade because fresh squeezed lemonade is better, but they don’t ask how much better it is and if making it is worth the effort.

It’s not just Hattie’s effect sizes that get misused by hard-charging administrators. There are many practices teachers are made to feel they ought to be using that are the educational equivalent of fresh squeezed lemonade. Sure, teachers could do them. Yes, they might work better than what those teachers would otherwise do. But teachers should always consider the tradeoffs. Before deciding on something you’ve been told is wonderful, you should ask:

Is this going to lead to significantly more learning, or just marginally more? If just marginally more, then is it worth my time and effort or might those limited resources be better deployed elsewhere?

Here are five of those times:

Having Students Track Their Own Progress

I love this practice. It’s motivating. It’s visual. It can help reinforce a growth mindset when students see their own progress recorded in hard numbers or pretty bar graphs. When I’ve used it, I’ve seen students excited to improve their performance.

But…

it’s a hassle. At least in the grade I teach (third), it’s time-consuming and I simply have too many other more important things to do (like, you know, teach). Have students record their progress on paper and at least three of them will regularly lose all of the data they’ve collected. Have them use a device and it takes even longer to get the thing out and enter their numbers.

Instead of squeezing this particular lemon, just keep track of the students’ progress for them and share it periodically. Even better, take advantage of digital solutions that score and keep a record of student performance automatically.  Many curricular programs do this for you, and websites like Quizizz, Kahoot, and Prodigy produce reports that can be downloaded, printed, and shared with students.

Class Discussions

I’ve been told time and again how important class discussions are. Hattie found that they have an effect size of .82, so they have the potential to make a real difference in student understanding. But, to his credit, Hattie also cautioned that it’s hard work to establish a climate of trust and respect where classroom discussions flourish. And that’s not even half of it. They’re difficult to manage. You’ve got students who want to dominate and others who won’t talk at all. To address those issues, you have to design systems that limit the speech of some while encouraging the thoughts of others. Then there’s the issue with what you do when someone says something certifiably wrong or universally offensive.

And they take forever.

You’re also never quite sure if those who aren’t talking are getting anything out of the discussion and you might have the sneaking suspicion that some of what students are saying is not what they actually believe but what they think someone else (possibly you) wants to hear.

Having sat through countless discussions at staff meetings, I’m left to conclude that discussions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, or, if they are, then they’re so difficult to do well it might be better to avoid them altogether, which is largely what I do. I prefer digital alternatives that allow students to submit their thoughts anonymously. Padlet, the Google Question feature in Google Classroom (with student comments enabled), Jamboard, or even a shared Google Doc all work well, and they’re far easier to manage. You might also save discussion for smaller groups.

Inquiry-based learning

The idea here is that kids learn by doing and that knowledge uncovered in the pursuit of a (preferably student-generated) question sticks better than knowledge that is dispensed from the front of the room or absorbed from a textbook. Probably true.

But as anyone who has led an inquiry-based unit knows, it’s fraught with peril. An experiment doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to and students’ misconceptions are reinforced instead of challenged. Some kids do a lot of inquiring, while others freeload. Experiments are inefficient; they’re time-consuming and usually include a number of false starts. There’s also an incentive problem: students aren’t tested this way, so a teacher who’s concerned about standardized test scores might decide that reading about a topic makes more sense than designing and executing experiments that will be a management challenge and might not lead to the kind of learning the standards demand students attain.

Students might learn better this way, but there’s a real risk they won’t learn anything at all. And, of course, this all assumes your district is willing to spend the money to purchase the materials you need for whatever students are inquiring about. Experiments are fun. Students will like science class more if you do them, so do them you should, but it’s worth asking if this method of teaching and learning is worth the costs.

Feedback

Feedback is great. Research shows that timely feedback works; kids learn more when they receive it. But providing timely, individual feedback is labor-intensive and many teachers give more than is useful. I’m thinking specifically of writing. Whenever I write about not taking student work home, I inevitably hear from writing teachers who tell me such a practice is impossible because when would they ever read and respond to 25, or 75, or 160 student papers?

And the answer to that is they should not be reading and responding to all of those papers. I wrote about this in detail in my book Leave School At School, but to save you the purchase, here are some ways to stop squeezing the feedback lemon:

  • Have students give each other feedback. Yes, feedback from you will probably be better (it’s fresh-squeezed), but student feedback isn’t worthless (it’s Country Time). If you’re using paper, do a gallery walk where students have sticky notes that they can leave their classmates after reading their work. Require they leave two positives and one area to improve (and for the love of all that is holy please don’t call these “glows and grows.” Ick). If students are typing, have them share documents with one another and require a certain amount and type of feedback.

 

  • Provide feedback while students are writing. I have my students write their papers in Google Docs inside of Google Classroom, which allows me to jump into their work at any time and leave comments right on the screen. This saves me tons of time at the end of the process and gives them assistance when they need it and are still willing to use it. If you want it more personal, you could try Catlin Tucker’s station rotation model.

 

  • Limit your feedback to just one or two areas. Don’t overwhelm yourself or your students by trying to “fix” everything; you’re not the only writing teacher they will ever have. Focus on some high-leverage areas that will translate into other writing genres and provide feedback on those. If students can’t write a complete sentence, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to tell them they need richer imagery.  Feedback to student writers is like salt: a little has the potential to make the final product better, but too much makes kids want to gag.
Feedback to student writers is like salt: a little has the potential to make the final product better, but too much makes kids want to gag. Click To Tweet

Rubrics

I used to be guilty of squeezing this particular lemon. Before any writing unit, I’d design my own rubric or I worked with colleagues to design them for our grade level. The process was messy and not worth the results. To start, designing a rubric is a painstaking process. You have to figure out which writing traits to include and how much weight to give each of them. Then you’ve got to come up with language for each level. Those levels have to be distinguishable from one another and you’ve got to make sure you imagine every possible contingency. What happens if a student writes beautifully but off-topic? What exactly constitutes a detail? What if the spelling and grammar are on point but the kid forgot to paragraph? And finally, on top of all that, you have to make sure the rubric is student-friendly and not verbose so there’s actually a chance it will get used.

And what usually happens after you pour in all that work? You go over the rubric in class and start explaining your criteria and students nod off after about three minutes. Then, when they turn in a draft, it’s obvious they haven’t used the rubric. Finally, when it comes time to score student papers, you wish you hadn’t created the thing in the first place and you’re chagrined to find that most papers need little consideration and you only need to refer to the rubric for the handful that fall somewhere in the middle.

These days, my first stop for a rubric is the Internet. If it’s already made (and with the Common Core standards, why wouldn’t it be?), then there’s no sense recreating the wheel. I look for single-point rubrics because they’re easy to use for both teachers and students. If I can’t find one, I’ll make one, but because they’re single-point rubrics, they take much less time to create and are quicker to use.

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If you read this article then you’re probably interested is optimizing your practices as a teacher so you can focus on the stuff that matters the most. The master class for this mindset is Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, of which Teacher Habits is an affiliate partner. If you’re looking to cut back on the hours you work without sacrificing your effectiveness, then give the club a look. Here are some links that may help you decide if it’s right for you:

12-question quiz to see if the club is right for you

Reviews from club members

Summer Secrets Video Series

 

 

 

How Teachers Can Use Drones as an Educational Tool in the Classroom

By Frankie Wallace

In recent years, drones have shed their military roots and joined the mainstream, used by businesses and individuals alike. Approximately 2.2 million drones were sold across the world in 2016 alone, according to Business Insider, and drone sales are expected to surpass $12 billion by 2021.

Those estimated sales numbers lump the three main types of drones together: Consumer, commercial (also called enterprise drones), and government. All facets of drone technology share similarities and benefit society in a number of ways. At the commercial level, drones have positively impacted many industries, such as real estate, agriculture, and cartography. Drone technology is so useful and ubiquitous, in fact, that it has even entered the classroom. 

Students of all ages are likely to be captivated and engaged by drones, and the academic value of drone technology cannot be denied. Today’s forward-thinking educators view drones as an educational tool that could steer their students toward a particular career path. No matter the age of your students, you can easily introduce them to the principles and applications of drones, and even show them the technology firsthand. 

Integrating Drones within the Classroom

Some educators are so dedicated to the use of drones in the classroom, in fact, that they have become Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified drone pilots. Two educators in Colorado Springs recently made headlines for doing just that. Ray Sevits and David Steele, who teach middle school and high school, respectively, spent two weeks during the summer of 2018 to learn about drone technology firsthand, and they now bring that knowledge to their classrooms.  

Their students learn to operate drones, design and build drones, and sometimes work as a team mechanic, maintaining and repairing any issues. But working directly with drones is just a small part of potential classroom applications. Students can also interact with flight simulation software, or study the myriad applications of drone technology. 

As an educator, you may choose to teach under the SOAR model of drone instruction. SOAR stands for:

  • Safety (ethics and legal use)
  • Operation (flight and maintenance)
  • Active learning (engagement in problem-solving)
  • Research (practical applications)

By adhering to the principles of SOAR, you can bring a well-rounded and comprehensive model to drone instruction for students of all ages.

Drone Technology in Commercial Industries

An understanding of drone technology and/or flight experience can give your students a leg up when they eventually enter the job market. Drones are used in a growing number of industries, and one of the most common uses for drones in commercial settings is in the realm of photography, especially for marketing purposes.

Within the real estate industry, drones are becoming an integral marketing tool that gives potential buyers a bird’s eye view of properties and the surrounding neighborhood. Real estate professionals report that successful commercial real estate drone photographers are those who have a keen eye for photography and can skillfully operate their own, quality drone. When those skills are honed in a primary- or secondary-level educational setting, students have a better chance of making a splash in the real estate photography industry.

Another industry that has a growing demand for drone operators is e-commerce, especially where shipping and logistics are concerned. Amazon is the biggest name in e-commerce within the U.S., accounting for a full 50% of total e-commerce growth in 2015 alone. The company continues to seek out innovative technology that can streamline its order fulfillment process, and drones have become part of the Amazon business plan. In the near future, autonomous delivery drones may carry packages from Amazon warehouses directly to consumer doorsteps. 

How Drones Can Benefit Society

Students with a background in drone operation may be able to quickly secure employment in the fields of real estate photography and e-commerce. But drone technology isn’t solely used for commercial purposes, and you can introduce your students to the potential humanitarian aspects of drone operation.

“Drones have shown particular promise in disaster recovery efforts and global health initiatives, becoming a key tool for public health and humanitarian agencies alike,” according to The Keck School of Medicine at USC. Drones have a number of uses within disaster recovery, such as assessing damage, locating victims who rescuers on the ground may have missed, and transporting supplies and medication to rural areas. 

In the classroom, you can initiate discussions about the use of drones in public health settings and encourage students to find similar applications in which drones could be beneficial. Further, students can test the efficiency of drones within disaster relief situations by performing mock supply drops. Teams of students can compare drone supply drop times with those of on-ground vehicle supply drops, and it can even become a race to see which team reaches victims more quickly.

Modern technology, from language learning apps to drones, continues to alter our classrooms in profound ways. Teachers have a responsibility to harness these technologies in order to improve the chances of future success among their students. Drone technology provides a fun, hands-on opportunity to prepare students for jobs in emerging industries.

6 Ways to Keep Your Students Engaged in the Classroom

Guest Writer: Paisley Hansen

 

Keeping your students engaged in the classroom is becoming harder than ever before. With the short attention spans of kids in today’s society, you need to do whatever you can to keep your students engaged. There are many different ways that you can create engaging class material that will stimulate and bring your kids to a whole new level of excitement in your classroom. Once you start implementing these new ways of teaching, you will find that it is much easier for you to have a classroom that is enjoyable for both you and the students. 

Utilize social media 

In our modern age, it is important that you take advantage of social media. This is something that your students are going to be on quite regularly. Starting profiles for your classroom on major social media networks is a great way to keep your kids engaged. You will be able to appeal to their love of social media and have them engage on a much more regular basis. Learning the art of social media is something that may take a while to get the hang of. However, if you keep working at it, you will become a social media natural in no time. 

Use media to make your lessons more engaging 

Kids today are so used to seeing so many engaging videos and pictures. If you aren’t taking advantage of these tools, you are greatly missing out on an awesome opportunity to engage with your students. You need to make sure that you are using high-quality images and videos. Without utilizing media in your lesson plans, it will be easy for your students to start losing interest while you are teaching. 

Have reward systems 

Reward systems are a great way for your students to want to excel in school. These reward systems don’t have to be full of expensive prizes either. You can get creative with inexpensive or even free rewards that will motivate your students to work hard in their classroom environment. Peer to peer recognition systems are a great way for your students to be able to reward each other for their successes in the classroom. 

Go on field trips 

Field trips will always be one of the greatest ways to get your students excited about learning. There is a lot that you can do when it comes to organizing field trips. You will be able to fully immerse your students in the subject that you are teaching by showing them a real-world application of it. 

Give your students opportunities to present 

Giving your students the opportunity to present will be a great way to make them accountable for teaching the rest of the class about a certain subject. Presenting can also help your students learn the art of public speaking. The sooner someone can overcome the fear of speaking in public, the easier it will be for them to take advantage of all of the opportunities that come from being able to speak well in public. 

Take an interest in your students’ likes and dislikes 

When you know that your students are into, it will be much easier to relate to them. It won’t take a whole lot of time to look up who the famous YouTubers and rappers are currently. When you start talking to your students about these celebrities that they look up to, they will start to be much more interested in you as a teacher. 

 

Keeping your students engaged in the classroom is easy to do when you know where to direct your efforts. Instead of trying to force your students to pay attention in class, it is a much better idea to create lessons that will be more engaging for everyone involved. There are plenty of resources online that will help you find the best ways to keep your students engaged in the classroom. The more you are able to learn about engagement, the easier it will be for you to have a classroom full of engaged students. 

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Would you like to write for Teacher Habits? If so, check out the guest posting guidelines.

You Might Be a Petty Tyrant If

A couple of years ago I was written up for wearing a red shirt to school. It was one of those national “Wear Red for Ed” days and the union had sent an email telling everyone to wear shirts that had been designed during a previous round of negotiations. They bore the words “Support Charlotte Teachers As We Support Your Students.” Administration caught wind of it and issued a memo telling teachers that such an act would be considered political and could result in discipline (because I guess suggesting that the public support teachers and students is political now – nice time we live in). Some teachers switched to other red shirts. I altered mine a bit:

The Superintendent directed the principals to go around and record the names of all the teachers who wore red shirts. I guess it’s in my permanent file now, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

This episode was one of many that teachers in my former district endured under the “leadership” of petty tyrants, and even it, silly as it was, doesn’t come close to how bad some teachers have it.

When I started this blog two and a half years ago, I didn’t think I was being brave. Still don’t. But apparently, that’s because I work for sane people. I’ve had readers email me things like, “Thanks for saying what we can’t” and “Thank you for being a voice for those of us too afraid to speak up.” Teachers have left anonymous comments on blog posts with arguments far more persuasive than anything I’ve written but then declined an opportunity to write a guest article because they were afraid someone in their district office would see it and deduce its author.  One Amazon reviewer left the following review for my book The Teacher’s Guide to Saying NO:

“Every teacher should read this book, subscribe to his page, follow him on Facebook! He and his guest writers say exactly what we would say if we could.”

Others have flat out said that if they wrote what I wrote, they’d be out of a job.

Some of this is likely fear on the part of teachers. While they may indeed work for contemptible, officious prats, they’re probably exaggerating the limits those prats want to place on their speech.

But some of this fear to speak up — far too much of it — is the fact that we have too many petty tyrants in positions of educational leadership. Offered a sip of power for the first time in their lives, they slam down the entire goblet and prance around like Nero. 

These leaders cause harm to our education system. They make improvement impossible by shutting down any possibility of debate that could make things better. The culture of fear and silence they cultivate drive good teachers from the classroom and destroy the morale of those who stay. It’s hard to pour your heart and soul into a job when the people who are in charge show so little respect for the work you do and focus instead on the color of shirt you’re wearing. Leaders who stand in front of teachers and tell them that it’s all about the kids but then act in ways that discourage candid criticism and snuff out pointed questions are not actually interested in improving their schools or districts; they’re interested in doing what’s easiest for them.

They say that people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. In my experience, this is true. I know many teachers who left their previous schools, not because of pay, or parents, or student behavior, or the physical condition of the building they worked in but because they were sick and tired of working for people who were more concerned with silencing teachers, squelching dissent, and promoting a false image of harmony to the community than they were about improving the teaching and learning in their schools.

Look,

If you won’t allow your teachers to speak to the media

If no teacher in your employ ever speaks critically at a school board meeting

If your instinct after having one of your decisions criticized is to get revenge on those doing the criticizing

If you’re more concerned with your image than the performance of the school or district you run

If you’re spending any time at all looking at your teachers’ social media pages

If you ask teachers to fill out surveys and there are no criticisms because the teachers suspect you’ll be able to identify them

If you never ask teachers to provide feedback on your performance as a leader

Then you might be a petty tyrant.

 

If you are, KNOCK IT OFF.  Do better. Be better. See if you can find a little humility and maybe learn something that will make your district or building a better place to work and learn.

And if you can’t do that, then please find something else to do.

Fiddle, perhaps.

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Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club is once again accepting new members. I’m an affiliate partner of Angela, which means I get a cut from every membership she sells. This is my only affiliate partnership because I only endorse products that teachers like and that work.

The folks over at My Morning Routine interviewed me about – you guessed it – my morning routine, such as it is. You can read that here.

I’ve got a cover design for my next book, Teach Like a Cat. It’s over on the right. Let me know what you think in the comments.

I received a shout out on a fun new education podcast, Teacher Talk with Mr. Teachwell, during their episode “The Teachwell Teacher Greets Summer.” Listen here. 

Education.com is running a writing contest that will award $500 in scholarship money to six lucky K-5 winners. Scholarship money is hard to find for kids this age, so you might want to share this with parents or do it as a writing assignment in class.

The 5 Options Exhausted Teachers Have

For most teachers, another school year is in the books. If you’ve been off for a couple of weeks, you have probably already started to forget the suffocating exhaustion you felt over the past ten months. If you’ve just begun your break, then you’re probably still catching up on sleep, relaxation, and your favorite Netflix shows. But one thing is for sure: if nothing changes, you’ll be just as tired next year as you were this past year.

If this is you, then you really only have five options.

1. You can persist.

My suspicion is that most teachers choose this option. They put their heads down and keep going. They accept that they’re going to spend much of the school year stressed out, beaten down, and just plain physically whipped. Some may have made peace with it, while others grudgingly accept it as part of the job; after all, they know plenty of teachers in the same boat. These teachers will return in the fall, and the fall after that, and the one after that, and they’ll keep on keeping on, plugging away and doing their best, all the while wishing things could be different but not taking any steps to make them different.

2. You can neglect.

Those who don’t persist may neglect their responsibilities. These are the teachers who hang on to their jobs but have allowed the spark they once felt for it to flicker and die. They’re the ones that give the rest of us a bad name and offer critics of teachers’ unions just enough fuel to keep their criticisms burning. Unfortunately, we’ve all known a teacher like this, either as a colleague or from our days as students. These teachers have been tired for so many years that they’ve given up hope of things ever changing and they’re counting the years to retirement. They do as little as possible and hope to be left alone. Don’t be this teacher.

3. You can quit.

Many teachers walk away, either from their district in the hopes that the grass is greener at a different school, or they leave education altogether. There’s no shame in quitting, especially if you’ve decided that your heart just isn’t in it anymore and you have something else you want to do with your life. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with getting out of a profession that’s harming your mental and/or physical health or in taking your talents where they might be more appreciated. My friend Dan quit a few years back and has never regretted it, as you can read here.

4. You can fight.

If the causes of your exhaustion were mostly external and you’re thinking of quitting because of them, then next year might be the one you decide to fight back. There are a lot of things that exhaust teachers — I wrote about four hidden contributors in my book Exhausted — and many of those things are the result of demands placed on you by others. Time is always in short supply for teachers, so when you’ve got unsympathetic administrators who require lessons plan while regularly gutting planning time, it’s understandable when teachers let their frustrations be known. If you’re on the verge of quitting, then you might as well see if you can’t first change your situation by bringing your concerns to administration. Nothing changes on its own, and if you’re about the quit anyway, then you have nothing to lose by knocking over a few metaphorical chairs on your way out the door.

5. You can change. 

If you’ve been exhausted every year you’ve taught, then it’s time to consider why and what you can do about it, since you know it’s untenable over a long career. Knowing that the only other choices you have are acceptance and suffering, submission and resignation, quitting, or pitching a fit (however diplomatic it may be), you might decide to look inwardly and control the only thing you can: yourself.

Chances are there is a mixture of external and internal factors contributing to your fatigue. There are ways you can satisfy the requirements of your job without pouring all your energy into it. How you do that is essentially the purpose of this blog and the subject of the books I’ve written. If this is the choice you will make — if you decide to try changing your mindset and practices — then I ask you to start by checking out my books Exhausted, Leave School at School and The Teacher’s Guide to Saying No. They’re quick reads that can put you on a more sustainable path.

For those who need more help and are serious about lasting change that will turn your career around, try Angela Watson’s acclaimed 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Thousands of teachers swear by it; you can see what they say here. If you decide to give it a go, do so quickly so you can take advantage of the Early Bird benefits, such as these three free resources to help you spend your summer effectively and early access to the Facebook group so you can begin sharing best practices with other teachers who’ve decided to make a change.