Don’t Let the Last Hour Spoil the Whole Day

end of day

Here is a list of nonsense words:

lurst, nifkin, bluck, pansate, wazzle, morky, wolire, chagg, fonticule, kittop, glope, tercopular, moobin

Fun, aren’t they?

In 1964, a German researcher named Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted a series of experiments using words like those above. He wanted to determine whether the position of a word on a list affected how easily it could be recalled. To accomplish this, Ebbinghaus prerecorded lists of nonsense syllables, then played them to himself and tried to recall them. He found that the words near the beginning and end of the list were more readily recalled than those in the middle. He called this the “serial position effect” and postulated that the words at the end of the list were more easily recalled because they were still in his short-term memory, a phenomenon he called “recency effect.”

The recency effect is a recognized cognitive bias nowadays, and you see it everywhere. Your favorite sports team (and its coach) is judged by what they have done lately, regardless of how successful they’ve been in the past.  Investors make decisions based on how the stock market has done recently, instead of paying attention to historical trends. Companies use the recency effect in their marketing by making sure the product is as attractive as possible at the point of purchase. You get angry with your spouse over some trivial matter and forget all about the wonderful things they did just last week. Recency matters, and the classroom is no exception.

The recency effect explains why the last hour of school has the potential to ruin your (and your students’) perception of an entire day.

Earlier this year, my class was really struggling during the last 45 minutes of most days. I’d shoehorned science into this time slot and was attempting to include a lot of hands-on group work into my units. Students were not handling it well. Many were off-task. Patience was thin. Kids argued and fought over everything from who got to use what, to how long they used it, to whose idea was good and whose wasn’t. There were more than a few blowups from students whose frustrations reached the boiling point. And of course, my own willpower was at its nadir. I had little tolerance for nonsense and that just made the whole thing even more volatile. It wasn’t a good situation.

When I got home and my wife asked me how my day had gone, I told her it was horrible. I replayed what had happened at the end of the day and lamented how poorly I’d taught procedures and expectations. I complained that I wouldn’t be able to do hands-on, fun science experiments because the kids just couldn’t handle it. I was mentally drained, physically exhausted, and I didn’t even want to think about going back the next day.

This was the recency effect at work. But the truth was quite different.

For most of the day, my class was great. Mornings almost always went well. The students listened, worked hard, got along, and had positive attitudes. Most of the afternoon was productive, too. More students were on-task during independent reading than I’d had in years. They worked well with partners. Even recess was good. We had very few behavior problems on the playground.

When I really thought about it, the only time my students had trouble was during the last 45 minutes of the day. The problem was that when I went home for the day, it was this 45 minutes that I remembered. It left a terrible taste in my mouth, and since the recency effect also works on children, it was a horrible way for students to end the day, too. I imagine that after those chaotic science lessons, many students went home with few good feelings about being in my class. They likely shared those opinions with their parents, just as I had with my wife.

Ending your day poorly is a really good way to destroy your classroom culture, as well as your own enthusiasm for the job.

I had to find a way to combat the recency effect. So here is what I did. Try these strategies if you are finding that your last hour is spoiling the whole day.

Awareness

First, be aware of this cognitive bias we all have and give the end of the day the same weight you give the rest of it. At the end of my difficult days, I took a few minutes to just sit at my desk and replay each subject in my head. This way, I could remember how students had done during different periods of the day and remember that although we might have ended on a sour note, most of the day was actually pretty productive. Acknowledge the recency effect, and don’t judge your whole day based on how it ended.

Focus on the Majority

We teachers have a tendency to focus on the negative outliers, and I’m no different. 20 students can be doing their jobs, but if three are arguing and one of them throws a fit and goes storming out of the room, the whole lesson feels like a debacle, I feel like a failure, and I worry what students think about my classroom management. Instead of focusing on the problematic few, I try to force myself to think about the majority. I’ve written more about this in my article, How to Feel Like Less of a Failure.

Understand Why It Happens

While doing research for my book Exhausted, I learned a lot about willpower. We start each day with a given amount. As the day goes on, we use it up. By the end of the day, our stores of willpower are exhausted and we have a much harder time regulating our emotions. Glucose is the fuel we need for self-control. By 3:00, we’re pretty low on it, so students have a harder time using willpower to do the right thing. It takes energy to resist temptation and have patience with others, and by the end of the day, many students, especially those who have to use the most willpower to do the right thing the rest of the day, just don’t have any left. I explained all of this to my students, but while understanding helps, it doesn’t make it any less infuriating when you feel like the class is going off the rails.

Teach Expected Behaviors

Since I knew the last hour was going to be a challenge, I committed to being much more intentional and detailed about expectations. Before we got out the science materials and split off into groups, I taught and modeled exactly what students needed to do. We also made If/Then plans for handling predictable obstacles. “If Tony isn’t sharing the magnet, then I will remind him that everyone needs a turn before time is up.”

Prevent

Frankly, all the modeling and careful attention to detail annoyed me. I’d spend 15 minutes going over all this stuff, which meant students were pinched for time to perform the science activity, which led to some of the problems I was trying to prevent. In my book Exhausted, I write about how researchers have discovered that people with the most self-control actually use very little of it in the way we normally think about exercising willpower. They don’t will themselves to do the right thing by staring temptation in the face. Instead, people with a lot of self-control use it preemptively to avoid temptations and distractions. College students with exceptional self-control use it to sit in the front row instead of using it to avoid daydreaming or playing on their laptops in the back of the lecture hall. Dieters don’t use willpower to stop themselves from eating a bowl of ice cream at night. They use it to not buy the ice cream in the first place. Knowing this, I finally figured out that the best way to set my class up to be more successful — and the best way to go home feeling good about my days — were to rearrange my schedule so that students wouldn’t have to use so much willpower at a time of day when they had very little of it. I moved science class to the morning and put writing–a much quieter, more independent subject–at the end of the day. That solved more problems than anything.

Flip the Script

The recency effect doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be used to your and your students’ advantage by ending every day with something positive. Brainstorm a list of things you could do with the last ten minutes that will linger in your and your students’ memories. You might have students share something good that happened to them, either aloud or in writing. You could end the day with music and dancing. You can end with a game that builds the classroom culture. You could have your class meeting at the end of the day and share positives and goals for the next day. At the very least, you could do as Michael Linsin recommends in this post and end each day with calm, predictable procedures and high-fives all around. Send them home smiling and excited to come back tomorrow. Send yourself home the same way.

And now, since you’re at the end of this article, do you remember any of the nonsense words at the start of it?

Wait, let me guess….

Moobin?

 

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One Simple Way to Steal Time for Grading

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Every teacher I know would like to take less work home. It’s a worthy goal, and part of accomplishing it is finding ways to grade papers during the school day. There are obvious times like planning periods, recess, or, if you’re really dedicated and/or desperate, lunch. But I like to use those times for other responsibilities (in the case of lunch, to eat). That leaves grading while students are in the room.

Many teachers never grade papers in their students’ presence. With only so many hours in a school year to make a difference, they feel like when students are in the room they need to be actively engaged with them. They must be instructing, or working with small groups, monitoring, or mentoring. After all, they reason, so many kids need so much, how can they justify grading papers?

They also worry about what others will think. What if the principal walks in and finds them at their desks checking math tests? What if the reading specialist comes in to work with at-risk readers? Will she look down her nose or think the teacher lazy or lacking in dedication?

And there’s the guilt many teachers seem to carry around like a free tote bag at a reading conference. Guilt comes from violating our own beliefs. Since most teachers believe they should do everything they can to help students, taking time out of the day to score student work just doesn’t feel right.

But if you want to reclaim your personal life and stop taking so much work home, you’ll need to carve out time while students are in the room to grade papers. How can you do this in an educationally sound way that’s scientifically proven to benefit kids? Simple:

Give your students breaks.

Transitions Are Stupid, Breaks Are Not

I started giving my third graders five-minute breaks because I hate managing transitions. Conventional classroom management wisdom says that teachers should train students to execute transitions between subjects with crisp, quiet efficiency to maximize every minute of the day. Teachers are warned that sloppy transitions lead to misbehavior and wasted time.

But I always hated demanding these kinds of transitions. They made me feel like a drill sergeant. And I couldn’t help notice that with the exception of the military, adults rarely transition seamlessly from one activity to another. When I finish this blog post, I won’t immediately start planning next week’s lessons. I’ll watch football, or check Twitter, or eat Cheetos.

So instead of quickly switching from one subject to the next, I give my students five-minute breaks. Students can play games on their Chromebooks, read, draw, or just hang out and talk. I let them know when time is running out and count down so they’re back in their seats and ready when the five minutes are up.

Science Agrees: Breaks Are Good

Breaks are good for everybody. They allow us to recharge, adjust our moods, engage with others, laugh, stretch, and refocus. Science backs it up. A 2011 University of Illinois study showed that participants who experienced diversions once per hour did better at a task than those who plowed ahead with no breaks.

Breaks also help with student behavior. Because my students know I’m going to give them choice time on their Chromebooks a few times each day, they’re less likely to sneak onto a game site during work time.

Breaks can also help students get over frustration. One morning I was picking student jobs for our class lemonade stand. One student got upset because he wasn’t selected. If we would have moved directly into more academic work, his negative attitude would have led to a lack of attention during the lesson and a poor effort on the assignment. Instead, we took a five-minute break. I could almost see his thinking: He could sit there and stew and lose the five minutes of free time, or he could do something fun. He chose to play a game, and by the time we resumed, he had forgotten all about his disappointment over the lemonade stand.

Breaks also help me. They free me up to do some of the work I used to take home. While I sometimes use the time to get ready for the next subject, I’ve also used break time to work on my newsletter to parents, write sub plans, and check student papers. Throughout the course of the day, my students usually get three or four breaks, which means I get 15-20 minutes of work time. And it’s not as if I’m checking Facebook. Communicating with parents, writing sub plans, and grading papers are part of my job. I should do them while I’m being paid.

For Your Critics

There are teachers and administrators who will read the above and cringe at the “lost instructional time.” They’re hypocrites, and should the need arise, you can prove it to them.

The next time you attend a long professional development session with one of your critics and the presenter announces a break, interrupt her and ask if the break can be skipped. While everyone stares daggers at you, explain that you value your learning time too much to take a break. Tell her you don’t want to waste a single minute.

See how that goes over with your critics.

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Related:

Stop Complaining About Your Teacher Salary If You’re Working For Free

How Teachers Should Respond to Guilt Trips

Dear Teachers, Please Go Home

 

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4 Must-Dos for the First Week of School

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A regular reader of mine who is about to start her first teaching job emailed me to ask what she needs to do to be ready. It would take a book to answer that question (and someday I might write it), but I told her there are four things she absolutely must do during the first week of school.

ONE: Make Students Want to Come Back

If your students don’t like you and enjoy being in your class, you’ll make the job twice as hard on yourself. As Rita Pierson says in this video, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” Additionally, if your classroom management plan involves the use of a time-out or removal from your class, you better make damn sure students see that as undesirable. I’ve known of students who intentionally get kicked out of class because they’d rather be in the office or with the counselor than in the classroom.

There are lots of ways to sell yourself and your class to your students. Use humor, have students work together to build something, perform an engaging science demonstration, play music (real music, the kind kids actually like), give breaks, tell a couple entertaining stories. You want to make the first week fun. People like fun. But fun isn’t your only option.

One of my favorite strategies is simply to listen. I am not a terrific listener (just ask my wife), but during that first week, my students have my full attention, no matter how long and banal their stories may be. So many students aren’t listened to that you can immediately endear yourself to them if, when you call on them and they start talking, you stop what you’re doing, look at them as if you are the only two people in the room, smile and nod along as they talk, and ask a follow-up question when they finish.

Now, making your classroom fun is not a license to be permissive, nor is it necessary to encourage silly behavior. You have to be careful. Everything you say and do sends a message that first week, and you don’t want your message to be that your classroom is an amusement park. At minimum, just be yourself, don’t be afraid to laugh with your students, and be vulnerable.

TWO: Teach the Living Hell Out of Your Routines

If it’s your first teaching job, you probably aren’t sure which routines to even have (I still add some and I’ve been doing this 18 years). First step: go online and print out the biggest list of procedures you can find. My advice is to overdo it. Anything you can think of that you will regularly ask students to do in your room, from leaving their seat, to going to the bathroom, to sharpening pencils, you should have an explicit routine for. You should teach the hell out of it, by which I mean teach it like you actually care that’s it’s followed to the letter.

The best advice I’ve ever seen about teaching routines is that you should be extraordinarily specific about the very first one you teach. Then you should have students perform that routine over and over until it’s exactly how you envision it. You don’t have to do this with every routine (although you should teach, model, and have students practice them all), but attending to the smallest details with the first one sends the message that there is a way to do everything in your classroom and that that way is your way.

Most classroom management problems happen because teachers assume kids know how they want things done, but they don’t take enough time to thoroughly teach routines and have students practice them. You can nip a lot of problems in the bud by teaching, reteaching, modeling, asking students to visualize, and then having them practice each of your routines until they’re executed to perfection. I’s time-consuming, but it’s worth it.

THREE: Introduce Your Classroom Management Plan

Students deserve to know what’s expected and what will happen should they fail to live up to your expectations.Some teachers put off introducing the rules on day one because it’s kind of a downer. They want to make their room an inviting place, and taking 30 minutes to explain to students what they can’t do and what punitive measures you’ll take if they choose to do those things feels negative.

That’s the wrong way to look at rules. Rules allow for fun. Imagine a basketball game where no one dribbles and you can’t get a shot up without being tackled. It would suck for everyone. Most students want and appreciate boundaries because they know they’ll benefit in the long run. Again, be crystal clear and role-play as many different scenarios as you can think of that will likely happen this year. Role-playing gives you the opportunity to teach, but it can also provide entertainment value if you’re not a huge grump when acting out situations. Of course, once introduced, it’s imperative that you follow your plan to the letter. Break your own rules, and students won’t trust you. They’ll question your will to crack down on every consequence you threaten the rest of the year. You lose your authority, and no matter what your style, authority is something you have to be willing to do everything to protect.

FOUR: Call Your Shot

The last idea I stole from motivational speaker Josh Shipp. It’s a good way to build trust with students right out of the gate. Chances are high that you have a handful of students in your room who have been let down, sometimes frequently, by the adults in their lives. Many of them have a default setting of distrust. You won’t be able to reach them until you chip away this barrier.

Shipp recommends, “calling your shot.” Like Babe Ruth hitting a home run after pointing his bat toward the outfield seats, calling your shot means you promise something and then do it. This year, I had a student who refused to sit in his chair. He was leaned over his desk and in continual motion. While our counselor introduced herself to the class, I went and sat by him and asked if the chair was uncomfortable. He told me that it was and that he didn’t like sitting in it. This was a good opportunity to practice Shipp’s advice.

“If I brought you a cushion, would you use it?” I asked him. He assured me that he would. So after school, I found a five dollar cushion at Wal-mart. He sat on it the rest of the week. But more importantly, I showed him that I’m a man of my word. My work is far from over with this student, but five dollars is a good investment if it means he starts to trust me.

You don’t have to spend money to call your shot. Just make a promise to your students –we’ll go out early for recess, I’ll give you a break in five minutes — and then make sure you do it. Do this enough, and you’ll gain your students trust.

What Teachers Can Learn From Michael Phelps

A little more than nine years ago, Michael Phelps stood ready to break his own world record in the 200m Butterfly Final at the Beijing Olympics. He had no idea what was about to happen to him. That didn’t stop him from being prepared for it.

Already the winner of nine Olympic gold medals, Phelps was the heavy favorite to win his tenth when he hit the water in his strongest event. He struggled early, but had pulled away by the halfway point. As he started his final lap, the only drama that remained was whether Phelps would set a new world record. He reached for the wall and touched just ahead of the superimposed green line that represented the record for television viewers. Phelps turned to the board, and seeing his time, offered no smile. Obviously annoyed, he tossed his cap and goggles and began wiping at his eyes. The viewers had no way of knowing that Phelps had swum the final 75 meters with water-filled goggles.

But you couldn’t exactly call it swimming blind. Phelps had already seen the race, more than once, in his head the night before.

Phelps first started visualizing his swims when he was 12 years old. Lying in bed at night, he would relax each part of his body until he achieved a meditative state. Then, he followed his coach’s instruction to “play the tape.” The tape was detailed and shot from many angles. Phelps watched himself swim the entire race, every stroke, from both his own perspective and from the vantage point of those in the stands. He visualized the best and worst-case scenarios, deciding ahead of time what he would do if his suit ripped or his goggles failed. It was this rigorous nightly routine to which Phelps gave credit for the new world record he set that day in Beijing, saying, “If I didn’t prepare for everything that happens, when my goggles started filling up I’d have probably flipped out.”

As Good As the Real Thing?

The powers of visualization have been known for a long time. In 1967, Australian psychologist Alan Richardson gathered a group of students together in a gym and had each shoot 100 foul shots. He then split them into three groups. Group A practiced free throws for 20 minutes, five days a week, for four weeks. Group B was told to do nothing basketball related. Group C wasn’t allowed to touch a ball, but were instead guided by a professional in visualizing foul shots for the same duration as those in Group A. After four weeks, the students all shot another 100 free throws. Group A, those who had practiced, improved by 24%. Group B stayed the same. And Group C, the students who hadn’t laid hands on a basketball in four weeks and only shot free throws in the minds, improved by 23%.

Visualization in the Classroom

Teachers can also benefit from visualization.

Perhaps the best use of visualization is seeing yourself respond to the predictable conflicts  you have in your classroom. Take a moment before school to think about what’s likely to set you off. If you can’t abide blurting, picture a student continually disrupting your lesson with ludicrous remarks that turn your class into a circus. If defiance is a problem, visualize yourself handling the defiant student with calm confidence and cool composure.

To get the best results, do as Phelps did. See yourself handling the situation from both a first- and third-person perspective.  Imagine as much of the environment as you can. Richardson wrote that the most effective visualizers include multiple senses. So see yourself responding to the problem behavior, but also feel yourself gaining control over your emotions. Picture yourself calmly approaching the offending student, and also hear yourself speaking in a controlled voice. Make the scene in your head as vivid as you can.

A Gift For Your Students

Teach the technique to your students, too. When I introduced my problem-of-the-day routine last week, I taught it and modeled it. But before I asked my students to demonstrate, I had them close their eyes and picture themselves executing each step of the routine as I described it. Only after they’d visualized themselves performing the procedure did I have them practice. You can use this to teach any routine in your classroom, from when and how to sharpen pencils to how to respond during an emergency drill. You might also have students take a minute to visualize themselves following the directions you just gave before they do it for real.

Visualization is a technique that works and one teachers should add to their bag of tricks. Anyone can do it. It takes no special training. It doesn’t cost a thing. And it can be done in a just a few minutes. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

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Sources:

The Telegraph

Day in the Life: Michael Phelps

How to Make a Good First Impression On Your Students

The first day of school will soon be upon many teachers. We’ll spend the night before tossing and turning, our brains sparking with anticipation, excitement, and anxiety. We know how important it is to get the first day right. We’re setting a tone, establishing a culture, and sending messages with everything we say and do.  At the very least, we want to make a good impression on our students. They’re going to be spending more time with us than with their parents over the next ten months, and it’s important they like us enough to want to come back each day.

About a month ago, a teacher who had just been hired for her first job wrote me and asked what I do to make a good first impression on students. Here’s what I told her:

Dress Professionally

I always wear a tie on the first day, even if it’s 95 degrees and we’re going outside for an icebreaker. People judge others based on their appearances. We don’t have to like this fact to know that it’s true. Kids are people, and they are especially harsh and honest critics. Don’t look like a slob. If you want to be treated like a professional, dress like one. If you want authority (and you should), wear the uniform.

Know Your Students’ Names

When I was a kid I was a huge baseball fan. I knew stats, the value of almost every rookie card I owned, and the jersey numbers of every player on the Detroit Tigers. It’s easy to memorize stuff that’s important to you. Knowing your students names on the first day is important. To the extent possible, know your students’ names before they walk in on day one. Get hold of a yearbook, highlight the kids on your roster, and study their names and faces. You’ll be able to call on them by name that first day, and your continual use of their names will make it easier for classmates to learn them. It will also prevent you from needing to play that horrible name game that wastes time and makes students uncomfortable.

Note: If you’re looking for good icebreakers, check out this article from Cult of Pedagogy

Project Confidence and Authority

Confidence and authority come from experience, but lacking that, fake it if you must. Preparation will give you confidence and confidence lends you authority, so over-prepare. Speak assertively, even if you don’t feel assertive. Leave no doubt that you believe 100 percent in what you’re saying, even if you suspect you might be full of shit. Students want to feel like they’re being led by someone who knows what they’re doing. They also want to feel safe, and having a confident, assertive teacher that sets limits sends the message that their learning will be protected.

Smile

Part of the confidence you display can be in how relaxed you are in front of your students. Smiling breaks down barriers and conveys the message that you’re comfortable and nothing will ruffle your feathers. Smiling makes people more likable. It also makes you seem more intelligent. And you can be assertive without being a grump. When a kid asks you if they’re allowed to [fill-in-the-blank], tell them assertively, “Nope.” Then smile.

Use Your Hands When You Speak

Research shows that people like speakers who use their hands. They find them more charismatic. A study of TED Talks found a correlation between the number of hand gestures and the number of views. A cardinal sin is putting your hands in your pockets. Even if you don’t gesture, keep your hands visible. It makes you seem more open and approachable.

Make Eye Contact

A problem I had early in my career was not looking at my students. I’d look over them, but not actually at them. Good speakers make a personal connection to listeners by looking them in the eyes as they talk. Try to make eye contact for three seconds with a student before moving on to another one. Looking at your students sends two important messages:

  1. You’re talking for their benefit, not just to hear yourself.
  2. You’re “with it.” Students will realize you’ll notice if they’re not paying attention.

Show Vulnerability

One way to quickly connect with others is to share something personal. Showing vulnerability makes you authentic. You’ll immediately humanize yourself. Nobody likes people who act like they’re perfect. Be willing to tell your students something that embarrasses you a little. You might start by telling them how nervous you are. Since they are nervous too, this will help them relate to you and begin to erode walls that exist between teachers and students.

What else do you do to establish rapport, build relationships, and make a great first impression on your students? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook.

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Other First Day Advice:

3 Common First Day Mistakes from Smart Classroom Management

Overcoming the Back-to-School Teacher Jitters… by Angela Watson

Classroom Management: 4 Keys to Starting the Year Off Right from Cult of Pedagogy with a heavy assist from Michael Linsin