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One Teaching Tip

Apr 2, 2019

Show Notes - 

What's a teacher like you to do?

So here's what happened one day in my middle school classroom. 

I don't know if you do this at your school, but at mine students take benchmark tests. In my district, a benchmark is when a student takes a standardized test that's been released to the public. So we shut the schedule down for the day, just like a real standardized test day. Ugh.

But after that mind-numbing morning we still have to teach one period in the afternoon. Many teachers show movies. I hate showing movies unless they are exactly what my students need. So on this particular day, I figured out how to get my hands on a class set of Chromebooks. 

And I come up with a different assignment. One that allows cooperation and students have to utilize the computer to do some easy research. 

Well, I'm trusting that they are doing what they are supposed to do. So I drop the ball on monitoring them. And what happens? A set of boys start playing video games, and I don't catch on because I'm grading papers. And when I look at their work, it's half-done junk.

Class is over. 

Next day. Same thing. Another test. The same class comes to me in the afternoon. 

Now what?

Here's the steps that worked.

  1. Think and come up with a plan. What do I have as leverage? And remember this, it doesn't take much. I'll get back to that in a minute.
  2. Change something. In this case, students didn't get to sit next to friends. 
  3. Dangle a carrot. They had been told the day before that if they handled day one well, they would get to listen to music on day two. When a boy asked if they could listen, I explained that not everyone finished the assignment from the day before. I explained that everyone would need to finish. 
  4. Separate the one who needs help the most. As they came in, they went to their regular assigned seats. But one boy sat in a seat where I could check on him often. His work was the most affected from the day before. I let him know that he would sit there for as many days as I thought he needed to get fully focused. And then, I gave him a lot of attention as he worked. He did a great job of making up for the day before. 
  5. Catch them getting it right. As I watched the room, I saw 100 percent focus on the assignment. That's when I said okay, now you may use headphones. 
  6. When they perform as expected, grant reasonable requests. Finally, a student asked for permission to sit next to her friend. As students asked, I allowed it.

This is a variation of a technique that an old principal of mine called "pressure on, pressure off." When students aren't doing what is expected, put some pressure on them. As soon as they begin to perform as expected, take the pressure off. 

Learn to use the tiniest amount of pressure. Then, it doesn't feel punitive to the class. They don't resent it.

The key to making this work is a calm tone.

A mistake teachers make in a situation like this is fussing at the class for the actions of some. 

In this situation, I didn't fuss. I spoke calmly. I didn't even act like these were consequences, just natural expectations. 

The result. Students, after two days of testing, did excellent work on the computers. And had a great time doing it.

As you come up on the Spring testing season, I bet you could use some premium wood-fire roasted Lieberman Coffee. I start every day with it. 

I am especially enjoying the Tanzanian beans. These are the Tanzanian pea berry which have been sorted for their special shape which causes every single bean to roast more evenly. And it shows in the roast. 

We started this coffee project to help my son Wyatt get to Honduras. He still has about 10 % of his support to go as of this writing. 

Please click and try some!