Monday, November 12, 2018

Classroom Environment by: Elizabeth Salmon

I can not tell you how many times I've walked into a classroom, bright with posters, and banners and jingles and I just felt overwhelmed. It didn't feel like a classroom, it felt so… bright. It was really pretty, don't get me wrong, but with me being totally ADHD, it didn't work. I get distracted all the time, and it is on and off with me. And the thing is i'm not even the worst one, because I'm in middle school and you know how a lot of middle school boys are. They're the same as me, they get totally distracted. It could also be said the same for a bland classroom. It's hard to find the perfect balance, but when its done it totally changes the room, and the overall mood.

It all changed in seventh grade for me, when I was used to big flashy bright colors, or no color at all. I looked down at my schedule, and realized I had English next. I walked to the back of the hallway, and walked into the classroom. It was like nothing I've ever seen in a classroom.  It was bright, but tasteful, and the lights were dim, but i could still see. It was great. And when i went into the classroom, I knew it was hers. I had met her before, and her room reflected her class and personality. It was perfect, and I could focus just fine.

I think that is the best way to decorate your classroom, reflect on who you are. It makes the students feel invested in that class, and the classroom feels like home. I worked so well in that classroom, and I got an A every quarter BECAUSE that classroom was just perfect for my learning style. So, in conclusion, a classroom can really help a student in that class.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Revising my Reading by: Leila Mohajer

One thing that I regret not doing more of in middle school is reading. I have always loved to read, I just never went out of my way to do so. Now, as a freshman in high school, I read more than I ever have before. Here’s why.

In my English class, we recently finished reading the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and the whole class loved it. We would return to class every day discussing the crazy events that took place in the three chapters that we had read the night before for homework. It was an excellent book choice for us and it kept us engaged throughout the whole read. However, reading the book for homework each night would not have been the same without the additional packet that we filled out with it.

The packet that we filled out was called the “Critical Eye” and would allow us to be more in depth with the book while reading it. We had one packet for every three chapters. The Critical Eye would have us write about two parts of the book where we saw the theme of the book developing or to list a key character development and analysis on the character. It truly changed the way I read books because now I think about these questions as I’m reading and it helps me to understand books better.
When the whole class had finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird, our teacher gave us a lecture on the allegory and word choice used in the novel. The whole class was shocked about the things that we had not picked up while reading. For example, a mockingbird is an innocent bird providing good music through purity, kindness, and innocence. The mockingbird represents a main character in the book that was killed even though he was innocent. Hence the title, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Now when reading, I actually understand why authors use specific words or actions within the text.

These two assignments got me to enjoy reading so much more. I think it would be great if all teachers did things like Critical Eye and gave lectures about allegory in their class books, because it helps students to understand what they are reading so much better.

Try some of these with your students and see if they like it!

Captivating Classroom Environment by: Madison Whitbeck

When I walk into the classroom, I want to be excited. Not only does the subject and teacher effect that, but the classroom environment does as well. I find it is much more inviting and cheerful when a classroom is decorated or set up in a way that the students will enjoy. Kids love colors, so things like posters, couches, and decorative pillows make the classroom more inviting to the students.

I talked to some peers around the county and most of them said about 3 or 4 classes are personalized by the teacher, and the students favor those classes over others. The physical structure of a classroom is a critical variable in affecting student morale and learning. Students usually feel more welcome and relaxed in a decorated classroom, in turn, improving their academics.

I also believe that students would benefit from having a hand in personalizing the classroom. Including students in creating the physical environment can enhance that environment, increase the feeling of classroom community, and give students a sense of empowerment.

Overall, I do believe students would benefit in multiple ways from a personalized classroom. If you're a teacher, you spend a good part of your life in places that should feel more like a warm home than a cold, impersonal office building or warehouse. So consider increasing your own sense of well-being and motivation as much as increasing these qualities for your students.

Teacher Support by: Gabi David

I am the ultimate theater geek! Whether it’s acting on stage or directing, I am constantly doing shows. I am in five shows right now with more auditions in December and I always love when my friends come to support me, but I really love when my teachers are in the audience. It always makes me feel good when they take the time out of their life to come watch me perform. Although I don’t do sports, many of my classmates do and they can say the same when they see their teachers in the stands or on the bleachers.

In fact, 100% of students who answered my personal survey of questions answered yes to liking when their teachers come to support them in extracurricular activities. 92% of students said they would have a better relationship with their teachers if they came to support them.

Another thing about being a student constantly participating with extracurricular activities, is you have to balance this with your workload. For me, when I have an audition or a big show coming up, every piece of homework adds more stress. I have a wonderful teacher that has decreased the workload outside of the classroom significantly because he knew of games, shows, and practices. It makes me feel like I can trust teachers when they take the time to think about what we have going on outside of school.

One student says, “Last year, my P.E. teacher came to one of my volleyball games. It made me really happy to know that she likes to support and care for her students.” Another student says, “I wish some teachers would come support me in my extracurricular activities. It would help me bond and create a better relationship with them”.

Ask your students about their next game or wish them luck on their performance. You’ll be happy with the turnout. :)

Breaks during Blocks by: Lauren Chi

Every school has different ways to schedule their classes. Some do one and a half hour classes, but only four classes a day. Some do forty-five-minute classes, and all of the classes every day. My school has an hour and twenty-minute classes, but four classes a day and sometimes it is hard to stay completely focused the whole class. Some of my teachers notice that the students start to lose focus throughout the class. Of the teachers that notice, they all have different ways of giving them a break.

One of my teachers will give a lecture and then give us either independent time for a couple of minutes or will have us do individual work but let us put our earbuds in and listen to our own music. He also plays some very soft, and calm music in the classroom and makes the classroom very relaxing. This is one of my favorite classes, not only because it has a calm feeling to it, but because I feel like my teacher really understands us students and how stressful it is to try and keep up with all our work. He tries to keep our amount of work down and allows us to relax more than the rest of our classes.

Another one of my teachers gives us a five- minute break every class between lectures. She notices that by the end of the day, students start to not focus because they want to go home. So, what she does is gives us a five-minute break to stand up, stretch, use the restroom if needed, or go on our phones. After the five minutes, we sit down at our desks and refocus. She tries to maximize our class time and still can give us a break because she would rather waste five minutes but have a very productive rest of class than have us sit for the whole class and all of us doze off and not pay attention.

In conclusion, I think it helps students learn more to give them a few minutes to rest and relax then to keep teaching and have them not learn and be productive.

The Class Schedule Conundrum by: Courtney Maynard

It has long been debated whether traditional scheduling or block days help students more. Many schools worldwide have made the switch from the “traditional” seven-period days to block days because the number of times classes meet per week is instrumental in the academic success of students. As I have moved and changed schools around the East Coast, I have been fortunate enough to experience three different types of class period setups.  Each of the setups provide students and teachers with unique benefits. I conducted an online survey asking students and teachers whether they prefer 7-8 period days, block days, or a mixture of both. I sent this survey to people in multiple states so that I could get answers from a variety of people, not just one group. In addition, I used my own experiences as a foundation for my research and obtained quotes from students and teachers about their preferred method of class period setups. Schools are constantly wondering, which method is best?  From this research, I have formed a conclusion: There is no “best” method; all of the class scheduling types are fantastic for students and teachers, but in different ways.

The first method is seven-period days. In sixth through eighth grade, my classes were set up where I had seven periods, each 45-50 minutes long. All seven classes met every day of the week. We also had 25 minutes of lunch and 25 minutes of “Powertime”, a study hall in our first-period class that allowed teachers to carry lessons over or give extra help to students. According to my survey, 37.5 percent of students prefer seven-period days. One positive aspect of 45 minute classes is that they hold students’ attention spans. Coach Ernst, a biology teacher, says he prefers seven-period days because, “I like the shorter periods. You can’t hold kids attention for an hour and a half on one subject.” Seven period days are helpful for teachers because they can get information across to students more efficiently without losing the interest of the students. Also, seeing students every day gives teachers a chance to quiz students on what they recall from previous classes without worrying about using precious meeting time. According to Zoe O., a student from Georgia, “I like 7 period days because I get to go to class every day.” When students are able to attend every class every day, it keeps them on their toes and combats procrastination. If a student knows they have homework due the next day, they will do it the night they get it instead of pushing it off until a later class period, which can be done with block days. In addition, attending class every day means that students always have the topic at the front of their brain. While seven-period days are a great way for classes to be organized, so are block days.

The next setup I want to discuss is block days. This year, I have been exposed to all block days in which there are A and B rotation days of 80 minute classes. Some weeks you only meet with certain classes twice, other weeks you meet three times. In addition, after first block, there is a 30 minute “Ram Jam” that allows teachers to give back graded work and check up on how students are handling a class. My survey shows that only 12.5 percent of students prefer block days. One reason students dislike block days is because of the length of the time spent in one sitting focusing on one subject. However, block days do have many positives. Jaella M. says, “I prefer block days because you have enough time to complete long-term assignments/ assessments. You can complete whole labs and LEQs and DBQs in one sitting rather than 2 or 3.” Block days can cut down on cheating because students complete tests and other graded assessments in one class period, without interruptions that could result in students searching up answers. In addition, teachers can give students projects and have them complete the projects in class, cutting down on the outside of class work and improving collaboration. This format also teaches students the importance of time management. Often, I debate whether to do my homework the night I got it or save it for the next night. If I have an assignment that I know will take a long time, I split it between both nights. Block scheduling allows students to take more time on assignments and not stress about having to do seven or eight classes worth of work in one day.

The third way that I have experienced scheduling is a mixture of seven-period days and block days. In 9th grade, my classes were set up in the way that Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays were seven-period days. Wednesdays consisted of 85-90 minute blocks of “Even” classes(2,4,6), and a 90 minute study hall block. Thursdays were made up of the remaining “Odd” classes(1,3,5,7) in an 85-90 minute block format. This distinctive format combines short classes to hold students’ attention spans with long classes for teachers to give lengthy assessments and labs into what I believe is a happy medium. 50 percent of the survey takers prefer this scheduling type over the other two. Justin M. says he likes this type of scheduling best because, “You get a nice break from half of your classes midway through the week, which allows you to be rejuvenated to go to all the classes again on Friday.” Classes still meet 4 times a week, which can be seen as more efficient than the twice or thrice weekly class meetings associated with total block days. Mixed scheduling has the positive aspects of both the seven-period days and the block days; It promotes time management with the two block days mid-week and allows teachers to give meaningful lessons in short class times without wasting away an hour and a half because students are unfocused.

In conclusion, the three different types of scheduling that I have experienced all have different aspects that make them beneficial to both students and teachers. The way classes are set up does matter, as it can affect students’ productivity and life skills such as time management. Which do you think should be implemented in your school, and why?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Learning VS Grading by: Sarah Lehner

Is measuring learning versus grading the wave of the future?  With student stress level at an all-time high due to tests, quizzes, and project grades, the aim for perfectionism and competition among students may be drowning out creativity, learning and collaboration among students.  Add after-school activities and competitive sports into the mix, and students can become completely overwhelmed.

What do the students have to say about the current grading system?  “I personally am not a fan of my schools A-F grading system. It makes it extremely easy to fail. I really like the 4-3-2-1 system better.” Says Zailee Truex, a 9th grade student. may benefit high achievers and kids who are already self-motivated, but there are many kids who may or may not have supportive and encouraging parents who will give up when the first couple of C’s, D’s and F’s occur.  It can be overwhelming to try to “come back” from rigid test grades, and some kids probably just give up. Kids need to have self-interest in making and maintaining good grades. Many kids simply memorize the subject matter for the test and then forget it once the test is over.  Is that really what we want from our students? Our society needs students to be prepared to be good, thoughtful citizens and employees. We need to place value on learning, not memorizing for the “A”.

Teachers should not have to teach to a test.  Most states have some kind of standardized test that is given at the end of the year, and teachers must prepare their students to do well on this test.
 Maybe a teacher would like to tell an interesting story or show an interesting movie to their students. They really cannot if this material will not be helpful in passing the standardized test.  This is what one teacher had to say about her teaching: “traditional” — teacher talks and then students are active for a while. Then I’d check in with them before leaving class. It’s hard when we have 8 forty-minute periods a day.” Says Jennifer Snaidecki, A librarian, “High stakes testing in Indiana makes school life a chore. Unless you’re in honors classes, there’s not much you can do. As a teacher of reading/writing, I read aloud and had independent reading alternating every other day. That worked out for our short periods of time.

Traditional testing will spark a larger debate about the future of education. The few schools that have tried it have found the transition more difficult than they expected. Changing from grades to assessments, or whatever route a school decides to take, is a huge commitment.  Students, parents,
and teachers have to be open to new ways of grading, and the students have to be on board by being open minded. Some of the higher achieving students may struggle at first, especially if students in other school districts are still working on a traditional grading system.  Kids who have found themselves not working hard anymore because they don’t feel that they can “come back” from poor grades may feel an extra push to work harder.

Students be able to write well, communicate effectively and work together. Samantha Duncan, who is currently enrolled in a university to receive her bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education and English sums it up well: students to take control of their own education, which is why I believe in student-centered education. I feel like this style is extremely effective. When
students feel in control of their education they are willing and ready to dive deeper into conversations. With student-centered learning they are in charge of the way the conversation unfolds, and the teacher becomes more of a participant rather than the main acting force.”    

In the end, I believe that assessing students’ learning versus rigid grading will lead to more empathy among students, more self discipline, higher academic achievement, and stronger
collaborative skills.  If the idea is that we want to produce students who are ready to live and work together in society, why wouldn’t we start early on? Schools want to produce students who will cure cancer, create world peace, etc.