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Leaked From Our Private Coaching Circle! Prioritizing Vocabulary for Maximized Impact

Oops! We had a leak in the roof…and this video slipped from our paid inner coaching circle to YOU! For FREE!

In this "shot in the wild" video I discuss how to choose the vocabulary words you teach very very carefully – it’s not about teaching "the list", but about teaching the words that will have high impact on comprehending the passage or text.

Out with those really frustrating words to memorize and memorized-and-then-forgotten vocabulary tests…let’s work together to choose fewer words more carefully and then see the text comprehension SOAR! Here’s your job:

1. Take a look at the video

2. Write down3 "a-has" as you watch

3. Come back and post the "a-has" right here in the comments

Happy watching!

If you are interested in joining us in our private coaching circle, please check out this link and you can join INSTANTLY! There are tons of videos and comments from me AND like-minded professionals just like you waiting! jackson-consulting.com/online-products-services/at-the-blackboard-with-jill-coaching-circle

Do our kids have to take the WHOLE ENTIRE test…it’s 43 pages long?!?!?!!????

Formative, summative, internal, external, diagnostic, high-stakes….ugh!  Ugh!  Ugh!

Tired of that testing talk?  I am!

Your trusty literacy consultant…tired of assessment talk?  I mean it’s like J.Lo being tired of lip gloss and young boyfriends!  (Ok, I debated putting that in because it’s SO corny…but I did…and I probably lost 1000 readers right there.  Moving on…!)

I was asked a question by no less than 5 teaching teams in the past 3 weeks: Do our kids have to take the WHOLE ENTIRE unit/theme test…it’s 43 pages long?!?!?!!????

That’s a really good question, but I think my answer might take us in a different direction than you might think.

When I asked the follow-up question: is your problem with the test one of students getting fatigued or teachers getting fatigued?  Several stopped…and laughed.  Kind of like the “you caught me” kind of laugh.  So, which is it?

I’ve developed a few questions and some ideas around what you need to be asking yourself as you plan your testing schedule for next year:

What portions of the test relate directly to the standards I am responsible for teaching? In other words, are there portions of the test that are truly inconsequential or are highly unrelated to the core content that week?  Then, you might want to consider taking that sub-test out.  For that week.  Let’s avoid broad or blanket deletion of sub-tests!

What sub-tests assess skills my students are a bit shaky on?  These are EXACTLY the tests that you want to give students!  You want to know what they don’t know, not just what they do know, especially if you’re going to actually USE the data to help your instruction the next day or week.

What sub-tests assess foundational literacy skills that are critical to maintain?  I find that students often know a skill…for a time.  Then they forget it.  Why?  We sometimes forget to continue monitoring it, because we assume “they had it and they always will”.  Um, SO not true! (Even for your most accomplished learners!)

So, I encourage you and your team to look at the sub-tests that assess the must-know and must-have-mastered skills and administer those sub-tests to keep a good handle on those skills that need to remain maintained.

Am I freaking out over the length of the test or the skill expectations of the test?  Sometimes the test seems so daunting…to the teacher.  I hear folks say, “Oh my gosh, Jason just cried during the test, it was so long!”  First of all, Jason cried during the test.  The whole class didn’t cry during the test.  And, are we sure that Jason doesn’t have other things going on in life that may be overwhelming him and the long test was just the tip of the iceberg? 

If the test IS too long, then CHUNK IT UP.  Give pieces of it casually at the end of the reading block for 3-4 days!  I find that teachers are sometimes resistant to doing that and I can’t figure out why! 

If you have a big unit/theme test that kids have been working toward for 4-6 weeks worth of instruction, then chunking the test shouldn’t get in the way of further teaching.  I mean, is that last bit of instruction going to make ALL the difference in the world after you’ve been teaching it for 4-6 weeks already?  Let’s get real – they should know it and if they do, they do.  And if they don’t, then your assessment will show that.

How can I facilitate the taking of the test so that it doesn’t interrupt my teaching unnecessarily?  Like I said, if the test is long, chunk it.  If the test is hard, give the kids a pep-talk and remind them “you know this”.  If the test is a challenge, GOOD!  (A tough test assures that those who ace it really know the material – and isn’t that what we really want to know anyway?)

What I want you to avoid?  Blaming the test for results that you’re not thrilled with. 

Here’s the deal: teachers with kids who perform well aren’t complaining or fretting about the length of the test.  Why?  They’re too busy teaching.

KIDS WHO KNOW THE MATERIAL AND HAVE TRUE MASTERY IN SKILLS DON’T LOSE THEIR MINDS AND FORGET EVERYTHING ON A TEST. 

EVEN IF IT’S LONG. 

EVEN IF IT’S HARD. 

EVEN IF THEY’RE HAVING A BAD DAY AND THEIR PARENTS ARE GETTING DIVORCED AND THEY RIPPED A HOLE IN THEIR PANTS AND THEY LOST THREE FRIENDS ON THE PLAYGROUND.  

When you know a skill, you know a skill.  Period.

And with that, I’m stepping off of my high horse.  Come “follow” me for some chat (and an occasional high horsing around) on Twitter:  www.twitter.com/TheJillJackson

Stop That Wedding! The Engagement Was a Farce!

If you know me, you know that I’m a hopeful romantic, I love lovey-dovey stuff and romantic comedies and against-all-odds love stories.  (Note to reader: For the men or non-romantics reading this, you can open your eyes now…)

One of my most favorite movies is Father of the Bride – not because of its deep, romantic ties or the fact that it was filmed in my hometown (true!), but because it shows the great parts of getting ready to get married and also the not-so-great parts of it, too.

In the final analysis, the couple gets married and because they have made a good choice in who they’d marry and also worked through a lot of their family, job, money issues throughout their engagement, I think they probably had a good life together.  (And they seemed to be doing well when I last checked in with them in Father of the Bride II!)

When I think of that engagement time, I think of how important it is to work out the kinks and really get down to the nitty-gritty of what you want your life together to be – in fact, I read once that engagement is all about figuring out if you’re ready to marry each other and to make a formal commitment to finding out IF marriage is the next step.

These days, within 2.333 hours of announcing engagement, we’ve practically booked the venue, briefed the wedding party, chosen the favors, forwarded the honeymoon itinerary and chosen the monogram for the first born!

My thought is HOLD UP A MINUTE! 

The REAL story of engagement is often this: woman tells man where he has to show up, what he has to wear and briefs him regularly on that weird aunt’s name so that he doesn’t forget it.  The woman is fawned over by her friends and other ladies while the man basically gets a boot camp-style briefing of the activities for the week.  He is merely a FIGURE in the whole scheme.  He is an observer and occasional interloper!

I’ve often heard of guys rolling their eyes over all of the wedding fussiness  -they’re simply trying to ENDURE it and get to the happily ever after part.

Now, I’m not trying to act like ALL guys are like this or ALL gals are like this but do you admit it is more common than not?

What I think we ought to explore is the connection between these wedding shenanigans and our teaching.  Huh?

Hear me out…

We have gotten a little glad-handy with our use of engagement techniques (much like brides with their 57 pre-wedding activities) – we have fallen for the idea that if we are using an engagement technique that kids must be engaged – or at least more engaged than if we didn’t use the technique.

We do not have a shortage of engagement ideas, technique, tricks-of-the-trade or training opportunities, so why is it that kids are still ENDURING instruction and not ENGAGING IN IT?

Really good kids are sitting in classrooms much too often just listening to the teacher do the work – or watching other kids do the work.  It has to be terribly boring.  I can tell you for sure, it’s boring to watch!

Kids are acting like they’re the bystanding groom to the teacher’s bride antics – engagement techniques are sometimes used and sometimes not, but the engagement level is still low all around. 

I don’t have to point out that students are not going to master content, receive high levels of direct teaching and academic-based feedback in these classrooms, do I?

So, how do we turn standing-by, enduring kind of classrooms or lessons into full blown engaged ones?  I have a couple of ideas…they aren’t fancy, but they will work if you work ‘em:

Enduring to Engaging Idea #1: Make sure that the content that you want to have students engage in is worthy of engagement 

Not everything is worth teaching – some things are worth just telling kids.  What’s the difference?

When I’m teaching something new, I go through the whole teach/model/practice/feedback/apply format.  It’s during the practice/feedback/apply part that I should be planning for high-levels of active engagement from students.  However, I have seen many times that teachers are having students use techniques like “think pair share” or “partner teams” for times when the content is minor or inconsequential to the mastery of the subject area.

When something is inconsequential or just minor to the big content picture, we can just say, “Ladies and gents, this means ______” or “What that refers to is like when__________” and move on.

The techniques that we use to increase engagement should be used to enhance and improve the mastery of super important, really high impact skills!  I so often hear “I would love to do more engagement activities, but they’re so time consuming!” – well, they ARE time consuming especially when you’re using them for inconsequential information.

Enduring to Engaging Idea #2: Make sure that you’re obsessed with checking-in with students during high-engagement times

There are two really big points of engagement: to give kids lots of practice on important skills in order to build mastery and to give kids lots of opportunity to show what they know, what they don’t know and what they kind of know so that the teacher can provide lots of direction, correction and re-direction.  Without engagement, we have no idea what’s going on in the kids’ heads!

What is common (and I’m guilty of these sometimes, too) is that while students are think/pair/sharing, teachers are getting set up for the next part of the lesson, are getting stuck at one group re-doing the lesson, are proctoring learning rather than engaging with kids in it and generally missing all of the good thinking and talking and interaction around the important content!

When students are talking with one another, it’s the PERFECT TIME to get in there and hear what they’re saying and commenting, redirecting, making a note to clear something up with the whole class, asking them to extend responses,  redirect their conversation or work or generally set them straight on something they have mis-learned!

Engagement is not about the kids and kids alone.  It’s around the TEACHER engaging with the KIDS and the CONTENT. 

So what is the take-away from this, in my book?  That we refine our definition of engagement from that of “using engagement techniques during teaching” to “setting up meaningful opportunities for students to work with, talk about, write about, think about the most important information that they’re required to learn”.

You’ve got everything you need to do this now…where will you start?

Come on over to www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting to talk – I’m waiting just for YOU!

Partners Are Made, Not Born!

One of the most common complaints and concerns I hear from teachers is kids not following the rules and what to do about classroom management issues.  Well, I could tell you how to fix that if you have 5 or so hours…

But we have about 3 minutes together as you read this and head onto your next task….

So, I’d like you to start here: with teaching partnerships.

Now I’m not talking about some hairy fairy, touchy feely “feel good about being yourself” partnership (though that’s a nice side-effect!), but partnerships that actually support kids in learning more content and becoming more engaged and remaining more engaged.

So, when I’m working with teachers, I give them these simple steps as they teach kids how to partner:

  1. Practice precision partnering
  2. Have a physical signal that partnerships are taking place
  3. Designated “Partner 1” and “Partner 2” and address questions to one or the other
  4. Give think-time prior to responses
  5. Use written responses prior to partnership so that students have fodder for discussion
  6. Establish a “no opt-out” policy and be consistent in enforcing it
  7. Teacher partners with struggling students or disruptive students
  8. Change partnerships periodically
  9. Listen in to discussion to determine whether students are grasping the concepts or if re-teaching is necessary

WARNING: IF YOU ARE THE KIND OF EDUCATOR WHO THINKS “OH MY KIDS CAN’T PARTNER”, THEN I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: THEY WON’T!  Not because they can’t, but because you THINK they can’t!

All kids can partner, BUT it takes practice.  It takes time to refine.  It takes patience.

So, as you establish the partnerships over several weeks or you’re working to refine partnerships that you’ve already established, give yourself a break.  Sometimes it fails miserably and then the next day partnering is beautiful.  Then the next day it’s “meh…” and then the next day it’s like your kids invented partnering, it looks so beautiful.

The trick is this: practice the partnerships as long as it takes to become a habit.  A habit that is so engrained that you pop in and out of the partnerships during instruction and not lose any instructional time.

Let our readers know the “twists” that you put on partnering to spice things up….leave a comment if you wish!