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Better Hearing and Speech Month: Speaking and Listening Skills for All Ages

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May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, which involves raising awareness about communication disorders. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, communication disorders involve “an impairment in the ability to receive, send, process, and comprehend concepts of verbal, nonverbal and graphic symbol systems.” There are many different types and variations of communication disorders—and the range in severity is even more vast.

While it is likely that educators will encounter a number of students with communication disorders, it is also possible that these impairments can be misdiagnosed or go undetected altogether. Whatever the case may be, impairment or not, every student can benefit from activities and lessons that engage the class in speaking and listening. These important skills extend far beyond classroom objectives.

Skills used to present a clear and concise speech, or to comprehend written and verbal instructions, are certainly important in grade school. But speaking and listening skills are imperative to college and career-readiness. Imagine how frequently our adult lives require us to speak clearly, succinctly, or elaborately. Similarly, we inevitably spend much of our lives listening—ingesting important information, filtering out the unnecessary fluff, and responding appropriately. With such significance placed upon our abilities to communicate properly, it is necessary to begin speaking and listening skills early in the classroom.

Below are some age-appropriate activities to build students’ speaking and listening proficiency.

Preschool-friendly listening activities:

  • Use a basic tongue twister to play “telephone” as a whole class. Begin with a shorter phrase so that students can remember the whole thing. Whisper the phrase to the first person slowly and clearly, then continue the telephone around the circle until everyone has whispered it to a partner. At the end of the line, ask the final student to say the phrase. If the phrase is different from the original starting statement, discuss how it is just as important to listen during group activities. Explain how even a short statement can become confusing or jumbled if we aren’t listening closely to the speaker.
  • The traditional brain breaks can also work as fabulous listening practice. Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and Musical Chairs are perfect for little ones that like to move around in the classroom. The movement also acts as a bit of a distraction to ensure that they really are listening while they’re up and about.
  • When reading to the class, ask students to act out the emotions that the characters are experiencing. If you are telling a spooky trick-or-treat story or an exciting adventure tale, pause at certain moments in the story to allow students to mimic the character’s behaviors or actions.

Early Elementary-aged speaking and listening activities:

  • Have students work on a Show-and-Tell project. Each student will informally present his or her object to the class or in small groups. Depending on age and ability, have students prepare a few notecards about the significance of the object. As other students are presenting, have the audience write down what each person brought for show-and-tell. Perhaps require students to ask 1-2 questions during the span of presentations. You could also create a graphic organizer asking students to categorize the items that their classmates brought in. This way, students are both asked to share aloud and listen attentively to each other.
  •  After story time or when finishing a class text, ask students to describe their favorite part in the story. Be sure to prompt them with follow-up questions such as: Why do you think that character did that? Are you happy with the way the story ended? Why or why not? How would you have reacted during the conflict in the story?
  • Create a clap-snap rhythm and ask students to replicate the sound pattern. Complicate the pattern as you go—making sure that students are both watching and listening to how the pattern is made. Remind students that listening attentively also means giving eye-contact to the speaker or “clapper.”

Late Elementary-aged speaking and listening activities:

  • Plan to watch a series of commercials as the class warm-up. Once all of the commercials have played, ask students to write down the products that were mentioned in each commercial. Were your students able to identify what the commercial was attempting to sell? Prompt a discussion about what makes a commercial successful or persuasive.  
  • Have students work in small groups to make up a creative story on the fly. One student will begin the story, then he or she passes it along to a classmate who will continue the narrative. Students must listen carefully to be sure that the story makes logical sense as it progresses around the circle.
  • Organize a game of charades in which students must act out a literary character from class texts. Students must walk, talk, and behave like their characters so that observers are able to speculate about who is playing which character. Discuss the importance of direct and indirect characterization and how authors wish to portray their characters.

Listen up! It’s time to let the fun begin for all ages and abilities.

Homework: Transparency is Key

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The many benefits of assigning homework are readily evident to all of us educators. Students are able to practice the skills learned in class on their own; teachers are better able to identify areas of confusion; and parents are able to see the concepts that are being taught in the classroom. Overall, homework is a necessary aspect of education.

The benefits of homework are not always transparent for students, however. Much of the time, the homework announcement is met with groans and eye-rolls. In those moments, there are a few things that I’d like my students to know:

  • The homework that I assign is meant to give you additional practice on the skills that we discussed today. It is not intended to torture you, occupy your evening, or cause you frustration. If this is ever the case, please tell me—because that is certainly not the point of my homework assignments.
  • I do not expect, nor do I necessarily want, your parents to coax you through your homework. If this is happening, it means that I did not adequately prepare you to tackle the assignment. I’d rather you attempt what you can and explain your confusion the following day. It is certainly not your parent’s job to complete your homework—and again, this tells me nothing about what you’ve learned.
  • Homework is also intended to provide students with a grade cushion. While we are certainly not chasing the grade, many of you consider the final grade to be very important. That said, homework provides you the opportunity to pad your grade simply by putting forth effort. This is your chance to show me that you are trying to learn the content.   
  • I do not expect you to achieve 100% correctness on homework assignments. Instead, I’d rather see 100% effort on assignments. A vital aspect of education is work ethic and determination—homework is simply one way to display your intrinsic motivation.
  • Homework is not intended to be “busy work.” Again, the point of homework is to assess comprehension of the skills taught in the classroom. While assignments should not frustrate you, they should challenge you. An assignment should not be mindlessly easy—it should not feel like busy work.  Again, my goal is to assess our progress in class, not bore you to tears or occupy all of your free-time.

While we, as teachers, may never persuade our students to love completing work outside of the classroom, transparency about the purpose of homework assignments is key to getting students to buy in. We should talk to students about homework practices and policies and request their feedback regarding homework frequency and level of difficulty.

Building Up Self-Esteem in the Classroom

i-741519_1280Social-emotional development is a key aspect of growth for children, especially during the teenage years. Questions, conflicts, and angst revolving around one’s identity are indicative of this tempestuous stage in life. Many adolescents, if not all, struggle with building self-esteem. As educators, we have the opportunity to not only teach, but to lead by example.

I, like many adults, can personally relate to my sporadically insecure and apprehensive middle schoolers. The braces, blemishes, and all of those other lovely aspects of my own adolescent years are fresh in my mind when I stand in front of my classes—their hesitant expressions are another reminder of how hard it is to be a teenager. However, two things that can lessen the blow of adolescence are a positive outlook and a resilient self-esteem.

Methods to address the insecurities change from day to day, and vary depending on the student. Obviously, what makes one student feel comfortable and confident may not be the key for another. Even so, there are ways to make a teacher’s classroom, instruction, and demeanor more conducive to building students’ self-esteem.

Be open about your own flaws or weaknesses

For the most part, it is common for students to expect perfection and level-headedness from their teachers to a certain degree. This is evident by the fact that they are shocked and humored when we miscalculate, misspell, or misconstrue something. They are even more shocked to see us scrambling through the mall in sweats and a baseball hat on a Saturday. While mildly embarrassing to us, these somewhat amusing instances are truly beneficial to building our students’ self-esteem.

Capitalize on these opportunities by shattering the belief that perfection is the key to high self-esteem. Yes, teachers are tasked with teaching our subjects, but we are not the “almighty keepers of the knowledge.” We are human beings that have flaws and make mistakes. Embrace these blunders in the classroom—they show our students that, just like teenagers, we adults make mistakes, too. This realization that everyone makes mistakes helps students accept their own missteps and build self-esteem.

Show your true colors

Learning occurs when students take risks in the classroom. Risk-taking is also a sign of confidence and self-esteem. If we teachers are not presenting our true selves, how can we expect our students to feel comfortable enough to show their own true colors? In order to foster these themes of confidence, honesty, and authenticity in the classroom, we must truly practice what we preach.

Beware, though, that adolescents have the uncanny ability to detect phoniness. They are observant, intuitive, and critical. Therefore, it is not the easiest task for teachers to wear all of the hats and still remain authentic in the classroom. All at once, we must maintain professionalism, provide engagement, and remain enthusiastic about the lesson, while also cracking down on behaviors and managing 30+ teenagers in a room. This can be quite a tall order; however, exhibiting your own confidence in the classroom is key to encouraging your students’ self-esteem. Just as parents should model good self-esteem at home, teachers should lead by example, as well.

Explain that “this too shall pass”

Another honest conversation that teachers can have with students in order to foster self-esteem involves discussions of the future. It is easy for anyone to get caught up or discouraged by difficulties happening in the here and now. This is especially true for teenagers. Teens are developmentally prone to “sweat the small stuff.” As a teen, I remember overreacting, dramatizing, and fixating on what turned out to be tiny non-problems. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but genuine discussions about how to look past our problems and put things into perspective will nurture a positive outlook.

As teachers, we know that personal connections can make all the difference with our students. Sharing anecdotes about my own struggles and slip-ups growing up allows me to relate to my students and relay strategies that worked versus those that didn’t quite pan out. Showing your students that you can relate to their insecurities is beneficial; showing students that you’ve shed your insecurities and built-up your self-esteem over time can be even more beneficial.

At the start of this school year, I hung two pictures outside of my classroom—my school photo from 6th grade and another from 8th grade. I don’t have to tell you that these photos are beyond embarrassing. My students know all too well that, since hormones run high and self-esteem runs low, these teenage years present plenty of challenges. By sharing your own weaknesses, exhibiting authenticity, and discussing your own fluctuations of self-esteem, teachers have the ability to lead by example and foster positive self-images in the classroom.

Keep Your Cool When Things Are Not

Keeping Your Cool When Things Are Not

The most rewarding aspect of educating young people can be the unpredictability of it all. Ironically, the most daunting aspect of teaching can be the unpredictability of it all. We plan, we practice, we arrange, we redirect, and yet every day in the classroom is a gauntlet of unforeseeable events. All educators will tell you that one of the best parts of the job is being able to work amongst all of the dynamic personalities that students bring to school. However, this can also be the most challenging aspect, as well.

Look at the bigger picture

Behavior management can often be a tall order, especially for novice teachers. Disruptions and disrespect will occur at some point. However, even the most difficult students have a reason for their behaviors. We may be unaware of the catalyst, but something certainly causes the waves of negative behavior that we encounter in the classroom.

Students arrive at school with a myriad of different emotions brewing. It is not always obvious how our students are feeling—or why. Teachers may not be privy to the happenings at home or the drama among peers. It is easier said than done, but teachers must try to remember that the student is not defined by his or her behavior—this behavior is coming from a specific place.

Use a behavior mishap as a teachable moment

When students misbehave, it is a typical instinct to reprimand or place blame. The truth is, behaviors stem from somewhere. Before rushing to judgments, consider a few things—What did the student do? What motivated him or her to act out? Was this an intentional action? Has he or she done this before? These questions can even be asked during a worthwhile conversation between teacher and student. When speaking with a student about behavior modification:

  • Speak directly, clearly, and objectively about how the behavior disrupted the classroom environment
  • Explain that he or she took learning time from classmates
  • Remind the student of the classroom expectations
  • Ask why he or she decided to disregard the expectation
  • Ask how he or she should have reacted in that moment
  • Show that you understand the student’s feelings or frustrations
  • Provide a reasonably proportionate consequence

A firm but calm response is the best approach to defuse a frustrating behavior moment. Again, this is easier said than done, but adding fuel to the fire by reacting is never a good strategy. Teachers will undoubtedly find themselves struggling to maintain their cool. Sure, it is human nature to react when provoked—but remember, something likely provoked the student’s behavior, too.

With that in mind, when the wheels fall off, remember this mantra: keep calm and teach on!

How to Deal With Frustration: Bad Day Remedies For Your Child

How to Deal With Frustration: Bad Day Remedies For Your Child

We’ve all experienced different degrees of frustration at some point. Our boiling points can fall on a scale from spilled coffee or a flat tire, to a traffic collision or a serious health condition. Frustration is commonly defined as, “a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs” (Merriam-Webster).  Knowing this, one could conclude that frustration is typically linked to a lack of control over one’s situation.

Frustration is not an emotion limited to adults, however. Newborns experience frustration, too. In fact, frustration in babies and children may be greater due to the fact that they have less control over what goes on in their world. So how can we teach children to recognize, cope with, and manage frustration? In the same way that we ourselves must deal with it.

Be Positive

Seeing the silver lining is not always easy to do in the moment, especially for youngsters. Because the concept of the future is not something that young children readily consider, it is especially difficult for them to see beyond this frustrating occurrence. Reassure your child that this frustration that they are feeling is a temporary emotion.

Ask them questions like, “Is this something that will realistically still be upsetting you tomorrow?” Or, “What can we look forward to when this frustrating moment is over?” Asking your child to look beyond the current “bad” situation will help him or her to recognize frustration as a fleeting and temporary feeling.

Ask and Accept

When frustrations arise, many children (and adults, too) are unsure of what to do with this emotion. When children are frustrated, have them ask themselves what exactly it is that is upsetting them. It may help to have them write down the events that instigated the initial frustration. By pinpointing the root of the stress, children can begin to understand how to better deal with a similar situation in the future.

Likewise, when reflecting on the day, most people will find that the catalyst of the frustration was something that was beyond their control. It is important for children to learn that things are going to happen that they cannot change. Sometimes, the only thing that we can control is our reactions to situations. This is especially difficult for youngsters, whose impulsive nature can sometimes get the best of them. Acceptance is a necessary part of managing stress and frustration.

Plan For Next Time

Perhaps the benefit of experiencing frustration is that it gives children a chance to learn something. When children look closely at their frustrations, they will begin to see that even little things, such as oversleeping on a school day, could have unforeseen consequences. A moment of frustration could teach them to set an extra alarm, study a few days in advance, tell the truth the first time, clean up after themselves, etc. Either way, talking about actions and their effects is a helpful way to show children how to be proactive in the future.
Avoiding frustration is impossible, but managing it is not. The sooner children learn to work through frustrating moments, the better equipped they will be at handling themselves in stressful situations.

What’s in a Name?

No, we are not talking Shakespeare. We are instead tackling the distasteful tendency to name-call, which is a behavior that nearly all parents and educators have to deal with at some point. In confronting this obnoxious behavior, some parents might believe that they are making a mountain out of a molehill. Some common instincts or remarks are: What’s the big deal, anyway? Everyone gets called names at times. It’s just a little harmless teasing. Follow the “sticks and stones” mindset and you’ll be fine. While these reactions to name-calling do not intend to do harm, the impact may be a different story. 

 

Intent vs. Impact

For middle and high school age groups, a teen’s level of social-emotional intelligence has matured enough to have a serious discussion about intent versus impact. This distinction helps adolescents realize that their words have power, whether they are wielding them maliciously or not. Parents and educators can help clarify this with open and honest conversations. For instance, today, we unfortunately see and hear the term “gay” being thrown around as an insult or put-down. While this is nothing new, and may be intended as a harmless joke between friends, the impact could be devastating. 

 

If you hear your teen throw terms or slurs around in jest, without snapping or placing blame, ask your child the following questions:

  • What do you mean when you call someone gay?
  • Is it a dig at or comment about their sexuality? Or are you actually outting your friend?
  • If neither of those was the intent, what statement are you inadvertently making when you use “gay” as an insult?
  • Do you think being gay warrants random insults?
  • What if your friend actually is struggling with his/her sexuality? What message are you sending him/her when you use it as a slur? 
  • Think about the LGBTQ+ community; how are your insults or jokes inadvertently hurting or putting down that entire community? Were you aware of this when you decided to name-call?

 

A predictable response from many teens is the obligatory eye-roll or a retort such as, “I was just kidding, it’s just a joke, relax.” To which a simple response might be, “A joke is meant to be funny; there is nothing funny about a slur that insults an entire group of people.” Again, the purpose of this type of dialogue is to demonstrate how “just a joke” can end up having a much greater impact, unintentional or not. Use this talk as a springboard to discuss other related issues, such as current news stories, social media posts, text chains, and any other forms of communication. In this day and age, and with everything going on in the world, children need to know that what they say (or type) can and likely will come back to haunt them in the future. Politicians, celebrities, and other adults behaving badly should not give the green light to teens to engage in nasty, bullying behavior.

 

Finally, an additional point to make when addressing this issue with adolescents is to talk openly about how their use of slurs or offensive generalizations makes them look to the people around them. When name-calling or jokingly humiliating a friend in public, people around you may not know that you are kidding. If nothing else, this is simply a bad look and may cause others to look down upon them for their crass words and behavior.

Visualization for Comprehension

Visual learners will certainly understand thisbut truthfully, anyone, regardless of learning styles, can benefit from utilizing visualization strategies for learning and comprehending. Whether working with young readers or helping to break down and make sense of math problems, conjuring up and discussing the images that correspond to certain topics or concepts can help learners conceptualize what would otherwise be too abstract to comprehend. Below are various strategies that parents and educators can use to help students cash in on their mind’s eye for learning.

  • While reading aloud, ask children to pause at the end of a paragraph, page, or section to participate in an oral recollection of what they have just read. Ask prompting questions, such as:
    • After reading about these characters, how are you picturing them in your head?
    • What do they look like? Sound like? How are you visualizing their actions?
    • Where are they? What does the setting or their surroundings look like? Have you been to a place like that? 
    • Based on what they are doing, what do you think the weather might be like? Can you tell what time of year this is taking place?
    • What descriptive words help you to specifically visualize the story’s plot?   
  • To motivate collaborative discussions and increase perspective-taking, perform the visualization in small groups. Then ask students how the images in their heads might be similar or different from their peers’ images. 
  • Ask students to sketch, draw, or paint a scene from the book/text that they are reading. Stress the fact that this practice is not about artistic skill; it is more about conveying an understanding of the text through images or pictures. For students who are reluctant to draw, ask them to create a diagram using simple symbols or stick figures to represent the actions that they visualized. 
  • Have students swap drawings and discuss the different scenes with questions like:
    • What part of the text do you think your partner drew?
    • Which characters are present? Where are they in the image?
    • Did anyone seem to draw the same scene or section?
    • How are these two scenes depicted similarly or differently?
  • Similarly, ask students to draw or sketch predictions for what they think will happen next in the story. This makes for rich collaborative discussions, and it also provides parents and teachers with an opportunity to check in on comprehension. If a student’s prediction is off the walls, then it’s probably time to reread.
  • When reading math word problems, ask students to pause for a second before beginning their calculations. Prompt them to simply sketch the terms of the word problem using hash marks, symbols, or icons to represent the numbers they will be working with. Encourage students to talk through the problem while sketching; this way teachers can catch and clarify any missteps before students begin the actual math calculations. Visually speaking, a quick sketch helps students to conceptualize the otherwise abstract calculations and helps them to comprehend how the numbers and functions are represented.
  • Parents and teachers can also use manipulatives or tokens to represent math problems. Just like a sketch or drawing, the physical manipulatives help students see the variables while they are physically calculating terms.

Connecting with Students Virtually

One of the biggest downsides of online learning, in my personal opinion, is the loss of community and the severely diminished level of engagement that comes from no longer having a physical classroom. Regardless of our content area or our students’ age group, there is something about being in the same physical learning space that conjures up a special type of magic. Personalities emerge, connections are made, and peer interactions are lively when in the comfort of the classroom. Try as we might, much of the magic is lost in the virtual realm. For many teachers, our students are known only to us as faceless black boxes on Zoommany of whom we’ve never actually met in person. Students may be connected in the literal sense, but they are often understandably disconnected when it comes to engagement, interest, and intrinsic motivation. With such little to go on, many teachers find themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel for tips and tricks as to how to truly reach students over Zoom. In the same way that we engage students and build a rapport in the classroom, teachers should start small and recognize that a little bit goes a long way in terms of building connections with students.

 

Celebrate milestones

Although we are not physically in the same room, or even the same building for learning, teachers can take simple steps to make students feel welcomed, acknowledged, and appreciated during online class sessions. 

  • One simple detail that I make sure to use every single day is to acknowledge students’ birthdays on the opening slide at the start of each week. Since my opening Google slide format stays the same throughout the yearit’s just the agenda and objectives that changeI can easily update the birthday announcement in less than a minute when prepping for the week ahead. By checking Synergy/gradebook, I am able to quickly see which students are celebrating a birthday that week, add their name to the “Welcome” slide, and wish them a happy birthday at the start of class as they enter the Zoom session. This is a small but simple way to acknowledge a student’s special day. It may also be the first or only mention of their birthday, so I like to make a big deal out of it, even if we’re not in the classroom together.
  • If I’m lacking a good warm-up question for the day, or if students are coming back from a long weekend or holiday break, I use the activator/warm-up opportunity to check in on what students have been up to. I keep the options for response casual and conversational to prompt full participation. Some students will prefer to speak out loud to the whole group about their weekend plans; others prefer to respond privately using the chat function. As I’m taking attendance, I’ll make quick notes about soccer games, volleyball tournaments, siblings visiting from college, etc., so that I’m able to follow up with students about things other than their English assignments. Again, a little bit of personalized attention helps students to feel more comfortable in the virtual space. These small conversations add up over time, helping to build a positive rapport and encourage participation and open dialogue.
  • When I’m providing feedback on written assignments, I use those comments as an additional opportunity to connect with students, not only about their writing skills, but about the content of their writing as well. For instance, I may compliment a student who has shown growth in her sentence structure or vocabulary since her last essay. I may also ask follow-up questions in the comments. For instance, since many of my seniors are writing about their plans for next year, I use my essay feedback as an opportunity to prompt them for more detail. I’ll make a point to ask the following questions, especially when students submit personal narratives:
    • What was the number one factor for choosing that school?
    • Do you know anyone else attending the same college?
    • What was your first impression of the campus?
    • What are you most nervous about after graduation?
    • What is one thing you hope to do before leaving for school?
    • How have your goals/career aspirations changed over time?

Virtual Writing Instruction: Part II

In addition to providing cross-curricular writing opportunities, arranging activities that encourage peer feedback, and building in time for formative writing assessment, educators can also capitalize on one highly underrated teaching strategy: student choice. When at all possible, I try to provide my students with latitude for their written responses and essays. Of course, with a curriculum to follow, grade books to align, and cohorts that prefer to plan in “lock-step,” this is much easier said than done. Therefore, I make a concerted effort to plan for student choice when designing the writing tasks, as well as the instructional lessons leading up to those tasks.  

 

Below are several methods for implementing student choice while providing writing instruction:

  • Set up a NoRedInk classroom for students to join, explore, and practice various aspects of sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc. The platform is set up for self-directed, student-driven, asynchronous work. Therefore, the activity options in NoRedInk can provide students with interventions, scaffolds, and supports, as well as enrichment and rigor for those working ahead of the group. 
  • NoRedInk allows students to choose from grammatical, sentence-level practices, standardized English prompts, and guided essay support. They can also participate in peer or self-review, depending on their level of comfort with collaborative feedback.
  • One of my favorite warm-up activities is to provide students with several gifs on a Google slide. I try to choose gifs that relate to students and their interests, such as The Weeknd’s Superbowl Halftime performance or the latest State Farm commercial. They get to choose the gif they’d like to caption. Then they must incorporate a sentence structure or grammatical concept that we’ve recently discussed in class somewhere in their caption. Not only do students get to pick the gif they want to caption, but they also get the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of subordinating conjunctions, for example. Like an exit or entry ticket, teachers can quickly sift through the gif response to make sure that clauses are punctuated correctly and that students are understanding the purpose of the dependent clause in relation to the independent clause.
  • For writing instruction involving essay revision, teacher feedback, or peer edits, ask students to consider which section or paragraph of their essay they’d like to really rework or revise. Teachers can then use strategic grouping to organize students into groups with peers who are looking to revise the same portion of their essays. This streamlines teacher feedback, allows students to view one another’s work, and opens up the learning space for discourse around different writing techniques and components. 
  • I might organize small groups as follows:
    • Group 1 should be students who would like support/guidance with the thesis statement.
    • Group 2 should include students who need help finding appropriate quotes from the text or texts.
    • Group 3 should consist of students who need support with a concluding paragraph and/or transitions between paragraphs.
    • Group 4 should be for students who need help with elaborating on their analysis or further developing their own explanations. 

 

Student choice with writing samples/models:

  • Providing teacher models at the beginning of a new writing task is another beneficial strategy for incorporating student choice. Depending on the writing task, teachers should find (or create) a few various examples of the final essay or product for students to read and review. 
  • These samples can also include student essays from previous years. Provide students with options and require them to read, review, and assess at least one of the sample essays. This activity serves several purposesit allows students to see how others have approached the essay prompt, either successfully or unsuccessfully, depending on the samples you collect. It also shows teachers if students truly understand the criteria for success after viewing a teacher model or student sample.
  • If students review a mediocre or poor essay model as “great” or “topnotch work,” then teachers immediately see that they have missed the mark on fully explaining the task and the learning goals attached. Conversely, if students are unable to articulate why the model essay was unsuccessful or sound, then they truly do not know how to approach the task successfully either.

Teacher Tips: Keeping Students Engaged in Virtual Math Class

As an avid reader, writer, and English teacher, nothing used to scare me more than the possibility of having to cover an absent colleague’s math class. Like a fish out of water, my literacy-geared mind simply cannot adapt to the math world. Now that we educators have moved into the virtual realm of instruction, at least for the time being, I am even more in awe of how my math teacher counterparts are able to reach their students when it comes to such complex skills. It goes without saying that, for students like myself who find math to be difficult to begin with, they must be finding online math instruction to be even more difficult. Another critical piece of this perplexing puzzle is this: how on earth are teachers now adapting to make online math instruction engaging?  

 

Real World Connections

Just as we would in the physical classroom, in order to boost engagement for a lesson or concept, teachers should try their best to connect the activity or information to students’ real-world problems. Enough with the “train leaving the station at a certain time” word problems and examples. Students will inevitably zone out when the material is not relevant or familiar. Instead, use what you know about your students to incorporate their interests into your math lesson, then connect the content to a problem that they might actually need to solve at some point. Making the concepts less arbitrary by showing students how to use these math skills in the real world will take engagement to a new level.

  • To teach measurements, perimeter, area, etc., have students make a plan for rearranging their room by actually measuring out their bedrooms and bedroom furniture. 
    • Visual learners can sketch a “floor plan” for where they could realistically move their bed, dresser, desk, etc.
    • Kinesthetic learners may want to build a diorama or 3D representation of their bedroom arrangement proposal using everyday materials around the house like cardboard, straws, tape, sticky notes, etc.
  • Teach percentages and healthy eating by demonstrating how much sugar is in some of your students’ favorite candies and treats. Poll students in advance and do a little research about how many grams of sugar are in some of their favorite candy bars. 
    • Then challenge students to represent those grams in tablespoons so that they can visually see how much sugar they are ingesting. 
    • Extend the activity by discussing how much of their daily recommended sugar intake is “eaten up” by choosing that candy bar. Ask students to figure out how much of a healthier treat, like grapes, they could eat in place of the candy barthey’ll be amazed at the comparison.
  • Teach concepts involving time by having students actually time themselves doing everyday tasks, like walking to the park, making their bed, brushing their teeth, etc. 
    • Then incorporate multiplication skills to see how many minutes students spend brushing their teeth in a year, for example. 
    • You can surprise them even more by asking them to track screen time for a week and then finding out the average time they might be spending in front of their phones per year.

 

Celebrate (and Learn from) the Errors

Students don’t often spend time reviewing math errors to gain a substantial understanding. Instead, they’re correcting mistakes for additional credit, or overlooking the missteps altogether. Teachers can boost engagement by capitalizing on students’ errors in non-judgmental ways.

  • Teachers may want to try a practice called “the best mistake” in which they use anonymous student samples to analyze where a math problem went wrong. 
    • This activity encourages students to take on another’s perspective, reread and review material, and look critically at different mathematical functions and properties.
    • This activity also helps to remove the stress around math quizzes and word problems by making light of errors and demonstrating how they happen to everyonewe all make mistakes sometimes. The key is to use those mistakes and improve in the future.
  • Teachers can also increase engagement by letting students be the experts and intentionally making an error in a math problem.
    • Tell students in advance that a step or number is incorrect. Ask students to discuss and collaborate in groups in order to spot the teacher’s error.
    • Remember, kids always love being able to correct the teacher—even if the error is intentional.