# Classroom Stories

## Integrated Teaching {Bringing Happiness to Venn Diagrams}

by on May 5, 2012

Today’s guest post comes from an English teacher in China, Amy Young. Amy shares about how an unlikely pairing of subjects and ideals became a memorable classroom experience. You can read more about Amy’s teaching and life experience living in Beijing at her blog, Messy Middle.  You can, and should!, follow Amy on twitter at: @Amyinbj.  {Interested in guest posting?  See our guidelines here.}

***************

Like the average reader of this blog, I believe in integrated teaching and learning. Can you find biology in an English class? Absolutely you can! Turns out even after all these years of teaching I’m not as integrated in my thinking or lessons as I thought.

A couple of weeks ago I walked into my 3rd period Senior One (10th grade) oral English class in Beijing, China, and was greeted with cries “teach us math!” Not going to happen (even though I’d taught math in the US); but then I had one of those inspiring moments we all long to have, where things just come together. We were working on a unit about money. On a whim I wrote “happiness” and “money” on the board and asked them to make a mathematical equation showing the relationship between them. I made a pathetic sample I’m not going to show you because, well, I look like a simpleton. As I walked around the room there was a buzz in the air. “Miss Amy, can we use functions?” Can you?! I randomly chose four students to write their equations on the board, but others wanted to as well. They blew me away. Here are some the finished products:

I wish I could remember the explanation! Or these two:

I love that it culminates in a venn diagram! Even I can grasp that one.

There were graphs, exponents, sets, functions, greater than, less than, infinity, and diagrams as they depicted deep and significant things in relating money and happiness. This is what integrated teaching looks and feels like. In that class, I learned more than they did.. .

1. My definition of “Chinese Creativity” is far too narrow. Over the years I’ve been asking them to be creative in ways I know how to be creative without linking it more often into some of their strengths.

2. I’ve been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking what my students don’t know and filling in gaps, I also need to ask what they already know and incorporate it more.

3. My teaching categories are too rigid. So much for priding myself on being integrated! I would not have put money, math, happiness, and oral English in same lesson because they didn’t seem to go together.

But, apparently, to a classroom full of Chinese students, they most certainly did.

- Amy Young, orignally posted in part at Messy Middle

Where might your definition of student creativity be too narrow, thus hindering lesson integration? Could you try a similiar activity in one of your classrooms this week?

## The Cure for Spring Fever

by on May 3, 2012

When I was a new teacher, I was stunned to discover that the last few weeks of school presented the biggest classroom management challenge of the year. It didn’t make sense to me–I’d already taught my procedures and routines. The kids knew exactly what to expect from me. We had a great rapport and classroom community.

So why did I have to repeat everything I said eighteen times before they listened? How come I had to crack the whip on behavioral infractions like it was suddenly the first day of school all over again?

I remember saying to my students, “Walk in the hallway. Raise your hand if you want to share something. You know this stuff, guys. The rules are the same as they’ve been since August.

It wasn’t until after a few miserable springs that I finally realized the truth: the rules weren’t the same as they’d always been.

By early May, I was just as tired as the kids. I wanted to give them (and myself) a break. So I’d decide not to give our regular math morning work assignment and let the class do a word search page instead. The kids got all excited and forgot to follow the routines for staying on-task and completing their work independently. I’d quickly get irritated and blame the problem on ‘spring fever’.

After that, I’d figure there was no way the kids would be attentive during the regular vocabulary lesson, so I’d give a partner reading assignment instead. The kids became even more wound up and start chattering loudly. I assumed there wasn’t much I could do about it, and hey, the class had worked so hard all year, so I let them get noisier than I normally would. The students, of course, realized I was busy doing paperwork and wasn’t addressing the noise level, so they stopped pretending to read altogether. Instead, they began calling out to each other, walking around the room, and acting silly.

At that point, I’d get totally fed up, yell at the kids, and plan to take them outside for an early recess so I could get some fresh air. The kids realized that their poor behavior frustrated me, but it also resulted in extra time outside, so there was no incentive to follow directions when they re-entered the classroom.

Eventually I realized I had slacked off on academics way too early, and had started to project an energy that signaled to the kids: The teacher is DONE. She doesn’t care anymore and now you don’t have to, either.

It was through trial and error that I learned to avoid this downward spiral by following a simple principle: Keep the routines and procedures the same as much as possible until a week before school ends. Give the same type of tasks in the same order and use a predictable routine in your lessons. Stick to your regular schedule, and when it’s interrupted by assemblies and other activities beyond your control, keep the rest of the day as tightly structured as possible.

Many teachers (myself included) like to change instruction and assignments after standardized testing is over for the year and do more creative and hands-on activities. But that doesn’t have to mean you’ll have an erratic schedule. You can determine your new routines, teach those expectations to students, and hold kids to them.

Chance are, many of your co-workers won’t do this and you’ll be tempted to become lackadaisical. Just remember that kids thrive under predictability. You knew this fact and planned accordingly at the beginning of the year, so don’t be fooled into thinking that your kids will suddenly be angels without any structure for the entire months of May and June.

Above all, make sure you take time to enjoy your students during your last few weeks together. Schedule some fun quality time with your class. Be patient with their excess energy and their reluctance to buckle down and focus on school work. Support them the best you can through predictable routines and clear expectations, but do so with kindness.

And save a little bit of that patience and consideration for yourself. You’ve accomplished a lot throughout the year, and you’re in that final stretch. The end is in sight, my friends–make the most of every moment you have left.

Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City.  She conducts webinars and writes books centered on her passion for helping teachers build strong classroom management and a positive mindset so they can truly enjoy their work. Her website features hundreds of free articles, lesson ideas, classroom photos, printable forms/posters, and more. You can subscribe to the blog or newsletter, or connect on Facebook/Twitter.

## Book Giveaway: Revelations in Education

by on March 20, 2012

We’ve had Dr. Lori Desautels share with us before about the importance of asking questions in the classroom, and today we have the privilege of giving away TWO of her new books, How May I Serve You? Revelations in Education. Lori is an educational guru who helps teachers with Teach for America. To enter the giveaway, simply make sure you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter. If you already are, no need to do anything.  We’ll draw on Friday, March 23rd and notify the winners via email. You can enter your email address on either sidebar.

************

Enjoy the following excerpt from Lori’s book:

“Teachers change lives! For better or worse, their presence with students affects change. School environments, administrative policies, and content expertise do not hold a candle to the gentle “personal philosophy” that radiates from teachers who create connections and relationships with their students.

We can ill afford not to begin with this philosophy of compassionate presence, because the research is exploding with findings and studies that the brain is wired for relationships, and that positive emotion and optimism, coupled with feelings of self-worth and success, initiate motivation and drive learning, retention and retrieval of knowledge to new heights. The desire to feel successful deepens learning and is the emotional prerequisite for applicable intelligence and a process for happiness, intimately addressing the emotional and social aspects of education.

Today as I desired nothing more than to write the final words of this manuscript, I received an invitation from a graduate student who asked me to have a sushi lunch and talk about our school years. As the green tea was poured, she looked at me, hesitated and said, “Lori, it has been a tough few weeks, and I want to tell you what has happened.” Candace squirmed a bit, played with her chopsticks, and then began to share this story.

Javiers Story

Javier became my student in mid-November after being kicked out of his large high school for absences. It did not take long for me to understand the reason Javier was absent so much from his previous school—he was reading at a fourth grade level and had already been retained three times in his life, making him 16 years old in the 9th grade. Javier avoided school because he did not feel successful, but that changed once we started working together. Javier began to come to school regularly, worked hard in school without any behavior problems, and even happily attended Saturday tutoring to get additional help. Although Javier showed tremendous progress with me and an intense desire to learn, his progress was not fast enough for my school principal, who decided immediately after winter break that it was time for Javier to find a new school. The school I worked at had just opened, and my principal was concerned that Javier would bring our End-Of-Course Assessment scores down.

I did not fully understand the resoluteness of my principals words until four weeks later, when my principal suspended Javier for three days for wearing black shoes instead of the required white, on an afternoon when I was out of the building. Upon returning to school, I learned of the incident and was extremely upset since the typical punishment for dress code violations was an  after-school detention. When I inquired about this unusual disciplinary action, my principal again reiterated that it was time for Javier to find a new school.

Javier and his mother were required to meet with the principal prior to his being allowed back into school after his three-day suspension. Javiers mother asked me to come with them to the meeting because I had established a strong and trusting relationship with the family. While being forced to wait for thirty minutes before the principal would meet with us, the three of us watched as five children walked through the office wearing black shoes!

Once the meeting began, my principal opened the meeting by telling Javier how far behind he was academically compared to his peers and that it was time for him to find a new school. Javier and his mother explained that this was the school they wanted, so my principal shifted back to the issue of the black shoes. Javier explained that he and his mother had been evicted the day he was suspended and had been homeless for the past three days. His mother would not have enough money to purchase him shoes for two weeks, so he wondered if he could wear the black shoes until that time. My principal forcefully said, “No. He needs to have the shoes today or he is being kicked out.” I offered to purchase Javier a pair of white shoes in order for him to remain at school, but his mother turned to me and said in Spanish, “It is not about the shoes. The principal no longer wants my son here. It is time for us to find a new place to go.” With those words, Javier was gone from school and my life.

Statistically, there is little chance now for Javier to ever graduate from high school. He is currently homeless, Latino, speaks English as a second language, has been raised in a single-parent home, and has been retained already three times in his life. With such ease, my principal traded Javiers future for one less “fail” on the standardized test at the end of the year. As a teacher, this experience makes me wonder what the goal of education has become. When I chose education as a career, it was to work with the tough cases like Javier in order to change my students life trajectories, not to allow them to become another sad statistic.

-Shared by Candace Kissinger , ESL Teacher, Indianapolis, IN

Following Candace’s story, I just sat there. I couldn’t find any words to describe how I was feeling, or more honestly, what Javier and his mother must have experienced and felt. I share this story because no matter the grade level, age or gathered experiences from teachers and students, educators must embrace and integrate the emotional standard of compassion, extending to our parents and students the power of “feeling felt.” Compassion is defined as “a combination of feeling for someone else, experiencing the suffering and a positive move to reduce the suffering of others.” Are we truly compassionate with one another? Do we extend to one another even a small invitation to see and express what is possible and all that is going well? As parents and educators, we must begin to implement this emotional support that drives all that we are and do in and out of school.”

- Revelation in Education, Lori DeSaultes, PhD

* Remember, several copies of Lori’s book are being given away this week to all weekly newsletter subscribers! Good luck and have a great week, ya’ll! Thoughts on Javier’s story? Share them in the comment section.  -Laura Parker, Editor, Teacher and Blogger from aLifeOverseas

## If You Give a Teenager a Cookie

by on March 12, 2012

If you give a teenager a cookie, he will gobble it up in one swallow, and then forget about the cookie before it hits his stomach. See, that’s how teenagers are. Quickly, they consume. Quickly, they forget.

However, if you gather teenagers, point them to a cause, and encourage them to make some cookies, those teens may walk away with more than just some extra sugar floating around their bodies.

Follow this easy recipe to encourage teens to think of others:

Step 1: Find some teens. Open your eyes. Even if you don’t teach teens, they line your life. You know them. Often they avoid eye contact and carry hefty attitudes, but look beyond that and see them.

Step 2: Find a place that does something for others. We found the Rathbun Center, a place where family members of sick loved ones stay. Get a tour. Learn about the struggles of those who find themselves at such a place. Help teens personalize the struggles.

Step 3: Cut fruit.

Step 4: Arrange pre-bake cookies on a sheet.

Step 5: Talk to teens while the cookies bake. They will want to discuss things that may not interest you. Get over it, and then this is very important, fake interest.

Step 6: Decorate cookies.

Step 7: Praise teens for helping others in a tangible way, and remind them of the difference small acts make.

Question for you: How are you teaching your students to see the needs of others?

-Amy L. Sullivan, Special Education Teacher

## Room 712

February 27, 2012

A first. One of my students sat in her desk on the front row literally dancing in her seat and said, “I couldn’t wait to get back from Christmas break so I could find out what happens in our story.” Wait. What? I’ve heard kids say they wanted to get back to see their friends, [...]

## A Family Chat

December 14, 2011

We had a family chat – me and one of my five classes. They’re talented, capable, some even gifted. But there’s an attitude that often pervades the classroom and it needed to be addressed. So I sat on my little stool, leaned in close and said, “We need to have a family chat.” It got [...]

## Bullying in the Classroom

December 8, 2011

Perhaps many of you educators have seen this already–  a video made by 14 year-old Jonah who was bullied, suicidal, and struggled with cutting himself. It is a powerful cry for help, and a brave one, at that. {Subscribers, you’ll want to click through to see this one.} And we talk about the theories of [...]

## One spoken word at a time

December 6, 2011

My eyes glistened the whole night.  A group of my students, undeterred by opposition, held an art slam at a local coffee shop one friday night. I walked in not knowing what to expect. one of them brought his iPad – thinking not many would show. It was the day school got out – the [...]

## On Seventh Graders and their Capacity for Compassion

November 23, 2011

During a study of North Africa, my seventh-grade students and I viewed the award-winning documentary Facing Sudan in which we met Salva Dut, a former “Lost Boy” of Sudan. We learned that Salva, after relocating to the United States and nineteen years of separation, heard that his father was languishing in a United Nations clinic in Sudan. He [...]