5 Teaching Habits That Are Hurting Your Students

10 January 2016

Happy New Year Y'all! We hope this post will help all of us to help our students to thrive in the New Year! So lets get to it!

You are an awesome teacher.  You care about your kids, and you work hard to help them grow.  But it's possible that one of these habits is keeping your students from fully thriving in the classroom:

 1) The Sitting Decree:
Many of us have been taught that the only way to maintain order in the classroom is for children to stay seated.  If they are seated they cannot be disruptive or distracted. In fact, movement within the classroom ENHANCES a child's learning experience.  "Movement is a powerful teaching tool, and when we as teachers thoughtfully incorporate physical elements into instruction, we elevate the learning experience," states Aleta Margolis in her Washington Post feature, Letting kids move in class isn’t a break from learning. It IS learning.  In her July 8 Washington Post article, Angela Hanscom states the rise of fidgeting in the classroom and attributes it to lack of appropriate movement opportunities throughout the day.  Teachers can use natural movement in the classroom in many ways:
  • Mike Anderson lists a few examples of transitional movement in his article Move Around the Room
  • Aleta Margolis suggests a number of great activities that combine several learning experiences at once and promote productive movement
  • We have a number of songs, games, and other resources that have movement built in to enhance the students' learning experiences. Another popular resource that we have is Scoot Games that the kiddos love to play and it gets them up and moving as they learn! 
2) The Silence Rule:  
Naturally if children are talking, they can't possibly be working.  They lose focus, and worse, cause their friends to lose focus.  Aldous Huxley (1958) states quite the opposite: "Language permits its users to pay attention to things, persons and events, even when the things and persons are absent and the events are not taking place."  In their book, Content Area and Conversations, Fisher, Frey, and Rothenburg assert that conversation is how we learn and process.  It is important for children to converse about their thoughts in order to organize them.  This is especially true with auditory learners.  
Now some of you may be saying, "well I let my students talk in group discussions by calling on them."  That is a great start.  You can enrich your classroom even further by encouraging students to talk to you and to one another freely about the subject matter.  Here is an example of a conversation from Fisher, Frey, and Rothenburg's book.  Focus on the highlighted words:
Teacher: I was thinking about the life cycle of an insect. Do you remember the life cycle we studied? Malik?
Malik: Yes.
Teacher: What was the first stage in the life cycle? Jesse?
Jesse: They was born?
Teacher: Yes, things are born, but think about the life cycle of insects. Let's try to be more specific in our thinking. What is the first stage in the insect life cycle? Miriam?
Miriam: Eggs.
Teacher: Yes, insects start as eggs. Then they change and develop. They become larva after eggs, right? And then what? What happens to them after they are larva? Adrian?
Adrian: They are adults.
Teacher: They do eventually become adults, but there is a step missing. What is the step between larva and adults? What is that stage of the life cycle called? Joe?
Joe: Mature larva?
Teacher: Yes, there are two kinds of larva in the life cycle of some insects. But what I was thinking about was what happened to them after the larva before they become adults. Mariah?
Mariah: Nymph?
Teacher: Now we're talking about the three-stage cycle for some insects. Do the insects that change into nymphs come from larva? Let's look at our two posters again. Remember these? There is a three-stage process and a four-stage process. Let's study these again.
The highlighted words are the children's responses.  How much academic language was used?  What if you were to give the students a prompt with the same questions to answer in a group discussion?  How much more academic language would they use?  The more free the environment, the more the conversations will be allowed to develop.  You can monitor this by traveling around the room, listening, and interjecting where appropriate.  Which brings us to our next point...

3) The Teacher's Perch:
We get it.  You only have one planning period per day and you want to put together fun lesson plans for your kiddos.  It makes sense to give them independent work to do and you can conquer your ever-growing to-do list at your desk, right?  There are two pitfalls that can occur with this practice.
  1. Monkey Business:Your students know you're not paying attention and are more tempted to get into mischief.  An article from teachingenglish.org.uk states that not only is a teacher's attention vital to a productive learning environment, but even his or her position can make a difference.  It cites different situations where standing is appropriate, sitting is appropriate, or crouching is appropriate. 
  2. Falling Through the Cracks:It is difficult to see if students are following directions properly and eliminates the opportunity for early intervention.  For example, if you see that a child is consistently getting the wrong answer on a math problem because he or she is adding instead of multiplying, you can address it immediately.  This makes it easier for the student to understand.  Also, there may be some shy students who are uncomfortable coming to the teacher for answers.  As a result, they may just suffer in silence.
Now I'm sure some of you are asking, "isn't it important to allow children to work independently?" ABSOLUTELY!  Too much teacher hovering will impede a child's development of independent skills.  The article offers some great tips on positioning yourself so that you are engaged with your students, but not smothering them.  Just remember, if nothing else, when you are engaged you are showing your students you care.  That will speak volumes to them at any age.

4) The Lecture
Oh no!  I have all these students and I have to cram all this information into their brains so they can pass the test.  The only way I can possibly do that is by talking at them endlessly until they pass out.  Obviously that is an exaggeration, but it's understandable that you sometimes feel that kind of pressure.  I know I have found myself doing this from time to time, especially when I am passionate about something.  Still, studies show that even in a college environment, lectures alone are not as effective as switching it up in the classroom.  In his 2014 Sciencemag article, Aleszu Bajak cites a study from pnas.org that concluded "students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods." Now you may be asking, "ok smart one, what are some active learning methods I could try?"  I'm glad you asked:
  • Games- Almost everything can be turned into a game.  It may not be pretty, but it is effective.  Many times we will take a collection of vocabulary and turn it into a memory game or Go Fish game.  More on that with Friday's post.  Our Community Helpers Bundle has a Go Fish game that matches each community helper to his or her tool.  There is also a charades game where the kiddos can act out community helpers.  Our Wants and Needs Bundle has a concentration game.  Almost all of our products either have or are games.  You can go to a site like Teacherspayteachers or Educents and just type games, or check out some free ideas on Pinterest.  This article on The Effectiveness of Gaming in the Classroom has some great insights on why games are a great tool and how to use them effectively.
  •  Songs- Take 2 minutes and try to list all the jingles you know... Now imagine those jingles focus on important educational concepts.  Songs can make your job so much easier if you open yourself up to them.  Students learn the songs and they stick in the subconscious, waiting to be retrieved at test time.  We have a ton of songs in our store, along with Jack Hartmann, Dr. Jean, Flocabulary and more.
  • Experiments- This one is pretty self-explanatory.  The key with experiments is to let the students guide.  Have them hypothesize and conduct the experiment rather than have it be teacher-centered.  Ask questions and allow the students to come up with their own conclusions.  Even if these conclusions are incorrect based on previous evidence, you are still encouraging students to think freely and independently.  Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn and retain information.
  • Drama- If there is a way to act it out, have kids act it out.  Again they will learn more effectively through experience.  Pam did a role play exercise in her classroom where she lined up her community helpers and gave them the wrong tools.  She invited a student to come up and give them the right tools.  This is a simple way to incorporate experiential learning.
  • Open questions- Ask a lot of 5 W and H questions (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How).  Foster children's critical thinking by having them explain themselves.  This will allow you to know if they are reproducing information or actually learning.
5) One-Track Classroom
PD image provided by allenrobert
The only way to ensure that students are on task and learning at a good pace is to have them all doing the same thing at the same time in the same way.  If they are doing different things in different parts of the room, chaos will ensue and I will lose control of my classroom.  How many have felt this way?  How many have experienced this?  It is true that too little structure in a classroom will cause it to descend into chaos.  Too much structure, however, will cause your students to crash and burn.  Herman Miller discusses some innovative classroom design ideas in this article on his website.  While his focus is mainly classroom design and aesthetic, he addresses some important points on organization.  For example, "giving people some control over their surroundings adds to their sense of well-being."  
How to Do It: Rather than having all students doing a single assignment at their desks, allow students to choose what activity they do.  
For younger classrooms, centers are ideal.  Here is an article with some suggestions.  
For older classrooms, take a look at that article and see where you can incorporate some of the ideas.  If you want a simple solution, make a list of the tasks you want accomplished for the day.  Set up areas where each task can be accomplished and design each space to facilitate that task.  For example, the reading area would be a comfortable space, the writing area set up like a studio.  
Simply put two desks on either sides of a shelf or push a table against a shelf.
Click above for Pinterest article

Divide the day into study blocks and allow students to choose tasks for each block.  To keep the chaos at bay, limit how many students can work at each center.  This also fosters critical thinking skills for your students.  When a student has completed his or her work, allow for some free centers to open them up creatively.  Your STEM friends could work independently or collectively on an engineering design.  Your creative friends could work independently or collectively on an art project or free write. Have them "publish" a book.

Follow us on bloglovin or subscribe for more updates on helping your students thrive instead of survive in the classroom.  Allow them to learn and the tests will take care of themselves.  Use #STThrive to find us on FB and Twitter or to join the conversation yourself.  Let us know if you have any questions and we'll be happy to discuss with you.  Best of luck transforming your classrooms and skyrocketing your students!  Have an awesome week :).

Have a great weekend,

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