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Setting Expectations Early for Student Success


Setting high expectations for your students and yourself can be the hardest part of the job or the easiest.  Furthermore, being consistent after the expectations are set can be even more of a challenge.  Considering this, I take the guess work out and make this as easy for myself and my kids as possible.  I set the highest expectations and never waiver.  

An honest post about setting high expectations to foster student success

In the two previous schools I worked, my adherence on this issue never came into question.  At the high school, I was known as a challenging teacher.  In the magnet middle school, I was hired to be challenging and demanding for the program.  I designed grade appropriate assignments and made the next step simple – just do it.  There was never any question in my mind that this was not the norm everywhere.  After all, didn’t all teachers expect their students to reach the highest levels?

Honestly, I should have known my blind view was not always the case.  The middle school feeding into my high school was not the best.  Under my state’s education plan, the school had fallen into decline and we saw huge changes enforced on the entire building.  Many teachers left, some retired, and others complained on a daily basis of the trauma being placed on them.  I was not sympathetic to their cause.  I had seen some of the damage from their lack of teaching firsthand with my daughter attending the failing school.  Other than her reports of constant boredom, short, un-challenging assignments, teachers that sat more than they instructed, and an apparent stagnation of my own gifted child’s knowledge, I also saw more conclusive evidence.  My daughter brought home a test from her history class where most of the questions had the answers included.   One that I have remembered since that day was, “What color was George Washington’s white horse?”  Even my twelve year old daughter thought the class and the teacher was a joke.  She stated over and over that her attending school there had no purpose; she could teach herself more from borrowing a textbook and reading it in her spare time.  I agreed, especially when her final grade in that class was a 132%.  (Math teachers:  Is this possible?)

Even at my magnet middle school, I heard kids talk of the “easy” teachers and the ones who let them play in class the entire hour, but I never thought it could be a school (or possibly district) problem until I reached where I am now.  On my second day of school, I learned very quickly that, despite the school’s motto of “Expect Excellence,” there wasn’t much being expected at all.  What taught me this first new lesson?  I sent home my Identity Bag homework.  Out of over 150 students, less than half completed the work.  Even more disturbing, when I asked some if they would like to try to recover the assignment by just introducing themselves, they responded with, “No, just give me a zero.”

In the weeks that followed, I heard the following statements from my students:

“Grades don’t matter.  We will pass anyway.”



“We don’t do homework here.”



“It will be okay with my parents as long as I get a D at the end.”

I was appalled.  I was disgusted.  I was in tears.  After just a few weeks I had quickly learned that there was an ingrained sense of apathy that had even the brightest students not caring about their ever succeeding in life, much less learning.  They saw school as a place to be during the assigned time, where some teachers allowed them to socialize, others required them to just sit in silence, and some gave them coloring sheets or crosswords to do to pass the time. 

Over time, I learned the reality of my district.  Most students were below grade level, some as many as 4-5 years behind.  Students could not read cursive, could not write complete sentences, and did not have any of the basic skills expected in the 7th grade, such as how to read a map key or how to find the main topic of a paragraph.  It was sad. 

Ironically, when the state tests came back in mid-fall, most students (even though on a 3rd grade reading level) had scored proficient or above.  Many, including a high number of special education students had score distinguished.  How?  Were they testing naturals?  No.  It’s even simpler.  They manipulate the system to stay in the testing game. 

District-wide content posters were printed and hung in EVERY classroom (despite some teacher’s opposition) and students were taught to “use the information” around them.  Rumors of teachers taking the tests for the students were rampant, and evidence that portfolios were written by the teachers could not be questioned.  As I stated in one staff meeting, the students were taught to cheat to get to the next level.  They were taught to look on the walls for the answers, to sharpen their pencils to check the test key, and to allow their teachers to “edit” their work, rather than ever learning how to succeed for themselves by learning.

In my first few months, I spent most of my mornings convincing myself that I had to go back, not because I felt obligated to teach, but because I was told the personnel director would not release teachers from their contracts and I could lose my license if I left.  I was a mess.  With all this taken into consideration, I did the only thing I knew how to do.  I taught.  I failed over 1/3 of my students in the first 9 weeks.  I failed another 1/3 in the second 9 weeks.  And I kept teaching, expecting excellence every day.  I assigned homework, I gave challenging class assignments, I demanded written pieces and research by my students, even though they had to be taught the process.  I refused to give up, and once I bought into the kids (because they always do pull my heart-strings), I took on a mission to teach them how to learn and to demand that they are given the opportunity to learn in their classes.

For the entire first semester, I went home each day questioning myself.  I questioned why I was there and why I didn’t just give up, put my feet up on my desk each day, and shop on Amazon.  Then I would answer myself: Because I am a teacher.
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/First-Homework-Assignment-Identity-Bag-for-Back-to-School-Community-Building-292459
Finally, as the 18 weeks rolled to an end, the students began to come around.  It started to look each day like some enjoyed being there, several showed concern for their grades, and even the most apathetic ones were beginning to buy-in.  After fighting students, parents, other teachers that made comments about my hurting their kids by being too demanding, and a district that only appeared to be expecting excellence, I started to see hope.  And on the second day of the second semester, I walked around my classes to check their homework and I felt success.  Only 14 students did not have it for me to grade.  Progress.

Expecting excellence is not just a statement, but it has to be an action.  You have to be willing to hold out when success does not seem possible.  You have to be willing to listen to parents yell at YOU for failing their child or for expecting them to do 20 minutes of homework when they have more important things to do, like their football practice or dance lessons.  You have to be tough enough to be excluded by your co-workers when they feel like you are rocking their comfortable system of do-nothingness.  You have to be open to allowing students to fail, when that is what THEY choose to do, even when it breaks your heart since you know they are capable of so much more.  In addition, you have to work harder.  You must keep up your strong front and continue to develop lessons you think might just draw their attention and help them get started in the right direction.  It was the hardest work I had to do since I started my teaching profession.  And it will always be!

Happy Teaching!

How-To Practice Skills in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom

In the Secondary Social Studies classroom there are basic skills every student should practice in every unit or every lesson, if possible.  Some of these skills are easy to add into the daily lesson plans, but others can be challenging to incorporate effectively while keeping students engaged.
How-To Practice Skills in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom
Basic Skills for the Secondary Social Studies Classroom
To make your planning easier, here is a simple list of those skills with simple descriptions.  These are often found in state, national, and organizational standards, but more importantly, they are the foundations for teaching Social Studies.
  • Reading for Content - looking for main ideas, key vocabulary, and historical significance
  • Annotating Text - rewriting text for content understanding or to provide explanation
  • Primary Source Analysis - determining meaning, context and significance in original sources
  • Image/Video Analysis - determining meaning, context and significance in visual media
  • Chart & Graph Reading - breaking down content provided in graphical form
  • Map Reading - examining the places and themes provided on maps and globes
  • Determining Cause & Effect - reviewing the steps or stages in events or eras
  • Examine Varying Perspectives - looking at different points of view for historical understanding
  • Making Judgments and Predictions - making conclusions on key topics and forecasting outcomes
How-To Practice Skills in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom
Implementation Ideas for the Basic Social Studies Skills
  1.  Use collaborative activities to encourage analysis of content and further discussion of key ideas.
  2. Set up learning stations or walking tours to review large amounts of content and assign text or image annotation for reinforcement.
  3. Begin each unit with a content-related mapping activity to establish location and place, helping students better understand the Geographic impact on History.
  4. Introduce real world images, video, charts and graphs from current events to make connections between the past and present.
  5. Have students create annotated and illustrated timelines to summarize unit content, to examine cause-and-effect, and to determine conclusions or make predictions.
How-To Practice Skills in the Secondary Social Studies Classroom
Important Tools for Practicing the Basic Skills
Finally, it is important to have all the tools needed for students to thoroughly examine, consider, and process information in the Social Studies classroom.  While rulers and calculators are vital for teaching Math, in the Social Studies classroom, highlighters, markers, and colored pencils are must-haves.  Have them on hand and ready to go for mapping , annotation, and all of the other skills discussed in this post.

Want more information on teaching basic skills and other strategies for the Secondary Social Studies classroom?  Be sure to read other posts in my How-To Series to learn how to bring your Social Studies classroom to life with engaging, content-strong lessons, resources, and teaching methods. 

Happy Teaching!

How To Use Response Groups for Discussion in the Secondary Classroom

Encouraging discussion in the classroom is a daunting task, but response groups can be the tool that opens the door to incredible conversation.  For the secondary classroom, response groups can help bring thought and introspection on a variety of topics, including those controversial or emotional.  More importantly, they can be the prompt that brings some students out of their shell, creating a rich classroom climate of cooperation and collaboration.
How to Use Response Groups for Discussion in the Secondary Classroom
What is a Response Group Activity?
A Response Group Activity is simple a resource that provides clear, concise information on a particular topic with guiding questions and topic prompts to encourage collaborative discussion in small or large groups.

How can Response Groups help in the classroom?
Effective response group resources provide strategic prompts or questions to help encourage conversations that are cooperative and thought-provoking.  They are valuable tools for addressing touchy topics and can lead to incredible sharing, helping to create a positive classroom environment.

How To Create a Response Group:
  1. Assign your students into small (4-6), varied-level groups.
  2. Provide concise, but thorough reading cards or sources.
  3. Distribute effective guiding questions or discussion prompts.
    How to Use Response Groups for Discussion in the Secondary Classroom
  4. Set clear time limits for reading and discussion on each topic.
  5. Encourage groups to share out their consensus after each topic discussion.
  6. Have students record their discussion points into notes or on provided handouts.
    How to Use Response Groups for Discussion in the Secondary Classroom
  7. Wrap-up the activity with a writing assessment or whole-class discussion.
    How to Use Response Groups for Discussion in the Secondary Classroom
The greatest value to using response groups in your secondary classroom is not the content attainment or the open discussion that follows; it is the thought-process practice students receive that will be so important in their later lives.  Teaching them to think for themselves, and then process those thoughts into cohesive arguments or points is the greatest tool we can provide our students.

Images used in this post are from my Oil in the Middle East Response Group Activity.  Find it and others in my TpT Response Group Category of my TpT Store!

And be sure to check out my other How-Tos on my blog, A Lesson Plan for Teachers!

Happy Teaching!

How To Read for Content in the Secondary Classroom

Secondary students should know how to read when they enter the secondary classroom, but unfortunately they often do not know how to read well or how to read for content.  This places the burden on the secondary teacher to not only teach their content, but also to teach the skills students need to learn the content.
Tips on how to teach reading for content in the secondary classroom
 In my classes, I love using acronyms and graphic organizers.  If you can find one that works best for your students, make it habit for them and utilize the tool throughout the year to help them become accustomed to tackling the text with ease.

Easy to Use Acronyms for Reading for Content:
  • SPRITE - Social/Political/Religious/Intellectual/Technological/Economic
  • PERSIA - Place/Economics/Religious/Social/Intellectual/Arts
  • BRAGS - Brainstorm/Read/Anticipate/Graph/Summarize
  • SPEC - Social/Political/Economic/Cultural
  • OPTIC - Overview/Parts/Title/Interrelationships/Conclusion
  • APPARTS - Author/Place/Prior Knowledge/Audience/Reason/The Main Idea/Significance
Tips on how to teach reading for content in the secondary classroom
My favorite acronym for the Social Studies classroom is SPRITE.  For all other classes, I'd recommend BRAGS.  SPRITE is easy to remember and fun to learn if served with a cool glass of the popular soda.  BRAGS works to help students focus while earning praise for a job well done!

Tips on how to teach reading for content in the secondary classroom
Now, take a look at this quick video for a simple introduction on teaching your students how to read for content!
video

Simple Steps on How-To Read for Content:
  • SKIM - Do a quick read just to get the feel of the text. What is the topic?
  • Read & Categorize - Begin looking for details and organize those details in a memorable way.
  • Record Content - Use a graphic organizer to effectively record important data.
  • Research for More - Adding facts and researching with open ended options allows interest to grow.
  • Process for Understanding - Taking time to think and to formulate a clear statement on the topic helps to build understanding.
  • Examine Results - Determining the significance of a topic will help to define its place in history or in any classroom context.
  • Write for Assessment - Putting content into our own words places the value in our hands.
But more important than any skill, tool or step is the learning climate.  Make it fun. Make it engaging. Make it interesting.  Make it something they will always remember! Make reading for content a task they enjoy instead of one they dread!

Find my SPRITE Reading & Writing Complete Set in my TpT Store!

And take a look at my How-To Series for other great tips on teaching in the Secondary classroom!

Happy Teaching!