Archive for the ‘Teach like a Champion’ Tag

Trying to keep the kids (and myself) from zoning out…

As students finished up midterm exams on Friday, I found myself entering report card scores and comments onto my PowerSchool grade book.

It’s great fun to create comments for the kids who consistently meet or exceed the standard. “A pleasure to have in class!” “Positive attitude affects the whole class!” “Works hard and shows wonderful effort!” There are so many exciting choices to express praise!

But, I don’t have as much fun with the students who are less consistent in meeting expectations. “Is capable of more,” is a favorite of mine, as is “please come to class with all expected materials including a writing utensil.” It’s hard to stay positive but still provide feedback for improvement.

In thinking about “SLANT,” as coined in Teach like a Champion, I decided to add a few comments to express what students should be doing in class.

According to Doug Lemov, expert teachers use the SLANT acronym to remind students of the following behavioral standards during lessons:

Sitting up.


Asking questions.

Nodding your head.

Tracking the speaker.

Report Card Style SLANT:

Mikey: “Shows good effort. Please remember to make eye contact to show listening in class.”

Jack: “Shows enthusiasm for learning. Please remember to ask questions if you are unclear about what to do.”

Daniel: “An avid reader! Remember to raise your hand before speaking out in class.”

In this format, I’m quite comfortable with the idea of “SLANT” to provide feedback describing areas of improvement. And in thinking about these report card comments, I’m assured that I do use the ideas of “SLANT” in my classroom. In fact, it’s the kids that don’t follow this behavior that tend to drive me the craziest.

(Just this week:

Jonathan actively stared off into space. I started giving directions. For some reason, I continued giving directions. Students started working. Jonathan called me over.

“Ms. W, what are we supposed to do?”

Really? Why didn’t I call him out on that? Would the vocabulary of SLANT been helped?)

This month’s goal of reinforcing strong classroom culture has got me thinking about the behaviors I expect to see in the classroom. I love the idea of using an acronym to help kids understand “what to do,” but I’m wondering if “SLANT” is the way to go. I’m not sure that the formality of the term fits into my current classroom culture.

As the dreaded “quarter three slump” hits, I definitely need to brush up on the ideas of this strategy with students (and clearly myself as demonstrated two paragraphs ago). But, I’m still wondering how an acronym fits into my classroom…


Finally seeing some good in bloody fingers…

December did not have a strong finish for me. Despite an attempt to use “positive framing” and “emotional constancy,” a viral infection prevented me from spending the Monday and Tuesday before Christmas in the classroom. I imagine that dear substitute teacher deserves a thank you gift for managing the kids and their holiday cheer (which usually quadruples with all of the sugar consumed)!

In reflecting on my ability to remain positive and emotionally controlled this month, I’m reminded of Zachary, a student I had in my very first year teaching. I still think his frequent outbursts were an attempt to distract others from noticing his petite stature.

“Where is your writing utensil?” I asked, slightly annoyed that a fifteen-year-old freshman would still come to class unprepared.

“I don’t have one,” Zachary mumbled.

I placed a sharpened pencil on his desk.

With a quick sweep of his hand, the pencil landed on the floor.

“I don’t want it,” he hissed. “I’d rather bite my fingers and write with my own blood.”

Though I’ve apparently blocked out the specifics, I’m certain that my new teacher reaction was one of shock and disgust. I’m nearly certain the thought ‘what is wrong with you?’ filled my mind and was most likely blatant in my response. This example is one of many that have challenged my ability to remain positive and calm.

December’s goals of building character and trust have made me wonder how my teaching career might be different if I were more aware of my own positivity and emotional reactions from the start. Would I have been less flustered responding to negative behavior if I had better understood the appropriate teacher response? Would I have taken bad behavior less personally? Would it have felt more manageable?

Tracking “positive framing” and “emotional constancy” this month have reassured me that these techniques are happening in my classroom. I’m wondering if it’s kids like Zachary that I should be thanking for this. In chapter seven of Teach like a Champion, Doug Lemov reminds that “you should expect almost anything, so act as if you expect it and have a plan to deal with it.”

Over the years, Zachary and countless others have broadened my understanding of possible student behaviors. Who knew that I should anticipate reacting to students throwing books or threatening to punch each other or making loud monkey noises? Maybe this lesson of remaining positive and emotionally in check is just one that takes a little (difficult, frustrating, irritating) practice to master.

Perhaps this month I was able to consciously make corrections anonymously, assume the best, and give corrections void of emotion. But don’t get me wrong, I’m still practicing. Those kids don’t let me forget that for a second…

A good start to the weekend means keeping kids after school on Friday. Seriously.

At least three out of five days a week in class, Jarred will ask at 2:18 or 2:20, “Please, Ms. W! Can’t we leave early?”

“Jarred,” I’ll say, “you know the expectation is that students are dismissed when the bell rings at 2:22.”

Predictably, he will whine, “but I have basketball practice. What if I don’t get there on time?”

This is often the (annoying) end of my school day, but surprisingly, not today!

In keeping conscious about my “positive framing” I decided to focus on how competition appeared within my lesson. Throughout our unit of study on China, students have been participating in different culture and geography “events” in our class version of the Beijing Olympic Games. Today’s event was the sixth and final event of the unit.  What was at stake? Twenty-five CAPE cash, our school-wide currency that students earn for good behavior and redeem for rewards.

Students watched parts of the animated Disney movie Mulan, and in groups, they had to draw connections to our class novel, Chinese Cinderella. The chorus of sporadic laughter during the movie and the furious handwriting of notes led me to believe that students were engaged!

The clock reached 2:00-the home stretch for all on a Friday! I watched the clock turn to 2:10, and then 2:15, and by 2:20, I was ready for my usual end of the day banter with Jarred.

“You only have until the bell to finish writing. About two more minutes,” I announced. Most hands still wrote and many student groups continued to brainstorm. Some students asked me how their work compared with that of other groups. One group ferociously flipped through a thesaurus.

2:22 came, the bell rang, and a flood of student papers were put into the class inbox. Students rushed out of the room to catch a bus, to get to practice, to meet up with friends. But, Jarred remained in his seat. He was still writing.

The clock hit 2:25. Jarred put his pencil down, walked over to me and asked, “Can you tell me if my team has the most answers? I need to know if we won!”

We looked over his answers for accuracy, and I check out other student papers. “Twenty-eight correct!” he cried. “We won!”

Time check: it was 2:30. Amazing. Jarred stuck around after class on a Friday!

Competition is one of those magical teacher tools that can trick students into behaving and into remaining interested. My best lessons tend to be the ones where I’m doing very little, and the competition today definitely allowed for students to take ownership over the activity. I didn’t do much to keep their interest because they wanted to win!

While this example of rivalry was quite intentional, I’d like to continue observing how else I might use opposition to motivate students (and to keep them from bothering me about leaving early!).

What’s so funny about middle school humor?

I stepped into school this morning with my book bag on one arm, a purse in the other, and classroom keys tucked into the mittens still on my hands. I didn’t walk more than three feet before Henry yelled to me from down the hallway, “Ms. W, tell this kid that nobody likes him!”

Thirty minutes later, I saw Henry for the first period of the day. He entered the room carrying only a handful of cereal. To anyone who might listen, he taunted, “I should have just punched that kid! Punched him!”

Here’s a secret about me: I need quiet in the morning. Although I may appear awake, I require a good twenty minutes at school before I can imagine successfully dealing with students-especially with ones that might behave negatively so early! Aren’t kids supposed to build up to that level of pessimism throughout the day?

Today was the day to think thoughts of Doug Lemov and his strategies for building character and trust.

Once class began, I provided students with two options for our daily seven-minute quick write. “Pencils up,” I called. “And you may begin!”

Most students began furiously writing, however, Henry called out, “No!”

This child, as much as I do often enjoy his presence in class, was pushing me down a dark path by the time the clock struck 8:15 am.

I walked quickly to his desk and knelt down beside him. I looked him in the eye, and calmly whispered, “It’s important that you keep your comments inside your head. Remember, my job is to help you be a better learner, and it’s difficult to give instructions to improve your skills if there is a negative comment blurted out.”

He smiled. “But I was just kidding! I guess you don’t like my jokes.”

Think, Lemov, I told myself! Use “positive framing” to assume the best intentions of this student. “I like your jokes,” I told him, “but Henry, I would appreciate them more at the end of class. They don’t fit during instruction because they make it hard for me to teach.”

Henry is a good kid. He’s immature (and sometimes downright annoying), but this morning, at 8:17, he took out his pencil and started writing. (This focus lasted until I assigned homework at the end of class, and he declared with a smirk that he was going to “throw this out the window.” I think it’s fair to say that I had trouble appreciating any of Henry’s jokes today.)

Before I started my graduate program in education, I spent some time observing a teacher who frequently reacted to her students with emotion. She would get visibly upset when a student failed to comply and would often engage in a yelling match, which always resulted in the child going to the office. It wasn’t until I worked with a veteran special education teacher that I realized an instructor could calmly and effectively deal with a discipline issue.

Of course it’s easiest to use “positive framing” and “emotional consistency” when I’m tracking it, or well rested, or feeling healthy, but the bottom line is that these strategies are an integral part of a productive learning environment. Assuming they are given at the expected times (and I’m patient enough to give reminders if they aren’t), here’s to finding Henry’s jokes funny tomorrow…



The troubles with wishing November away…

Throughout his writing, Eckhart Tolle often discusses the significance of remaining present in the current moment. He would not be very pleased with me this month, as quite frankly, I couldn’t wait for November to end! With the chaos of workshops and teaching and the start of the holidays, I’ve been ready to say goodbye to this month for quite some time.

Additionally, I looked forward to December because my attempt at better structuring and delivering my lessons with the help of Teach like a Champion has been mediocre at best. In reflecting, I had originally thought that my lack of consistency and enthusiasm was a result of distracted

focus and familiarity with some of the strategies.

And then there was an “ah-ha” moment:

I was sitting in a waiting room reading Mary Pipher’s Writing to Change the World, when I was reminded of how difficult it is to get people to change. In her chapter about the “psychology of change,” she says, “Asking people to monitor a specific aspect of their lives or their culture can be an effective form of intervention. Therapists ask clients to count how many times a week they have fun or do a good deed, or gamble or shout at their kids. Just quantifying events increases awareness and enhances potential for change.”

That’s it! Unlike in the months of September and October, I failed to keep a daily calendar to track each time I used one of Lemov’s strategies. In the midst of feeling busy and perhaps like I already used some techniques, I completely blew off a record to quantify the progress towards my goal. I’m left feeling guilty and somewhat unsatisfied (much like those days I talk myself out of going to the gym because of x, y, or z).

What I’ve most enjoyed about this Teacher Project experiment is my heightened level of consciousness in the classroom. If I need a calendar to continue the clarity so be it! A chart and a little accountability for December it is…

There’s no such thing as sitting still in middle school.

With the anticipation of Thanksgiving break, today was a day where students were going to fidget whether or not I intended it.  Jackie turned his hat around on his head so that the brim was facing front and then back at least fifteen times during our reading. Liz dropped her pencil on the floor and had to pick it up once, then twice, and then yet a third time. Dan read his Chinese Cinderella book from a few positions: first in his desk, then on the floor, and finally standing up in the back of the room. It’s true that this movement had the potential to drive me absolutely crazy, however, I somehow managed to take the higher road and put Doug Lemov’s “take a stand” to work.

In his chapter about better structuring and delivering lessons, Lemov suggests that expert teachers require students to use hand motions and other physical gestures to show their understanding. Ah ha! The problem in the room wasn’t the energy! It was figuring out how I could refocus the energy toward the day’s learning objective: actively reading Chinese Cinderella to explore how Chinese culture has changed over time.

I summoned my “strong voice,” speaking slowly and quietly to gain student attention. Once students had finished recording their thinking about the book on graphic organizers, I asked, “By a show of hands, how many of you think Niang knows that Adeline went to the birthday party?” A few hands went up in the air. Seventh grade faces moved right and left to see which hands were raised.

“Would you raise your hand if you think Niang will somehow find out that Adeline has been to the party?” Several more hands waved in the air.

“How many of you think Adeline should be punished for her behavior?” No hands went up. I smiled, knowing that no seventh grader in his or her right mind would agree with consequences.

After we read about five more pages, I began to poll students again with questions related to the book. However, this time I asked them to stand next to their desk to show their understanding.

I directed, “Stand up if you think Adeline’s Catholic school shows evidence of ancient China.” A few students stood up. “Stand up if you think the democratic school election shows change since the ways of ancient Chinese life.” Nearly all students stood up. And the questions continued.

While there were several times today when I had to refocus students by restating “what to do” or by using my “strong voice” to get “100 percent,” I do feel like a bit of energy was put to good use through Lemov’s “take a stand.” What impresses me about this strategy is the fact that it gets all kids participating quickly. The quiet students and the vocal students have an equal say in demonstrating their thinking to the class.

During my first year teaching, I was lucky enough to watch a veteran special education teacher use this strategy often, and I have tried to emulate it ever since. Teach like a Champion reminds me of the importance of “take a stand” in the classroom for the communication of student understanding and for my own personal sanity in harnessing middle school energy. Bring on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving!

A mid-month reflection: It’s time to start acting my age…

Here’s the embarrassing truth:

As soon as the students exit class at 2:22 each day, I do a quick scan around the room for stray books, pencils and sweatshirts that remain and do some minor cleaning. This afternoon, I let out a short groan as I bent down and picked up a highlighter off the floor. Much to my surprise, a darling former student was brave enough (or sassy enough as I like to tell her) to call me out on it.

“Ms. W!” she exclaimed. “Ahhhh…,” she imitated. “How old are you anyway? You sound like my grandfather.”

On a good day, this is one of the reasons why I love working with middle school students. They call it like they see it.

As a result of this exchange, I’ve realized two things:

  1. I’m feeling exhausted and need Thanksgiving break for rejuvenation.
  2. Despite my exhaustion, I need to act my age, 28-not 78.


In looking at the first half of November, I’ve definitely been able to try out and reflect upon a few of Doug Lemov’s techniques for better structuring and delivering lessons. I’ve consciously planned and observed the way that I’ve used “circulate,” “name the steps,” “board=paper,” “break it down,” and “the hook” during teacher directed portions of my lessons.

However, I’m finding it difficult to meet all of the demands of November’s goal. While I am willing to be cognizant about my instruction, I’m feeling like some of the challenge is missing as I am quite familiar with most of the strategies as presented in this month’s Teach like a Champion chapter. If I’m being totally honest, I’m also battling the urge to shut down and tune into holiday/vacation mode.

Not good.

Regardless, I technically have only five teaching days left in November, and there’s quite a bit of work to do.  I still intend to observe and reflect upon how I currently use and can more frequently implement “exit tickets,” “at bats,” “ratio,” “take a stand,” and “check for understanding.” I just need to hang on to my dwindling motivation (and to stop sounding like Janie’s elderly grandfather)…

Who knew good communication with seventh graders would take so much practice?

In thinking about “the hook”:

It may not be totally true that I had to a drive a boat of a car after I got my license and my sister got the adorable Jetta she always wanted, but this was the story I spun for my lesson’s “hook” this morning. Students sat wide-eyed as I dramatically described the inequalities that my parents allowed between the two of us growing up (sorry Mom and Dad-it was for the good of the children!).

Student hands waved wildly in the air when I asked if anyone could recall and share a similar example of unfairness. One student said, “My sister can say any swear word she wants, but if I say one I get in trouble.” Another complained that he once “got in trouble for something his three-year old brother did because he was the oldest.” Despite some of the superficial connections, students were ready to encounter inequalities among siblings as chapter nine of Chinese Cinderella unfolded. Thank you storytelling!

I remained hopeful to have as much excitement and buy-in during the next activity. Using Lemov’s “name the steps” could only help my chances…

In thinking about “name the steps”:

As a result of the persistent mother of a student with special needs, I have reworked many larger projects and formal writing pieces to include a checklist of “expected steps.” These have been difficult for me to create because they require the explicit understanding and articulation of exactly what a student should do (including those steps I tend to take for granted, like knowing that you need to proofread and make revisions or knowing that you need to save your work with a name that relates to the document subject).

After reading today, student groups worked together to create PowerPoint presentations that illustrated how Chinese government has changed over time. Because this project was rather large (and because I had to spend so much time discussing “good” group member behavior), I decided to provide a checklist to “name the steps.”

Their first goal for the task read:

“Step 1: Read all articles in your packet. This may be done by reading independently and highlighting important details or by reading aloud as a group and highlighting important details.”

Most of the students began by reading the steps and following the directions accurately. Most kids even drew a line through the task once it was completed. Of course I still got a, “what should I do after this?” and a, “what should our first slide look like?” In an effort to make learners more self-directed, I reminded them to, “Reread the checklist. I would be happy to answer any questions that remain.” There were no further questions once this reminder was given.

What I like most about “name the step” is that all students have a fair shot at meeting the learning objectives through clearly set expectations. Today’s PowerPoint checklist is a concrete example of how I communicate expected steps, but without the presentation of a big project or paper, I’m still wondering how consistently I’m providing this message. From a teacher that learned to stop asking kids to “run” to the bathroom because they literally did just that, I’m still fine tuning this instructional skill of communication…

Just another game of Space Invaders…

A former student of mine once complained to his special education teacher that he couldn’t stand me because I was always “in his space.” At the time his teacher shared this with me, I remember wanting to scream:

Thank you for noticing! Yes, Theo, I am always in your space! Without me over your shoulder, you would use my class for naps, breakfast, and occasionally passing gas loud enough to distract everyone sitting near you!

If I wanted “100 percent” compliance, an average day with Theo required me to crouch down to provide individual instructions often, to touch the book on his desk when it was time to begin silent reading and to him next to him until he began writing tasks. Of course I was in his space! As I think back to Theo, his complaint reminds me that perhaps I’ve always had a bit of an instinct to “circulate” around the classroom to hold students accountable and prevent poor student behavior.


While there’s always been an impulse, my thinking about “circulating” has changed:

As a new teacher, I was on my feet every moment of class. I feared chaos if I wasn’t ready to move at the drop of a hat. My slowly developing confidence in teaching (and some small classes of 10 and 11 students) allowed me to experiment with just how often I was up and moving around the room. At times over the past two years, I often considered my classes well behaved if I could participate in silent reading or quick writing without leaving my own desk in the middle of the room.  I found myself wondering if the ultimate test of classroom management was how students would behave without me standing on top of them.

This year, I’m noticing that my larger classes and larger population of active teenage boys make it nearly impossible for me to do anything but “circulate” (in fact, some days I feel like I should skip the gym as a result of my classroom walking!).

Today alone, “circulating” among student table groups allowed me to:

*get students using capitalization and correct punctuation,

*stop strange whistling and humming noises,

*get students following directions,

*examine the quality of notes taken,

*get Jake to wear his glasses,

*answer a few clarifying questions,

*redirect learners to the task at hand, and

*to give hints about blank review sheet answers.


My thinking about teacher presence in the classroom still changes…

I am partial to the idea of  invading the space of student’s like Theo (and this year, many others), but I’m also left wondering about what kind of impact this strategy has on students that need to improve on being more independent and self-directed learners. “Helicopter parents” don’t allow kids to practice problem solving skills, and similarly, I’m wondering about how a constant teacher presence “circulating” in the classroom impacts a child’s ability to work autonomously and confidently. I think it makes a difference depending on what type of details the teacher chooses to “sweat” during trips around the classroom; however, I still can’t help but wonder if looking over the shoulder of all students is the way to go.


If only I had a magic wand…

Once upon a time, there was a magical teacher. She was fair and kind and always knew how to help students learn. When she waved her teaching wand, her students became captivated by her each and every word…

Well, perhaps it didn’t happen just like this, but in the spirit of story, using Lemov’s “the hook” reminded me of the power it is capable of having.

I can’t remember the last time I initiated a lesson by telling a story. Once and a while the students will catch me at a weak moment, and I might break out into a quick anecdote (particularly when my male students do strange things, and I’m reminded of my brother), but I don’t tend to reveal personal connections or experiences through the form of story.

This morning, I displayed the title page of a “Chinese Culture” PowerPoint slide show, stood at the front of the room, and said to the class, “Let me tell you about my Uncle Jim. He’s visited China several times, and he almost got into trouble once when he was staying outside one of the country’s major cities…”

I went on to describe how my Uncle was wearing a gold wedding band and watch and the way that he was warned not to show off “American riches” or risk being mugged or injured. I emphasized some details of the story and changed the volume and pacing of my speech for dramatic effect.

Seventh grade eyes focused only on me.

I continued to talk and even moved to the back of the room. Without my asking, seventh grade bodies turned. Eyes stuck to me as I neared the conclusion of my story.

“What do you think he did?” I asked.

“Took off the jewelry,” some whispered, still staring.

“Put the watch away,” others said.

It was as if I had put them in a trance. Not once did I have to tell “what to do”-if only I had a tape recorder to play my ever repeating message of: “sitting still and making eye contact shows me that you’re listening.” My story had completely distracted them from all else.

Maybe I don’t have a magic wand, and perhaps I’ll never be a teacher capable of casting “listening” spells, but for today, I certainly felt capable of enchantment. Bring on Tuesday!