Learning Standards Are Not Hair Ties

I sent my eldest to grab some hair ties for me at Target. She came back with about 40 of them, all black. I’d have chosen differently, but so what? I simply said thank you. I now have an abundance of plain, black hair ties. They work fine. When the stakes are low enough, unexpected or even wacky choices don’t matter. As the stakes go up, though, choices should receive consideration and scrutiny after the fact. I’d suggest that where educational policy is concerned, choices should even carry with them evaluation periods and pilot programs.

Learning standards. The words sound so simple, so innocuous — the Common Core Learning Standards. Our shift to the Common Core standards has been sucking up enormous amounts of time and money — and will continue to do so. Shifting away from those sometimes unfortunate standards will require even more time and money.  New standards require many meetings and professional developments to teach to educators, as well as new lesson plans, new lesson sequences, and often new books and software.

“Bad news for supporters of national education curriculum: States with education standards most closely aligned to Common Core fared worse on math tests than states with their own standards, according to a new study.” http://dailycaller.com/2014/03/18/common-core-gets-awful-review-in-new-study/The study, conducted by the Brookings Institution, compared standardized test scores for all 50 states over the last five years. It found that states using education standards that are most dissimilar to Common Core tended to score the highest on math.

Check out http://www.nationalreview.com/article/373840/ten-dumbest-common-core-problems-alec-torres for a little graveyard humor on the Common Core standards.

[1] I don’t know whether to hope the Common Core survives this administration or not. The Core has serious flaws in my view, especially in its non-research-based expectations for students in earlier grades and lack of planning for alternative high school programs beyond the one goal of college, college, college. But rewriting all those standards and making everyone drop everything to learn another new set of standards… Again! …Aaghh. We would probably minimize our pain by fixing the Core, rather than creating yet more standards. The whole situation reminds me of a North Shore remodeling run amuck, where a too-wealthy, too-bored trophy wife keeps changing her mind about floors, fabrics, paints and lighting until nothing works and nobody knows what to expect. We don’t need to create the perfect standards as much as we need to find a good set of robust, adaptable standards that we can and will stick with – allowing for much needed continuity of instruction. The Core has played hell with that continuity, incidentally. That’s a major part of the reason my students were drowning that last year.

I don’t know whether to hope Trump succeeds in scuttling the Core.

Changing learning standards should never be taken lightly.

Continuing — Standards Gone Astray

The Common Core has shifted the emphasis in reading toward nonfiction. I will not take issue with the Core’s new emphasis, except to say that districts must be careful not to leap too exclusive onto that expository bandwagon. Our critical thinking requires access to words and many words simply never make their way into nonfiction literature. Others pop up only rarely.

“And the ring had fit him very well. Yet, now it spun round, loose and wobbling. His appetite had been poor, of late. The wooden platter of bread still sat. Drying out, untouched. The cheese looked crusted. Almost brittle.

 Was that a mouse he had seen, scuttling away?

In nonfiction, no one scuttles. Few things wobble. And the cheese hardly every becomes untouched, crusted and almost brittle.

Eduhonesty: Too many standards may suck the poetry out of English and language arts classes. Real-life events supplant imagination. Diaphanous images are replaced with concrete instructions. What words are perishing, as standards shove our souls into chutes. forcing us to crawl in serpentine fashion toward this new, more-prosaic world?



A Brief Explanation of Why the Standards Movement Hurts Kids

Districts start with a set of standards, most lately the Common Core. District leaders then craft a curriculum based on those standards. They require teachers to teach the full curriculum — often at exactly the same pace with the same materials — because the new standards-based curriculum includes all the items expected to be on the annual state test.

Pity the kids in this scenario who are not functioning at grade level.

Simply, when a fully fleshed-out curriculum becomes obligatory, the absence of time for remedial instruction can become a crucial barrier to learning. No substitute exists for remediation time, but pre-established demands can squeeze out that remediation time. When a standard eats all the minutes available for the week’s instruction, those kids who have fallen behind will have made no progress catching up.

Before-school, lunch and after-school tutoring seldom solve the problem. A few extra hours of help per week will not catch up a student who has fallen years behind classmates. Older students often tend to avoid tutoring, too. It’s embarrassing for a middle-school student to admit he or she can’t read. Sometimes students can’t come early or stay late for family reasons. Maybe they have to babysit. Or they have to take the bus because no one can drop them off or pick them up.

Rigid curricula resulting from the standards-based movement have been a disaster for many kids, especially our most academically-challenged kids.

Eduhonesty: The above is a picture of an obligatory, standards-based test given to a student who should never have seen that particular test. 

The Numbers that Almost Never Make their Way into the Data

Government officials measure. They measure their measurements against past measurements. No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) data-based approach always had more in common with tax accounting than education, and beleaguered teachers could only watch while NCLB led to education-by-spreadsheet, spreadsheets of test scores having become defining measures of school quality. Unfortunately, while NCLB itself has technically exited the scene — leaving little or no progress behind — that measuring goes on. State departments of education hired so many people to measure, record measurements, and assess measurements that the measuring probably cannot stop without massive layoffs in government education departments throughout the nation.

In the meantime, educational administrators in “underscoring” districts do not and frequently cannot take a long-term view of the educational process. These administrators and sometimes teachers may be anxiously trying to hold on to jobs that depend on showing elevated test scores. Our understandable, but too-often frantic, efforts to push up math and English scores at all costs are natural consequences.

In the meantime, the faces behind America’s test numbers go unseen and unrecognized. Has a district doubled its English-language learner population? Have funding losses led to increased class sizes as teachers and paraprofessionals were laid off? Has a district been forced to cut back on tutoring and other interventions because of funding or staff losses? Those numbers may not get counted, yet those numbers are crucial to understanding what is happening.

One difference that passes mostly unnoticed between wealthier and financially-disadvantaged districts can be seen in the number of qualified paraprofessionals in a district. A shortage of English or math teachers will be noticed, but a shortage of paraprofessionals seldom hits the radar. In District A, one paraprofessional may be working with six disabled children, while in District B, each of six lucky children have the good fortune to receive their own aides.  That one fact has the potential to hugely skew test scores from school to school, but will not be factored into comparisons of final test scores.

The socioeconomic status, early educational experiences, rate of vocabulary acquisition, and family situations of America’s many students form a patchwork mosaic of readiness for school and learning. Our picture has only become more complex as this country continues to diversify. We ought to at least acknowledge the power of finances, family and language background.

Yet only final test scores will be counted by state and federal government educational accountants.



ll:30 A.M. in Kindergarten: Up the Creek Looking Frantically for a Paddle

I actually got this as a sub plan. This is not a sub plan. The kindergarteners and I had a fine time but … 

You had to be there. The Principal led me to the classroom, looked around for nonexistent plans for a few seconds, saw some worksheets on desks, and said, “You can do these.” Then he quickly walked away, leaving me with no idea where my still nonexistent students happened to be located. I ran down a few fellow kindergarten teachers to tell me where to find my minions and leapt into action.

I guess this column is about what to do when you are on your own:

  1. Find fellow teachers of your subject or grade. Tell them the nature of your crisis. I’ve never had anyone refuse to help.
  2. Ask younger kids for help. Have them tell you their routine.
  3. Tell the kids that you may have to do things a little differently than their teacher. Especially if “calendar” requires software you cannot access, you are going to have to think on your feet.
  4. It’s best to stick to the routine if it’s working, but bail if it’s not working. Is “read aloud” going badly? Too many minions who are not sitting criss-cross applesauce? That regular teacher has routines and reinforcement strategies. Maybe she is using clothespins and red or green lights. Maybe the kids get strikes. You can try clothespins and strikes. You should remove disruptive elements from the crowd and sit them in less problematic places. But all those strategies tend to work more seamlessly for the man or woman the kids actually know. So if you keep having to dive out of the story for behavior management, go to Plan B. Make it individual silent reading time in our seats instead. Or make it math time. Sing a math song. Teach the kids a math song.
  5. Learn a few useful songs if you sing. Singing can bridge some challenging gaps in plan and in behavior. Young kids mostly love to sing.
  6. I know a read-aloud strategy that tends to work for me. If you can adapt books on the fly, you can usually hold onto your audience. The kids probably all know the most popular books in their class. But once you add in the aliens in their tall, brown, chocolate spaceship and describe their landing in Whoville, everybody will be listening.
  7. With older kids, start with the standards on the board nearby if you have them. Start with fellow teachers. If you are lucky, you will have a few minutes before the madness begins. Don’t be afraid to ask the office to make you a bunch of copies of the worksheets the other seventh grade math teacher was planning to use. Assuming your classes are somewhat in sync, well, you have to hand out something.
  8. Move fast. You hope to find the lesson plans that accidentally got hidden under a stack of papers. If those plans somehow don’t exist, you must find that teacher on the team who is teaching what you should be teaching. Especially if you are shaky on the subject you expect to teach, you will need written work for reinforcement that will prevent wasting even a small chunk of your students’ school year.
  9. If you end up absolutely up the creek, with no help from admin and no other teachers teaching your subject, teach anyway. I usually go to economics, student loans, the latte effect and other useful money matters. That tends to hold the attention of older students, who need to know how student loans work anyway. I find it’s a lot less stressful to share useful knowledge than to let a bunch of adolescents loose without any firm plan or expectations. With younger kids, I work on literacy.

From the Blue Room: Good luck and have a great week!

Sub Plans for the New Teacher

She may be a great sub! But don’t count on her being able to manage your Google classroom 🙂

Hi new teacher! This is not exactly a disciplinary post like the last few, although the wrong sub plans can create all sorts of disciplinary challenges. So can the wrong sub.

You want to have a relaxing professional development. You don’t want to come back to parent calls, paperwork and planning consequences. Those free-for-all days cause trouble even if nothing exactly triggered steps on the disciplinary ladder. Kids who sat next to their bestie all day may decide to push the limits when you come back, for example.

Here is the sub piece that you need to understand: Especially at first, every time you go out, you are playing sub poker. The deck probably contains aces, deuces, wildcards and everything in-between. Easier districts may have selected a fairly reliable sub pool, but tougher districts often end up accepting candidates whose main qualification is “willing to work in a middle school with few resources in the bottom 2% of state test scores where the police only come every few weeks.” Is that your school? If it is, thank you for having taken a demanding position in a place where your compassion and perseverance are desperately needed.

It helps to understand how the sub system works. Depending on where you teach, the system can differ but many districts now are using online services. You post your absence for the sub pool to see. A sub who wants to work sees that absence and clicks on some version of an accept button. Voila! You have a sub.

If you are lucky, that sub can teach. If you are lucky, that sub will teach. If you are lucky, that sub will not be bringing her own personal handouts or guitar to your classroom. At worst, your sub may carry a bundle of silent prejudices, quiet put-downs some kids will sense. I just worked with one who was receiving direct communications from the Lord. She seemed competent, and she had that classroom management piece down, but she also reminded me how little we know about these strangers who enter our classrooms.

Here are a few tips for those sub plans:

  1. Leave extra and even extra, extra work. You might be tempted to leave one reading and a related worksheet that would take you and your classes a full class period. But you would take the time to teach the contents of the reading, and go over sections with students. The sub may just instruct students to pass out the papers and sit down at your desk to text her friends. Seriously. It happens. Even if the sub walks around the room, he or she may not interact much with students. You want students to be occupied for the entire period. So leave assignments two and three for when students are done with their first task. Or leave specific instructions for where they can go on their devices when they are done.
  2. I personally suggest avoiding device-dependent lesson plans. Things go wrong. Then subs without passwords and/or tech chops have to figure out what to do. Many subs are retired teachers. Not all of them are conversant with the latest Google Doc Google Classroom Google World life in their old schools. Also those kids who want to go to their lockers for earbuds or chargers become one more complication as students try to test sub limits. Can the ten of us who are all suddenly having bathroom emergencies please all go to the bathroom at once? But it’s an emergency!
  3. Paper is your friend, except for the part where you have to grade that huge stack of papers. For one thing, paper assignments keep your students off devices. That sub who sits down at your desk? She’s not watching what is happening on student devices. She should be, but woulda, coulda, shouda… Sub plans that allow the sub to say, “please close your Chromebooks” help ensure that inappropriate behavior does not become an issue for you when you return to school.  I suggest leaving instructions that students are not to use electronics while you are absent, unless you know you can trust those classes and you have a natural reason to use devices, such as a project due within the next few days.
  4. Keep it simple. Don’t expect the sub to be able to do your routine unless you leave extremely-detailed instructions — which is fine, but tough to do. You probably don’t realize all the little things you are including in your morning routine. If you want to note them all down and prepare your lesson plan as you go through a day, well, your sub will probably be impressed and happy to see how well you planned.
  5. Avoid group activities. Even if you can write down all your groups and how they function, they will probably not function as well for a sub, unless that sub works in your classroom regularly. The sub most likely does not know your students and that’s the main problem. When Jon decides to go work with another group, because his friend Eric is in that group, the sub won’t know, not at first. Jon may take advantage of the situation. All your little tools to keep groups in line may be unfamiliar to the sub as well. The “strikes” you give for off-task behavior? The sub may not know to give those “strikes” and kids may not take a sub’s strikes seriously anyway.
  6. If you do have a strong reason to group, spell out expectations for group behavior in advance of your absence. I’d recommend doing this more than once. Any group arrangements should be practiced if possible so students know exactly where to go.
  7. The easiest plan is an appropriate, useful reading for all with a set of questions related to that reading. Too long will be better than too short. You might group quietly by having different readings for different groups. Some class compositions truly are not meant for any version of whole-group instruction.
  8. Did the sub do a great job? Hunt that sub down! Put him or her on your preferred list. Get a phone number. The more you can avoid random placements, the better.
  9. Praise your sub, too. Tell the administration what a great job that sub did. Like teachers, subs too often do not get enough credit for excellent work.

You Don’t Have to Be Nice — Continuing the New Teacher Disciplinary Implosion Posts

You don’t have to smile all the time. You don’t have to seem warm and fuzzy. If you are doing your job, your students will sense your effort and commitment. You may not be a “popular” teacher, but your students will have your back. Sometimes I think education classes underestimate America’s children. Children know when people are trying to help them.

I saw a poster in a classroom yesterday that I liked:

As long as your kids understand your mission, you will be fine whether you can manage warm, fuzzy and fine or not.

Eduhonesty: One difficult part of classroom management for some starting teachers is a natural inclination toward the warm and fuzzy. You love kids, right? Most people who go into teaching love kids. That’s why they decide to teach, foregoing twice their starting salary by studying differentiation strategies instead of engineering.

But warm and fuzzy can be antithetical to classroom management. The degree of warm and fuzzy you can get away with will depend on the size and composition of your class, as well as your own ability to project authority. If projecting authority does not come naturally to you, warm and fuzzy may translate into “Yes, teacher, we will start the work as soon as we finish this game” or a sea of conversations that block all your best attempts to explain a set of directions.

You have to feel out this piece of advice for yourself. Maybe warm and fuzzy has been working great for you this year. Some teachers can get all the content across while still being a teacherly version of a Care Bear. If so, kudos, and feel free to completely ignore this post!

If classroom management has been providing moments or even days of stress, though, I will make an observation: Some students will take advantage of too nice or too understanding, and it only takes a few kids going off track to take a class off track in the wrong circumstances. Yes, Joey is tired, yes, Chloe is dealing with issues at home, yes Brandon is struggling with ADHD, and Kit has an eating disorder. You want to be kind. Letting your students off the hook on any regular basis will not be helping them, however. In the end, sixth grade will follow fifth, algebra will follow pre-algebra, and your job is to get Joey, Chloe, Brandon and Kit ready for their next adventure. That may require not smiling. That may require calling home regularly to get a student to do homework and classwork. That may require detentions and consequences, as well as the easier pep talks and offers of understanding.

Strictness works when students see that you are treating all your students in the same fashion, especially when praise is regularly bestowed for honest, diligent efforts. Joey and Chloe will do their best work when they know that you are paying attention to their attempts to keep learning.

Are you, possibly, being too kind? If you are spending a lot of time managing behaviors at this point in the year, you should at least look at the possibility. More detentions and fewer smiles may provide you with a more orderly daily environment — which will boost learning and lower your own blood pressure most likely.

P.S. Putting that Jobs poster on your wall could help you as you work to suppress those natural smiles that may be complicating your personal disciplinary piece.

Hugs from the Blue Room.



Reach Out to Your Little Dreamers — Continuing the Disciplinary Implosion Posts

I taught bilingual middle school classes and I am clear on an aspect of the DACA fight that escapes many of our nation’s leaders. The stress that comes from being a dreamer child? That stress can be hell on wheels in some classrooms.

Whether it’s worrying about being deported, worrying about mom and/or dad being deported, worrying about never being able to get a college education or a professional job, all that worrying bleeds out into classrooms all over America. It’s the girl silently crying in the corner. It’s the boys and girls who start using alcohol and drugs to self-manage anxiety. It’s that kid who blows up at you when you start discussing college options, because all of the best options appear out-of-reach. I’ve written other posts about life without that critical social security number.

In this set of posts for new teachers with classes that are spinning out of control, I will simply observe that dreams may be part of your problem. Please keep in mind when you give your “so you are ready to be an astronaut or even President” speeches that some kids in your room may feel zero hope that they can even be a registered nurse — the background check shuts that down — and those kids may only be further demoralized by your speech. If you have immigrants in your room, your pep talks must be crafted carefully.

Dreamers can be tough sells where education is concerned, and tough sells often create disciplinary challenges. You may not be entirely able to solve this fact, depending on who landed in your class this year. Here’s a list of a few things that may help:

  1. Sit with those kids who are struggling, and if they tell you they see no point in education, respond that they can never know when education will be useful. I had a story of a Spanish professor who had been thrown out of Cuba and lost everything, but then became a respected university professor in a small town in Washington State. “They can take everything away from you,” he said, “but not your education.” It’s true.
  2. Sit with those kids who are struggling and just let them know that their learning matters to you, enough so that you will set aside time to make sure that they have help as they master new concepts.
  3. Enlist your problem kids to help you keep classroom order. Sometimes kids will do for their teacher what they will not do for themselves. I used to look at assignments and think, “I wish you would do this for you, not me,” but as long as I got the assignments, I could continue to work on the pep talks.
  4. Call home. Get parents to start giving education pep talks, too. They probably have been doing so for years, but sometimes you will benefit if parents understand their son or daughter needs a “booster shot.”
  5. Depending on your student and that student’s mindset, you might point out that laws change all the time, and even if the law is one way today, that does not mean that law cannot change radically in one session of Congress. I ‘d say be careful with this piece of advice, though. Your doomsayers may come back. “Yeah, they might come for us next week!” These are scary times and your students do not see Congress as their friend.
  6. Praise real efforts.
  7. In practical terms, put your disaffected dreamers near the front, and preferably not together. My seating chart would put those dreamers with hardworking students. You want elbow partners to model the behavior you are looking to create.
  8. Don’t forget to share the load. The social worker and counselors can provide a great deal of help.
  9. Remind yourself of the social forces affecting your classroom. Your classroom does not behave like Ms. Smith’s when you were in school? Your students are probably not Ms. Smith’s students — and some differences in class composition can be determinative in terms of disciplinary challenges.
  10. On the other hand, if Ms. Smith’s class looked a lot like your class, maybe you should go find Ms. Smith and ask for her advice. I guarantee you your old teacher will be happy to help and grateful to know you noticed how well her efforts worked. The odds are good that she will be delighted to see you. Teachers love to discover they inspired the kids in their care to become teachers themselves.

Eduhonesty: This post is mostly targeted to teachers of middle school and high school students, but younger students with older siblings may be grappling with dreamer challenges as well. That little girl who tells her older brother she wants to be a doctor or teacher may get slammed with the “You have no social so you can’t!” message. I would not bring dreamer issues up with younger kids, who may be blissfully oblivious, but I would be alert to the concern with even the youngest kids. A preschool class I taught in last year had two fathers facing deportation. 



When Jonah Goes Off the Rails — Continuing the Disciplinary Implosion Posts

Hello again, new teacher!

Many first graders expected to meet the Common Core standards will feel stressed and stupid. Better teachers can help control for this, but kids notice when other kids can do classwork more quickly and easily. Especially when the range in performance is great, kids at the bottom are likely to conclude other kids are smarter than they are — no matter how much time we spend emphasizing that everyone has their own special intelligences. As educational reformers raise the standards bar throughout our grades and schools, I believe one byproduct of new, tougher standards has been greater numbers of lost kids, especially in financially- and academically-disadvantaged schools.

Those lost kids are often central to classroom disciplinary meltdowns. If the day’s plan is too far from what Jonah can do, no one should be surprised when Jonah starts poking friends, tossing erasers or sketching male body parts on papers, books and desks. Incomprehensible material = boring, and bored students will find something to do with their time.

Eduhonesty: Sometimes Jonah does not need a new seat in a new seating chart as much as he needs tutoring, from you or from an outside source. Jonah may require extra time, or he may require adapted materials. If you start adapting materials, you should also start recording Jonah’s deficits. Too many adapted assignments and Jonah should be identified as a possible candidate for special education. In many districts, that special education placement will not happen without reams of documentation carefully noted down over months of observations, so the sooner you start, the better.

Student melt downs? Try extra tutoring, combined with other scaffolding and supports designed to make academic success a possibility. Many behaviors improve dramatically with hopes of academic (and social) success. When possible, involve parents in helping with challenging academics too.

And praise, praise, praise real academic successes when they occur — but only real successes. You want to avoid praising schlock work because if you praise schlock work, you will receive schlock work. That success you praise does not have to be an impeccably written paragraph; it can be any paragraph that shows thought, effort and progress toward understanding new material.

A side trip:

During my last formal year teaching, I held Saturday morning tutoring at the McDonalds near school. My kids could not pass the East Coast consulting firm-prepared, 7th grade Common Core unit tests that I was required to give them, tests set years above their benchmark-confirmed knowledge levels. They could almost never pass the quizzes based on those tests, quizzes which were required every Friday. So we met at odd hours, the afternoons being pretty much sucked up by meetings. I gave them their chance to pass quizzes. By October, we were doing alright, and by winter we were a hard-working team, but to those newbies out there who are having a tough year, I was nearly at retirement and I had an absolutely hellish September my last year. Being obliged to present incomprehensible material day-after-day gave me the toughest start I can ever remember. Once the kids understood that the whole grade was being obliged to take the same Friday quizzes and unit tests, and that I truly had no choice (the Principal had threatened to fire me if I did not go with the program, although I did not share that fact), I got the disciplinary piece in control, and we got our groove back, but I got a great firsthand look that last year at what happens when required content is incomprehensible and undoable. A class operating at a third-grade level mathematically cannot succeed on seventh-grade Common Core Unit Tests, although class members who can be convinced to attend tutoring will learn a great deal of math.

P. S. Absent more time in school, and extra tutoring, I don’t see how harder, Common Core-based tests will help disadvantaged students more than earlier state standardized tests did. But the standards movement has so much momentum that many districts no longer even question the desirability of new demands. As a teacher, you are probably writing down standards you intend to cover on your board, on poster paper, or somewhere else for students to see, making changes weekly or even daily. Even if  you go over those standards, I suspect many students pay as much attention to the week’s standards as they do to the local newspaper’s real estate section. When I see those standards written in preschool and early elementary classrooms, I laugh sometimes. Admin can’t read the lesson plan? The kids can’t read most of what’s on the board, that’s for sure.

Spending Minutes to Save Minutes — Continuing the Implosion Theme

More advice for newbies struggling with disciplinary challenges. 🙂

We are so rushed. We have units to finish, data charts to prepare, students to tutor, meetings to attend, more meetings to attend, grades to finish, comments to add to grades we must submit, parent calls to make, emails to send, Google docs to share, and so on and on and on.

This post will be a suggestion to slow down in critical places — in particular the start of the class period and that time before beginning new activities. In elementary school, I would say to slow down at transition points. Some students need repetition. They need every “t” crossed and every “I” dotted. Two extra minutes explaining your activity may save you ten minutes or more of re-explaining expectations and procedures. Those saved minutes don’t include the easier disciplinary day you will likely gain from extra explanation. Students who go off the rail in the middle of an activity? Sometimes this happens because they were not sure what to do next, so throwing erasers at Fred just seemed like a good idea in the interim.

Take your time when sharing directions and expectations. With younger kids, have them repeat the directions and expectations. With older kids, give your group ample time to ask questions. Maybe pose a few questions yourself: “Now when you finish selecting the length of your Martian months, what will you do next?”

Your goal is to keep students occupied in learning, in bell-to-bell instruction. Explicit directions help enormously. Repeating an important idea twice often helps. I once knew a calculus teacher who repeated everything she said twice. Her students stayed with her as she did this, and I am sure they had an easier time learning new content because of her slower but thorough approach.

Clearer expectations help prevent disciplinary meltdowns. Kids stay calmer when they know what to do. When students get done with Part B, you want everyone to know how to begin Part C with no detours into eraser tossing, head-butting or body-part drawing. Because, let’s face it, some kids do the darnedest things when left to their own devices.

Eduhonesty: A few extra minutes spent up front often saves chunks of time later.