If you are working on this Saturday evening…

As you feel yourself drowning due to ever-increasing time demands, step back. Pause to ask yourself, “Is there an easier way?” Other questions naturally follow.

Can I find something on Teachers Pay Teachers? What other site might have a lesson or some materials I can use? Can I ask a friend for help? How about the teacher next door? Who else can help me? What would another good Google search reveal? What are some different groups of search terms I could try? Can I ask the Principal for professional development in this area?


Step back. Sometimes teachers work so hard that they don’t work smart. Teachers as a group work nights and week-ends regularly. We’re really good at that. But we can get so buried trying to plan for the future and catch up on the past that we don’t take advantage of resources and people who can help us.

Eduhonesty: On those long nights, at some point stop to ask yourself a few questions. In particular, ask yourself, “Do I need to do this? Is this the best and easiest way to finish my task? How could I work smarter?”

Not as simple as the video suggests

From http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2015/10/30/students-walk-out-for-fired-deputy.html:

“Hundreds of students walked out of Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina on Friday morning in support of the deputy sheriff who was fired after violently arresting a black student. Students reportedly chanted “Free Fields” in support of Ben Fields, a school resource officer and football coach who was caught on tape forcibly removing a black student from her desk, allegedly because she was disrupting class. The students walked into the school atrium and then returned to class after administrators addressed them.”

Eduhonesty: Our students know who is on their side. They know when someone is trying to help them. They also know when someone is hurting them. That girl who refused to give up her cell phone hurt every student in that class — and I’m sure almost all or all of them realize this fact.

I find the words “allegedly because she was disrupting class” to be offensive. No “allegedly” exists here. When you repeatedly ignore a teacher’s instructions, then an administrator’s, and then a cop’s, you have successfully disrupted the class. She knew she had done this. She was probably enjoying herself, too.

I hope she’s not still enjoying herself, but I wouldn’t be too sure that she’s not. She caused the chaos she intended. She got the attention she wanted.

Eduhonesty: A thought based on some feedback I received to my Raven-Symone post: The actual process of managing that cell phone may have taken closer to a full half-hour rather than eight minutes. First the teacher tried to manage the phone, making multiple requests asking the girl to put the phone away. Then an administrator was called in and tackled the issue without success. Then the school decided the cops were needed. That exchange added more time, spawning the viral videos across the internet. If a full half-hour was taken up by this issue, assuming 25 classmates, that totals 12.5 hours of lost learning time — more like the equivalent of two full school days total. The average class period runs a little less than an hour, so that phone problem maybe took up 1/10 of the total time available for that class for the whole week.





“I don’t know” is not the answer

(Another tip for newbies and other interested readers.)

Some students don’t even bother with the “I don’t know.” Some just shrug. Others look sideways at friends, hoping someone else will provide an answer. Here’s the thing: You can’t let your students off the hook.

If Jon or Jasmine can’t answer, you might first try to provide clues. You could give Jon the first part of the answer or a big, fat hint. You might ask if another student can help Jon. If Jon remains lost, you can ask another student, shifting attention elsewhere to get the answer you need. But Jon or Jasmine can’t be left to sit in blissful ignorance.

It is NOT OK not to try. So if Jon shrugs, ask D’Andre. When D’Andre responds, have Jon tell the class what D’Andre said. However you finally manage to get that answer out into the room, make sure that Jon or Jasmine repeats the answer for the class. You might then add a question that forces Jon or Jasmine to clarify the answer. Reinforcement will help the whole class to remember.

Eduhonesty: Teachers can be too sensitive. We are taught not to embarrass students, so sometimes we move on when a student appears lost, letting that student retreat while other students step up to answer our questions. The problem arises when students take advantage of our kindness and opt out of the learning process. Too many shrugs and a kid can get so far behind academically that catching up becomes next to impossible.

Keep everyone in the spotlight regularly* so that all students believe that you expect them to be ready for class.

*A truly unusual situation, such as a severe anxiety disorder, may call for you to give a student a pass on that spotlight.


Thoughts on cheating

For writing purposes, I spent a few hours reading or trying to read about students and cheating yesterday. I looked up articles and research. As with drop-out rates, the numbers are fuzzy. No one knows what percentage of students are cheating. If you include copying other student’s papers, that number may run as high as 97%. Different studies indicate that from 80% to 97% of high-school students admit to some type of cheating. Many students no longer regard copying as cheating. That’s “helping” in student terms.

At the end, I felt a profound sense of disquiet. These numbers are impossible to nail down, and not because of the many sources available. Relatively few sources are available, given the importance of the topic. Reading between the lines, teachers and other educators seem to have tossed up their hands.

Where is the indignation? Where are the attempts to define the concept “cheating” and to then quantify that topic? Those efforts exist, but systematic work designed to attack the problem appears to be almost absent.  In the meantime, we are left with small studies and anecdotal evidence, much of it more than a decade old. Those old numbers are still floating around the internet, I suspect, because not enough new numbers have been created to replace them.

To quote an ABC news article at http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=132376&page=1:

“Authoritative numbers are hard to come by, but according to a 2002 confidential survey of 12,000 high school students, 74 percent admitted cheating on an examination at least once in the past year.”

That’s exam cheating. That’s 2002. What is happening on a daily basis? The situation cannot be improving. For one thing, about the only penalty left for cheating is a failing grade and teachers usually just stick a zero into the gradebook for that one instance of cheating, leaving public school students likely to pass at semester’s end, despite having been caught cheating.

I also think the demand for daily group work in some classrooms may be aiding and abetting cheating, as students learn to “work together” on papers. Too often, “work together” means that Maisie writes the paper and other group members write a version of Maisie’s paper. Sometimes those other students hardly bother to change the verbiage. I don’t know if Maisie thinks she is “helping” them. More probably, like my daughters in high school, she thinks, “Well, somebody’s got to write this paper. I need the grade. I guess I’m stuck again.”

Another quote from the ABC news article:

“There’s other people getting better grades than me and they’re cheating. Why am I not going to cheat? It’s kind of almost stupid if you don’t,” said Joe.

One interesting note that struck me during my internet wanderings: Joe may not be at the bottom of his class. He may be at the top. In this time when competition to get into the best colleges has become absolutely cutthroat, students at the top are justifying cheating as necessary to their long-term life success. That’s quite a moral whammy to work into the fabric of our society.

For readers who are interested, I’ll offer a few websites you might read in your spare time.






(The phrase “teachers’ spare time” during the late fall can only be considered an oxymoron, but maybe some readers want to explore this topic further. For one thing, I’d bet many newbies are beginning to sense how large this problem has become in the average classroom.)


It’s not just a cell phone


Returning to yesterday’s topic, I want to emphasize a key point: Those cell phone dust-ups are not victimless crimes. All the kids in that classroom lost a considerable amount of learning time to that girl’s refusal to obey her teacher, I am sure not for the first time. News reports tend to trivialize the infraction here. It’s not a large infraction in the sense that the girl did not throw her Principal to the floor or smack her teacher across the face. Let’s be clear though: what she did was to hijack her classroom, so that all learning ground to a halt.

Poor and urban schools suffer academically from these shenanigans regularly. Government reports document a much higher average rate of disciplinary referrals in these schools. The activities that lead to these referrals are NOT victimless offenses. Five minutes here, five minutes there and pretty soon hours of the academic week have disappeared, stolen from students who need that time much more than their counterparts in calmer zip codes.

Will somebody get Raven-Symone’s back?


Raven-Symone is causing controversy for The View once again, as she appeared to sympathize with the officer in the Spring Valley High School assault. South Carolina Deputy Ben Fields has since been fired from his job for the way he removed a student–who wouldn’t get off her cell phone–from a classroom at the school. Footage of Fields’ removal of said student shows him flipping her desk over and dragging her across the floor. It has since gone viral. “The girl was told multiple times to get off her phone,” Raven-Symone said during the show’s roundtable discussion, adding, “There was no reason for him to be doing this type of harm. It’s ridiculous, but at the same time you’ve got to follow the rules in school.”

Apparently, Twitter fans and others are landing on Raven-Symone hard again. The girl’s getting slammed on social media. Her last recent dust-up involved African-American names.

“I’m not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea. It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to hire you,” she said.

She apologized after her father chided her and I did appreciate the irony of a girl named Raven-Symone coming out against unusual names.

But I’d also like to support this girl. She knows the politically correct thing to say. I’m sure of it. She just… isn’t. She isn’t saying what she knows she is supposed to say. Instead she is saying what she thinks.

I understand why she backed off on Watermelondrea. No one should be discriminated against because of a name. But, unfortunately, a dialog stopped there that ought to be part of the American conversation. While no one’s chances of getting hired should be affected by their name, the fact is that the name on a resume matters.

Research shows that Andrew has a much greater chance of getting an interview than D’Africanus. Frequently, people interpreting that research point to racism as a possible cause. I am sure that racism forms part of the picture. Other times, though, I’d bet that some person trying to make a team looks at that unique name and thinks that D’Africanus may be less of a team-player than Daniel. Prejudice can be overt or latent.

Prejudice or not, a resume’s objective is to get a person in the door. Will the average corporation even interview an applicant named Furious? I’d say that Furious will need more and better credentials than the average bear just to get a chance to talk to somebody. He’s starting at a disadvantage — whether that ought to be true or not.

The thing Raven-Symone might have discussed which ought to be on the table is this: How can we best set our kids up for success? The research says mainstream names help. That research should be a consideration when picking out baby names, I’d say. If Raven-Simone might toss a resume in the round file because of a name, how many other people will do this?

As far as the girl and her cell phone, yes, that guy used far too much force, completely over-the-top for a cell phone, that’s for sure. But Raven-Symone had a point. The girl in that video had ignored multiple polite requests to do the right thing. While doing so, she stole a great deal of time from classmates.

Let’s say her drama took 8 minutes, including off-camera phone requests that made regular distractions. If she has 25 classmates, that’s 200 minutes of learning time lost, or about 3 1/3 hours. Similar phone events are taking place in classrooms all over America and the time loss from that refusal to cooperate is sucking away days of learning time — and proportionally more days of learning time in urban, academically-disadvantaged areas, the areas that need that learning time the most. Government statistics bear that out. (Click on the picture to get the big view. My mom did not know that.) discipline chart Readers, if you comment on social media, I’d like to suggest you give Raven-Symone some positive feedback for expressing honest opinions. The force of social media scares many people now, people who doublespeak and/or refrain from speaking for fear of causing offense. I, for one, would like to stand up for an honest girl. Please pass this post on if you agree.

P.S. The text of my own social media comment: I love Raven-Symone. She says what she thinks. While the officer definitely went too far, more consideration should be given to the learning time this girl was taking away from all of her classmates. If her drama takes 8 minutes and there are 25 kids in class, that totals 200 minutes or 3 1/3 hours of learning lost. What gives phone-girl the right to do that to all of those other students and that teacher?

My personal solution for somnolent students

Is Rafael nodding off? Does Sarah tend to put her head on her desk? You can find all sorts of advice to deal with the problem of sleepyheads.

Calling home to alert parents may help. Maybe Rafael has been playing computer games all night. Maybe Sarah has been texting friends or trying to defeat Rafael in his virtual quest. Electronics create many drowsy, sluggish students nowadays. Lack of food can sometimes be a factor. Some kids just have trouble waking up. An ample amount of research shows we are starting school before many of our students come to full consciousness.


In any case, I practice my operatic voice on these students. Make a joyful noise. Or make a loud, operatic noise anyway. Make it up as you go.

“Rafael, you are sleeping again. Oh, Rafael, you cannot sleep. You must wake up, wake up, wake up. Oh, Rafael, sleeping in class is bad. You cannot sleep, you silly lad. Tra la la” Etc.

The kids will laugh and if your voice is as bad as mine, I guarantee Rafael will be up and begging for mercy pretty quickly.

We need to relax

The tall, attractive, brunette nurse I was conversing with has two girls, ages 4 and 9. Her youngest is about to enter kindergarten and she is worried because her district’s kindergarten runs only 2 hours and 45 minutes, a short half-day. She asked me if I thought half-day kindergarten would put her youngest child at a disadvantage. All these other districts seemed to have full-day kindergartens now. Would her daughter’s lack of academic exposure at the age of 5 interfere with her future scholastic excellence?

Sigh. Mom is a Polish immigrant living in an excellent elementary district. Students who stay in that district feed into some of the best high schools in the nation. Her 4-year-old girl has an academically-motivated family and will be attending a school with money to burn and strong community support. The state report card for the school looks like this: greenbriar

I reassured mom, pointing out that children in Finland start school at 7 years of age and seem to be cleaning many other countries’ scholastic clocks.

We need to relax. You can teach a two-year-old child the alphabet in a month or two. You can teach that same child the alphabet two years later in a week. If parents are having fun singing letters at their toddlers, I see no reason to stop the songs. But we are pushing academics at younger and younger ages, and I find that worrisome. Learning should be fun for little kids.

That half-day kindergarten does not seem to have been doing Greenbriar’s students any harm.

P.S. Readers may note the fall in scores from 2012 to 2013. Across Illinois schools fell during those years, as Illinois changed scoring so that school scores would not take a dramatic plunge over the cliff when students took the new PARCC exams. Greenbriar’s fall is actually quite gentle compared to many others across the state.

Lesson plans should be guidelines — not requirements

(A post mostly for newbies. Again, for new readers, please pass this URL on to any new teachers or others who you think might enjoy the read.)

If students are asking lots of questions about your expectations for an assignment, somehow something has gone wrong. Your clear, concise directions missed their target. Please don’t feel that’s a criticism. When a teacher knows exactly how a process works, that teacher can easily make assumptions about student background knowledge. Especially new teachers may be surprised by the knowledge or lack of knowledge that their students are bringing to the table.

Just because changing fractions to decimals was in the previous year’s curriculum, that doesn’t mean that most of your students retained that knowledge. We are going fast — often too fast, in my opinion — in order to hit demanding, curricular goals. Many portions of the preceding year’s curriculum will probably require review. So what do you do if you are trying to explain the day’s assignment and you find yourself encountering a forest of questions and a sea of hands?

You probably should adapt or drop your assignment. Yes, that assignment is in the lesson plan. But if a large group seems confused and you only have a few minutes before the end of class, you will be better off giving students a pass on homework for the night. You don’t want students to spend their evening butchering your reinforcement activity. Fixing bad habits later will slow you down much more than waiting another day and taking review time to get ready for that assignment.

Spell it all out

Like all of us, students achieve their best results when they know exactly what they are supposed to be doing. Incomplete directions frequently lead to incomplete assignments. If you assign problems 1 -20, but only talk about 1 -10, some students will leave off the last half of the assignment. No one in the room hears 100% of what you say. Even the most attentive students drift off, distracted by sirens, birds in flight, classmates picking noses, or any of the myriad details of daily life that happen around instruction.

I talked about the temporal latte effect a couple of posts back. One way to prevent learning time loss during times other than transitions is make sure you cover all your expectations — then repeat the high points of what you covered. Repetition costs a little time, but can have a hefty payback. Thirty extra seconds of directions can recover hours of lost learning time, ensuring that some assignments will be done that otherwise might have slipped away.