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The Importance of Project-Based Learning

Author:  Steve Hiles

If you are conducting a systematic process to bring new ideas into your classroom, but you feel unsure how to start, you may find this article useful. To conduct an effective project-based learning (PBL) activity, you need to adapt to new developments and technologies that are available. It therefore makes sense to utilize the student's familiarity with technology from a young age in order to maximize their engagement in the classroom.

PBL in the elementary grades contains classroom-tested guidance, including step-by-step instructions and tips on how to use planning tools. This can be used in development workshops or just as a stand-alone guide. PBL is well designed to show results. The self-directed lessons require lots of advance planning and preparation.

These lessons begin with an idea and an essential question that the student must seek answers for. It is important to know that content standards have to be addressed when designing the project. Once your elementary grade students have devised a plan, they can integrate it into many subjects.

Having the right materials and resources accessible to the students is important. To implement PBL, you need to start by coming up with an essential question. Next, you need to help the student design a plan for the project and create a schedule. By monitoring the progress of the task and assessing the results, you can evaluate the experience.

The kind of question that launches a PBL lesson must be engaging to the student. Remember that there is not just one solution or answer to the situation and this must be emphasized to the students. PBL grabs hold of many notions and fosters deep learning in order to engage your students. With the available resources, you can use a variety of approaches and research for solutions. You can transform your students into independent thinkers who are interested and engaged in the assigned task.

All the best,

Report Card and the Evaluation Process

Author: Steve Hiles

The report card has been an integral part of the academic evaluation process for generations. For younger students, report cards may cover several developmental milestones while older students may see more of their academic progress demonstrated in their so-called “grades.” Regardless of age, students and their parents/guardians benefit from an efficient evaluation of their overall progress as it can show areas of strength and areas that may need improvement, be it behavioral or academic.

The overall purpose of the report card is to clearly convey pertinent information regarding a student’s overall progress. Accurate student records are vital to educational success, as it gives teachers, parents/guardians, students and everyone else in the student’s life a chance to be on the same page. By showing areas where the student excels and where they may need a bit of a boost, teachers can give a full report that will encourage participation. Utilizing examples of student schoolwork and behavioral reports can assist in preparing any reports or conference discussions.

Educators know that parent/guardian communication is key to a student’s success, as lessons being taught in class can always be reinforced in the home environment. Utilize report cards as an opportunity to connect with students’ families and enroll them in their child’s success. While it can be difficult for some to admit, no student is “perfect,” and every one of them has areas of strengths and weaknesses. Highlight both, using sensitive language. The “Oreo method” works wonderfully, wherein you begin with something the child does well. After this, discuss an area that may need improvement (along with one or two goals to achieve this) and then end on another positive note. Use clear and specific language that will help parents/guardians understand exactly what their child is up to – for example, saying, “Helen excels at small group work – especially during language arts,” is better than “Helen excels in her work.”

All the best,

If You Want to Learn Something -- Teach it!

Author: Steve Hiles

That's good advice.  Giving your students opportunities to "teach" each other gives them chances to exercise many skills and build their abilities as leaders and persuasive speakers.  Whether working in pairs or reporting to the whole class, writing an essay or short story, or debating a point, give students opportunities to engage with content and feed it back.

One final point:  HOW your students may solve problems or interpret your directions and assignments can be a surprise - usually pleasant but sometimes not.  You may have a clear idea of how you expect they will answer questions, perform in role plays, etc.  But they may have "filters" to do with their own background and limited experiences of life.  They may come up with very imaginative solutions to problems.  Perspectives, attitudes, degrees of maturity all affect problem-solving in children as well as adults.  Remaining open and really listening to the students as they share their interpretations can be the best teaching.

Give them problems to resolve.  Let them use their creativity and critical thinking skills to solve problems in their own ways.  Getting students to "take ownership" of content and problem-solve independently can provide important insights and lessons for both students and teacher.

One of the pleasures of teaching is seeing your students gain greater confidence through successfully resolving various problems.  Help them succeed by giving them the freedom to fail.  And teach them to persist!

All the best,

Classroom Rules

Author: Steve Hiles

There are many different schools of thought regarding classroom rules.  There are teachers who let the children decide on the rules and how they will be implemented.  Other teachers have rules already in place that they expect to have followed.

This is strictly 'teacher preference' and both methods have merit.  You may wish to use both!

Student Discussions of Class Rules

Letting the students decide on the rules provides for 'buy-in' and ownership of the process, whereas having rules already in place enables the class to 'hit the ground running.'  Either way, it is you call -- there is nothing saying that you cannot do both as the year progresses.

I would, however, keep the number of rules down to 3 or 4, especially during the first days of school.

You  might wish to start with your own "ground rules."  These are things that are important to you to maintain control and support your teaching.  You can tell the students at the start that later on that week or later in the term, they will be asked to discuss and develop a new set of class rules.  If you choose to do both, students will have a chance to "try out" the rules and to think about what is important to them for a pleasant classroom experience in the classroom.

In the first days, making the class rules the central focus of the class hours can be very fruitful.  Give the students a chance to discuss the reasons and purpose for a given rule, the disasters it might help prevent, and the consequences if a rule is not followed.  Keep asking questions and help the students to imagine circumstances in which the rules help.

ACTIVITY: First Day Focus on Class Rules

One of my first day activities involves the children in discussion of the rules.  I supply art materials -- paper, colored markers or pencils, etc.  -- so that they can illustrate what each rule "looks like."  I give them different settings and ask, "What does this rule look like in the classroom?  In the hallway?  In the cafeteria?  On the playground?"

After the students have had the chance  to draw or write comments, as a whole group, we compile information on a chart.  I keep the chart posted where it is visible and use it to reinforce the rules during the first weeks.

Please bear in mind that it may become necessary to have sessions to "Review the Class Rules" later in the school year, especially after Fall/Winter or Spring breaks.  Students often seem to forget (or choose not to remember) the rules that they followed before the holidays.

A final thought about rules...

Not only do class rules need to be taught, modeled and rehearsed to be truly effective, but the teacher needs to be consistent and fair in applying them.

What I have found with respect to Class Rules is that spending a lot of time on the rules upfront during the first days of school, and reviewing them often in the early weeks, helps avoid ongoing headaches through out the rest of the year!

All the best,

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Prior to the Start of the School Year

Author: Steve Hiles

This article is primarily geared for the new teacher facing their first time "flying solo."  The quality of your preparation for the term ahead can make a real difference, not just on the first day of school but all through the coming months.

The most obvious thing you will want to do is to prepare your classroom.  It is not always possible due to issues like last minute cleaning by the schools's janitors, renovations or refurbishments, or building policies.  However, if possible, it can be of great benefit to have spent time in the room before school starts.  It will give you time to really "make it yours."

I suggest that you gain access to your classroom at least 3 to 4 days prior to your having to officially report for work.

The point here is to give yourself sufficient time to organize, arrange and even decorate your classroom, without feeling pressured.  Also, you will want to organize procedures for such things as issuing textbooks and the necessary forms that will need to go home with students on the first day.

Take a seat in your "teacher chair."  Look around you.  What do you see?  The first impression when you sit down for the first time at your desk can provide some important insights.  How do you feel about the room?  Does it feel comfortable, welcoming, and even friendly?  Or is it sterile or forbidding somehow?

Do you have enough light?  Is there a window and does it open?  What do you see outside the room?  How far from the door are you?  Will your students go past you as they enter and exit?  Is there enough space?  Can you shift your desk or reconfigure the students' seating ways that will improve the atmosphere in the room?

Your classroom becomes your "home away from home."  You can put your unique stamp on it.  It will subtly reflect your personality and preferences whether you are conscious of your influence on the room or not.  After all, you are going to spend almost as many hours here as at your home!

All the best,

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Classroom Expectations

Author: Steve Hiles

What are your expectations of the first day of school? What are your assumptions about the people, place, things, ideas, and experiences? Our expectations and assumptions can make big differences in how well things go--both on the first day and throughout the school year. Your attitude counts!

If you enter the classroom with the mindset of someone who "assumes the worst," you may expect that the students will be noisy and difficult to control - and so they probably will be exactly that. On the other hand, if you are expecting quiet, well-behaved students who raise their hands to ask questions and remain quiet whenever you want to speak, you may be bitterly disillusioned. No classroom in the world is entirely filled with "good" or "bad" behaved students.

When your students walk into the classroom, how will you greet them? What will be their first impression of you? Will they think you are friendly or formidable? The first impression can shape the whole school year. Striking balance between creating a positive relationship with students while retaining a level of authority and control can be key to a teacher's success.

The first impression on the very first day is CRITICAL.

Consider how adults socialize when they make new acquaintances. Don't we take time to ask each other our names, where we live and where we come from? Don't we want to share information about our jobs, hobbies, interests and our families? Maybe we have mutual acquaintances or have been to the same places. We may even have met before. Those initial conversations establish our connections and we take in a lot of information about each other.

Non-verbal impressions communicate even more strongly than do words. Some social scientists estimate that perhaps 93% of our communications are non-verbal. We observe each other and gather thousands of subconscious impressions. Eye contact, body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, quality of energy in gestures -- these are just some of the ways we communicate who we are and what we gather as our impressions of other people.

It is the small but crucial choices you make about your appearance that will communicate most about you in the early days.

All the best,