Chalk It Up

Chalk It Up

Blog for Educators

  1. About Teaching SEL

    Moving from “I’m stupid,” to “I’m learning.” in Dynamic Learning Ecosystems.

    About Teaching SEL

    Moving from “I’m stupid,” to “I’m learning.” in Dynamic Learning Ecosystems.

    Moving from Reductive Labels to Dynamic Learning Ecosystems in Education

    A challenge with a question or some difficulty in a class quickly turns into a sweeping self-generalization, a fixed label about one’s innate aptitude and ability, even their character. Terms like “lazy” and “slacker” come to mind. As a result, a simple question in a class suddenly becomes the terrain for a student’s overall sense of themselves as a person.

     

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  2. Classroom Management

    Teacher-Student Ratio: Does Class Size Matter?

    Classroom Management

    Teacher-Student Ratio: Does Class Size Matter?

    We've all heard the commonplace that as far as class size goes, bigger is not better.

    In smaller classes, students benefit from more individual attention from the teacher. The teacher isn't all strung out trying to keep tabs on students. Parents get to think that their kids will have better test scores and a sense of community. The school board feels more cost-effective because it gets higher graduation rates. Win-win-win-win.

    But don't just buy all those wins without looking at the way the game is played. Some studies have made the case that class size matters more in some situations than others: in particular, kids are understood to need more attention in early grades, and traditionally disadvantaged groups have also been shown to benefit from added attention (with English-language acquisition, for example).

    So what is a normal class size, then?

    The general vibe is that 22:1 for grades K-3 is too big, and over 30 is a stretch for fourth grade onward.

    So we're saying 21 six-year-olds is a piece of cake? Um, no. Groups of 14-16 are generally more effective: not so big that the teacher has his or hands totally overflowing, but big enough for there to be plenty of opportunities for group activities, playing and learning in teams or pairs, and chances for students to learn from each other.

    So "the smaller the better" also ain't the case.

    Why is it important to get the right number in a class? Like we said, all that stuff about teachers getting to pay more attention to students and test scores on the up and up. But there's more.

    One Tennessee study shows that class-size reduction works because students change their behavior: students in a smaller class are less able to hide in the back or make faces when the teacher isn't looking. Plus, potential troublemakers benefit by working more closely with classmates. There are those win-wins again.

    Still, it's not as simple as shrinking the ratio. While most sources will tell you that smaller class sizes are generally more effective, it's worth noting that even if you're lucky enough to get a smaller class year in and year out, if the quality of teaching or school leadership is lacking, it's not going to do you much good (source).

    Not to mention all those other factors like school resources, parent involvement, size of the school, etc. The biggest factor is smaller classroom sizes require more teachers and hiring more teachers requires more money.

    Plus, reducing class sizes only really makes a difference only if teachers have the training and administrative support to match their methods of teaching and interacting with both students and parents to the size of the class, and the real-live students themselves ( source).

    During COVID-19 a lot of schools got to experience smaller class sizes due to hybrid models or students electing to do their education from home. For some teachers, it was hard to see the benefit of smaller classes because they still had the stress of juggling students online as well. Others were stressed about keeping their classroom sanitary and safe. Judging smaller classrooms from the 2020-2021 school year may not be the best option.  

    So don't take a ratio at face value. First, do your research and figure out what you've got to count on.

    Regardless of the size, Shmoop has resources for any classroom. Check out our subscription plans!

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  3. About Teaching

    8 Tips for Surviving Your First Year as a Teacher

    About Teaching

    8 Tips for Surviving Your First Year as a Teacher

    Is this your first year of teaching? Little anxious and worried? When you dreamed about becoming a teacher as a kid, bet you were not planning on dealing with things like COVID-19 and learning how to incorporate so much technology into your teaching.  

    It can all seem overbearing and may make you a little nervous. In the world of teaching, things seem like they're going super fast and painfully slow at the same time. Here are some tips for making the fast times less overwhelming and the slow times less like you're red-penning your life away.

    Tip #1: Act more confident than you are.

    When you're just starting out and nerves are getting to you, it may feel like you command about as much respect as the mac and cheese that Jenny left in her desk a week ago. But the kids sure as heck don't have to know that.

    Whether it's teaching something new, trying an activity you're not sure will work, or trying to get the little darlings to quiet down, acting like you've done this a bazillion times and could do it with your eyes closed will be a lot more convincing to them than to yourself.

    At least, until the day that you realize that you have done it a bazillion times. A word to the wise: still probably a good idea to keep your eyes open.

    Tip #2: Take deep breaths.

    We know. How cliché can we get? But sometimes a little bit of patience can get you a long way. So whether it's a lesson your students just don't seem to get or little Billy drawing on the wall again, keeping calm and making that smile stay glued to your face can get you a long way. At least as far as keeping sane is concerned.

    Tip #3: Ask for help.

    According to this article, "the steep learning curve is hard not only on students, but also on the teachers themselves: 15 percent leave the profession and another 14 percent change schools after their first year, often as the result of feeling overwhelmed, ineffective, and unsupported." Those stats aren't pretty. So find the people you can turn to—whether it’s other teachers, school administration, or your buddies who work in nice, easy jobs like finance—for the kind of boost that you need.

    Tip #4: Know your resources.

    Yeah, this is sort of the same as number 3. But it's just that important. Common questions that might arise include; Have any teachers on staff used this software before? Where do you look to find the list of school rules and regulations? Which office do you send a kid with a bloody nose to? And is it the same one as to where you send the kid who caused the bloody nose? 

    Knowing exactly where to look for academic and disciplinary questions in advance will give you a shapely leg up on the questions that are sure to arise over the year. And the years.

    Tip #5: Be specific.

    "For homework, do your math handout and read the next chapter of Hamlet."

    What's wrong with this picture? Aside from Hamlet not having chapters.

    Well, are they supposed to just write the answer to the math problems, or show their work? Is there a specific lesson they should keep in mind? Do you want it on the handout or separate paper, or can they just do the problems in their head? And when they read, should they take notes? What themes should they focus on? Will they have to write an essay about it? What's the difference between a chapter and a scene?

    Sure, this is probably heading into detective-interrogation mode, but it's a good plan to hedge your bets to avoid the "I didn't get what the homework was so I didn't do it" response. It helps the students—and in turn, it will help you—if you give very precise directions about what they're supposed to do, whether it's homework or a new activity. Even better if you can tell them what the goal of the exercise is.

    Bottom line: leave any wiggle room and you're risking a whole lot of wigglers.

    Tip #6: Notice how kids learn, react, and interact in different ways.

    You know how it goes: not everyone learns in the same way. (And there are plenty of theories on just how different kids learn in different ways. Being attentive to how your class as a whole, as well as individual students, best interact with the material will help you design the sorts of lesson plans that will keep the wheels a-spinning.

    And that means that you pay attention not only to what activities and methods click with certain students but also…

    Tip #7: Don't forget that kids are people, even though they're undersized ones.

    That's right: they're not just vessels to absorb the history of the French and Indian War or basics of quadrilaterals and spit 'em back out on test day. These are tiny humans that you are contributing to forming.

    So get to know what makes them tick. Maybe it's a particular subject, or a favorite activity, or an incomprehensible obsession with llamas. Whatever it is, getting a sense of what makes each kid an individual snowflake will help you interact with them better and teach them better. And hey—maybe you'll even like some of them.

    Tip #8: You don’t always have to be a ten.

    In other words, cut yourself some slack. You don't have to nail every explanation, have an Oscar-worthy closing moment at the end of each class, or even be 100% eloquent all the time. If you feel like you're having an off day, chances are your students sure as heck won't notice.

    So take some deep breaths, reflect on these tips, and don't sweat the little stuff. And if you're really having an off day, eat some ice cream, and try again the next day.

    The unlisted tip, of course, is to Shmoop  into your curriculum planning resources. We specialize in making teacher's lives easier!

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  4. Assessment SEL

    Keeping Analytics in SEL Human

    Assessment SEL

    Keeping Analytics in SEL Human

    The question we need to be asking is if the intent of Social Emotional Wellness tools is improving student outcomes? Or is it to create analytics sets about them?

     

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  5. Hot Button Issues

    Why Teachers and Guardians Need to Understand How The Teen Brain Works

    Hot Button Issues

    Why Teachers and Guardians Need to Understand How The Teen Brain Works

    Spoiler alert: the teen brain isn't like the adult brain. Sure, it's pink and squishy, and it bears a passing resemblance to a giant wad of chewed-up bubblegum. In those ways it's pretty similar. But as teens navigate their daily lives, their brains light up differently from the brains of adults. In part, that's because their brains aren't done developing. Of course, evidence suggests that human brains are never totally done growing and changing, and that "brain development in various forms goes on throughout the lifespan". Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks after all.

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  6. Homeschool

    The 5 Biggest Challenges of Homeschooling

    Homeschool

    The 5 Biggest Challenges of Homeschooling

    The homeschool population had been growing at an estimated 2% to 8% per annum over the past several years, but it grew drastically from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 largely due to the pandemic. And while the number of homeschoolers has been growing steadily since the first count in 1999, homeschooled students are still a minority, and whenever you choose to do something different from what the majority is doing, you're bound to find yourself swimming against the tide, at least to an extent.

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  7. Classroom Management

    6 Ways to Encourage Your Students to do Their Best Work

    Classroom Management

    6 Ways to Encourage Your Students to do Their Best Work

    All educators want their students to produce high-quality work. Could we get any more "duh" up in here? But what are the best ways to ensure that they actually do? We've rounded up 6 tried-and-true techniques for helping your students put their best feet—and work—forward. 1. Make sure assignments are clear. It's hard for students to complete high-quality work on anything if they're not sure what you're asking them to do. (Another "duh" for you there.) So, if you give them a broad list of topics and instruct them to "choose one and write a research paper," for instance, you're not giving them much to go on. Especially if they haven't written a research paper before, or if they haven't written one for you.

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  8. Assessment

    Pop Quizzes: Fair or Not Fair?

    Assessment

    Pop Quizzes: Fair or Not Fair?

    Nobody likes a pop quiz…or at least, nobody likes to fail a pop quiz. If you have students who habitually ace pop quizzes, well then, the words, "Put your books under your desk—we’re having a pop quiz," may be among their favorites in the English language. Most of the time, though? You’ll get a chorus of groans. So what’s the deal? Are pop quizzes perfectly fair and efficient ways to assess student learning, or are they a mean-spirited "gotcha" tactic designed to punish students who may not have finished their homework?

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  9. About Teaching

    8 Things You Won't Expect About Teaching

    About Teaching

    8 Things You Won't Expect About Teaching

    We've got the 411. One thing you knew you could expect is that we'd have an article reminding you about what you would not expect. 1. You'll get the first-day jitters. Teachers can teach for years and still be plagued by those little butterflies. Which means what? It's normal. Even if you don't expect it to be on year two or year 20. You have a new group of kids and even if your job is to teach them, you're still going to care about what they think, at least on some level. After all, if your kids don't like you, you can have some serious problems. Or maybe it won't even be your fault, but you'll get an army of brats. Or maybe it's totally irrational, but you just feel jittery for the heck of it.

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