Saturday, November 22, 2014

Building a Positive Peer Culture

In my previous post on ways to prevent students from dropping out, I focused on teacher connectedness. Now, I'd like to highlight another research-based method to keep kids engaged in school - a positive peer culture.

Sometimes, kids are mean, even cruel and it's hard as a teacher, because there is so much they don't know about the power of their words and actions. We have to teach the kids we have (not the kids we wish we had) in ways appropriate to their own emotional maturity how to be kind to others. Yes, this is a parental responsibility, but we have a responsibility, too.

Some of my students are tough. They've been through a lot. Others are vulnerable because they've been through a lot too. So, believe me when I say that I get how hard this is, but we have to try.

Ways to Build a Positive Peer Culture

  • Be the biggest weirdo in the room. If I'm goofy and silly and make mistakes, then kids feel comfortable being weird, because they know that they'll never be the weirdest.
  • Lighten up. Let kids joke around, but make it clear that there is a line. If you come down hard on kids for every little thing, your life lessons lose some of their meaning. 
  • Don't force it. My husband does yoga with his kids for brain breaks. I know another teacher who has a corny joke of the day. Do what fits your personality. Be yourself
  • Have the occasional off-topic conversation. Kids start to feel comfortable around each other because they talk to each other, not because they sat and listened to the teacher all day. 
  • Have kids write affirmations for each other, but model how it's done. My kids' attendance tends to be spotty at the end of the year, so I like to pull one name a day and say what I'd like to say to them on the last day of school. (Tip: collect the notes students write for each other and screen them before giving them to the recipient just in case)
  • Have fun. Make it an experience to be in your class. Sometimes, any class can be a little boring, but it doesn't have to be that way all the time. Take every opportunity to make something fun. You'll get better results. 
This year, I started the year by asking the kids what kind of teacher they want, an idea from Teaching and Learning Together. I made a poster and hung it by my desk to remind me.

A special thank you to my husband for his contributions to this post. 

What would you add? What do you do in your class that builds a positive peer culture? Please share in the comments below!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My 2014 Edublog Nominations

I am admittedly biased here because I am married to the talented teacher behind the amazing kids who create the Cougar News Blog.

However, since they won the Edublog Award for best class blog last year, I'm not the only one who thinks these kids are fantastic!

So I am happy to nominate the Cougar News Blog again this year.

The quality of student writing on this blog is superb. It is about students, for students, and by students. Think "school newspaper" in blog form.

I strongly recommend you nominate them, too! 

I also voted for Wwatanabe for best Ed Tech blog. Check her out. She's fabulous!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dropout Prevention

I did my big culminating research project for grad school on dropout prevention and here's what I learned in a nutshell. I could go on about who is likely to drop out and what happens to them if they do, but let's assume you get that it's really important to keep kids in school and go from there.

The Top 5 ways to prevent kids from dropping out are...
1.Engaging Curriculum
2.Teacher Connectedness

3.Positive Peer Culture
4.Truancy Prevention
5.Parent Support

Notice anything? Three of the five are things we can actually impact as teachers! We control how engaging the curriculum is, how well we communicate that we care, and the culture we create in our classrooms.

Let's focus on teacher connectedness.

Here's the problem - most teachers really care about their students, but that is NOT ENOUGH. Kids need to know it! So we need to show them we care in ways they understand. 

Here are 5 research-based, effective ways to show we care:

  1. Call parents and say nice things about their kids!
  2. Have impromptu conversations with kids daily 
  3. Set goals with kids and hold them to those goals. Revisit them frequently.
  4. Make the environment welcoming. This means a comfortable classroom and a positive peer culture.
  5. HIDE IT when the kids get on your nerves! All those groans and eye rolls say "you are annoying" and "I wish I didn't have to deal with you." They can crush kids.
I implemented these religiously and documented it and student achievement increased in my classroom. You may think you do these things, but tracking it and holding yourself accountable, makes you do it more.

What would you add to this list? How can we SHOW kids we care? Which of these is easier said than done? Please comment below!

Part 2 of this series... Creating a positive peer culture!

For the full paper and references, click here

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Diigo for student research

Do your kids do research or close-reading in your classes? Then, have you checked out Diigo

Diigo is great for keeping all of your bookmarks organized and allowing you to access them from any computer, (especially when the school district re-images and you lose everything). It's kind of like iCloud for links. It's also great for finding cool tools and collaborating and sharing with colleagues around the world. 

But... did you know that it can be a powerful tool to use with students? With the Diigolet bar or Chrome App, you can highlight and sticky note any website and save that information for your next visit! Think of how great that can be for kids to keep research organized or demonstrate close-reading skills!

You need to get an educator account by using your school email in order to get Teacher Console and use it with kids. 

Possible uses for Diigo with students:

More info here on this Emaze presentation I made. By the way, Emaze is pretty cool if you're sick of the same old Powerpoint stuff. 

Do you have any other ideas for using Diigo with students? Have you used it and have tips for others? Please share in a comment!