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June 19, 2018

Bad Things Good Teachers Do: 3 Common Mistakes to Avoid

By Meghan Everette
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Admitting you have a problem is the first step in making a change, but what if you don’t realize you have a problem? There are rules and procedures that I lived by, but one day I read an article, saw a presentation, or was just in a simple conversation with a valued co-worker and my whole perspective shifted. I realized that my way of doing things was outdated or not the best practice.

    It’s no wonder with the thousands of things teachers balance, that some things are bound to fall through the cracks. There are three things teachers can change, right now, that will significantly change their practice for the better. These are three bad things that even really good teachers do, and how you can avoid them!

    1. Beautiful Anchor Charts

    Anchor charts are meant to “anchor” student learning. They are intended to be created with students as problems are discussed and examined. They can be rewritten to help organize thoughts, but they are basically giant note pages that students can refer back to. What happens when teachers make an anchor chart without students and hang them on the wall? Essentially, a homemade poster has been created. Students don’t have ownership over the work, and therefore are less likely to both understand and refer to it. Blogger Alicya Zimmerman eloquently discusses this idea in her post, “Anchor Charts: Academic Support or Print-Rich Wallpaper?”

    What’s a good teacher to do? First, stop creating charts independently. If you aren’t making it during class with student input, then you aren’t really making an anchor chart. Next, let go of perfection. Resist the urge to rewrite or redraw the work you do with students. Is it messy? So what! Learning is messy. If the organization really needs to be addressed, do it with students and discuss your reasons for organizing your thoughts on a new chart. Finally, step away from the laminator. I repeat: Do. Not. Laminate. Your chart is a living reference. It is not to be memorialized for all time. We’ve already discussed that students should be creating the chart, so next year’s class needs to go through the system of creation as well.




    2. Math Rules

    Math rules are usually taught with the best of intentions. We want to support our young learners by giving them language clues about the math. You’ve heard that “total means add” and “divide means a smaller answer.” There’s compounding issues with laying out math rules like this. We want students to read, visualize, and contextualize problems. If we have students hunting for clue words rather than understanding the math situation, they will not be able to extend their knowledge to more complex problems. They won’t be reasoning about problems, which is the only part of math a calculator can’t do for you! Students also need to understand why the rules work before they are ready for any “just do this” algorithm.

    Another issue is these rules aren’t actually true! Dividing yields a smaller answer when you are using whole numbers, but as soon as those students start using fraction division, they will be lost. Total might mean add, but technically total could signal the answer to any problem, and can lead to using the wrong operation. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has a great resource for understanding “13 Rules That Expire.”

    To avoid teaching the “rules,” even accidentally applying them, reflect carefully on your speech. Plan out math questions in advance and consider what kinds of answers you want from students. For example, a first grader might say, “It is 5 minus 3 because the big number goes first,” or, “You can’t do 3 minus 5.” In first grade, this holds true, but by sixth grade, negative numbers come into play. When you plan for student answers, you are prepared to not accept this as a reason. Instead, have students think about what’s happening in the problem and avoid saying something isn’t possible, when it simply isn’t what you are learning yet. Also keep possibilities open. Simply having a number line that went into the negatives, even though it was never discussed or pointed out, had my first graders open to the possibility of subtracting larger numbers.


    3. Progress Monitoring as Fluency Teaching

    Younger students are often challenged to read at a certain number of words per minute. This is tracked by a one-minute assessment of a new passage that students read as fluently as possible. Many schools use their own systems, and a popular national program is Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS). There are generally beginning, middle, and end-of-year school-wide assessments to assess student progress. Between those benchmark assessments, teachers progress monitor — that is teachers have students practice the reading assessment for one minute and record their scores.

    The problem comes in when teachers use progress monitoring and say they are teaching fluency. Progress monitoring is just that: monitoring. It is like a quiz and giving students quizzes is not the same as teaching. To teach fluency skills, students need to read to self, peers, and adults and practice working on skills such as speaking with expression, phrasing, and accuracy. Just assessing students shouldn’t be confused with instruction and practice. Blogger Andrea Maurer gives advice for working on “Reading Fluency: Speed, Accuracy, and Expression, Oh My,”  in the classroom while Genia Connell suggests, “Video Selfies to Improve Reading Fluency,” for readers of any age.

    A simple solution is to invest in a few resources that have fluency-based lessons. Buyer beware: downloading fluency passages to read is the same thing as doing progress monitoring. Invest in actual lesson resources to help promote fluency skills, such as Building Fluency: Lessons and Strategies for Reading Success, or, Teaching Fluency Beyond the Primary Grades: Strategy Lessons to Meet the Specific Needs of Upper-Grade Readers.


     

    I firmly believe that no teacher shows up planning to do less than their best, but along the way some misconceptions can creep in. I’ve been fortunate enough to have great coaches and colleagues that have pointed out my errors to me along the way. Stopping just these few misplaced efforts can go a long way to providing the best possible classroom for students that help them today, and every day, as they grow.

    Admitting you have a problem is the first step in making a change, but what if you don’t realize you have a problem? There are rules and procedures that I lived by, but one day I read an article, saw a presentation, or was just in a simple conversation with a valued co-worker and my whole perspective shifted. I realized that my way of doing things was outdated or not the best practice.

    It’s no wonder with the thousands of things teachers balance, that some things are bound to fall through the cracks. There are three things teachers can change, right now, that will significantly change their practice for the better. These are three bad things that even really good teachers do, and how you can avoid them!

    1. Beautiful Anchor Charts

    Anchor charts are meant to “anchor” student learning. They are intended to be created with students as problems are discussed and examined. They can be rewritten to help organize thoughts, but they are basically giant note pages that students can refer back to. What happens when teachers make an anchor chart without students and hang them on the wall? Essentially, a homemade poster has been created. Students don’t have ownership over the work, and therefore are less likely to both understand and refer to it. Blogger Alicya Zimmerman eloquently discusses this idea in her post, “Anchor Charts: Academic Support or Print-Rich Wallpaper?”

    What’s a good teacher to do? First, stop creating charts independently. If you aren’t making it during class with student input, then you aren’t really making an anchor chart. Next, let go of perfection. Resist the urge to rewrite or redraw the work you do with students. Is it messy? So what! Learning is messy. If the organization really needs to be addressed, do it with students and discuss your reasons for organizing your thoughts on a new chart. Finally, step away from the laminator. I repeat: Do. Not. Laminate. Your chart is a living reference. It is not to be memorialized for all time. We’ve already discussed that students should be creating the chart, so next year’s class needs to go through the system of creation as well.




    2. Math Rules

    Math rules are usually taught with the best of intentions. We want to support our young learners by giving them language clues about the math. You’ve heard that “total means add” and “divide means a smaller answer.” There’s compounding issues with laying out math rules like this. We want students to read, visualize, and contextualize problems. If we have students hunting for clue words rather than understanding the math situation, they will not be able to extend their knowledge to more complex problems. They won’t be reasoning about problems, which is the only part of math a calculator can’t do for you! Students also need to understand why the rules work before they are ready for any “just do this” algorithm.

    Another issue is these rules aren’t actually true! Dividing yields a smaller answer when you are using whole numbers, but as soon as those students start using fraction division, they will be lost. Total might mean add, but technically total could signal the answer to any problem, and can lead to using the wrong operation. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has a great resource for understanding “13 Rules That Expire.”

    To avoid teaching the “rules,” even accidentally applying them, reflect carefully on your speech. Plan out math questions in advance and consider what kinds of answers you want from students. For example, a first grader might say, “It is 5 minus 3 because the big number goes first,” or, “You can’t do 3 minus 5.” In first grade, this holds true, but by sixth grade, negative numbers come into play. When you plan for student answers, you are prepared to not accept this as a reason. Instead, have students think about what’s happening in the problem and avoid saying something isn’t possible, when it simply isn’t what you are learning yet. Also keep possibilities open. Simply having a number line that went into the negatives, even though it was never discussed or pointed out, had my first graders open to the possibility of subtracting larger numbers.


    3. Progress Monitoring as Fluency Teaching

    Younger students are often challenged to read at a certain number of words per minute. This is tracked by a one-minute assessment of a new passage that students read as fluently as possible. Many schools use their own systems, and a popular national program is Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS). There are generally beginning, middle, and end-of-year school-wide assessments to assess student progress. Between those benchmark assessments, teachers progress monitor — that is teachers have students practice the reading assessment for one minute and record their scores.

    The problem comes in when teachers use progress monitoring and say they are teaching fluency. Progress monitoring is just that: monitoring. It is like a quiz and giving students quizzes is not the same as teaching. To teach fluency skills, students need to read to self, peers, and adults and practice working on skills such as speaking with expression, phrasing, and accuracy. Just assessing students shouldn’t be confused with instruction and practice. Blogger Andrea Maurer gives advice for working on “Reading Fluency: Speed, Accuracy, and Expression, Oh My,”  in the classroom while Genia Connell suggests, “Video Selfies to Improve Reading Fluency,” for readers of any age.

    A simple solution is to invest in a few resources that have fluency-based lessons. Buyer beware: downloading fluency passages to read is the same thing as doing progress monitoring. Invest in actual lesson resources to help promote fluency skills, such as Building Fluency: Lessons and Strategies for Reading Success, or, Teaching Fluency Beyond the Primary Grades: Strategy Lessons to Meet the Specific Needs of Upper-Grade Readers.


     

    I firmly believe that no teacher shows up planning to do less than their best, but along the way some misconceptions can creep in. I’ve been fortunate enough to have great coaches and colleagues that have pointed out my errors to me along the way. Stopping just these few misplaced efforts can go a long way to providing the best possible classroom for students that help them today, and every day, as they grow.

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