I did this last year, so why not do the same this year? It’s been a couple weeks since I wrapped up my second year, but I know writing down some of the highlights of this year will help me focus my efforts next year. I’ll be (tentatively) changing grade levels (6th to 8th) and content (math to math, science, & PE) next year, but I know a lot of what I picked up on this year is applicable to whatever I teach.
- Class is Better with Music – Matt Vaudrey’s slogan for music cues is 100% accurate. I experimented with music cues towards the end of my first year, then I used cues from day 1 of my second year. The introduction and practice took about a week to establish with my students, then I occasionally added cues when I (or students) recognized something that would benefit from it. I originally used cues to save my sanity and having to repeat myself, but I also loved how it put the responsibility (and expectation of participation) on students. I saw how much smoother transitions were in my room compared to my first year; however, a moment that confirmed the value of this practice was during a meeting with my principal. After observing my class, she asked me if I ever noticed how students act during a transition. I responded that students complete the task. She replied students didn’t just complete a task, but they looked relaxed as the music played. In fact, she pointed something I never noticed: a lot of students hummed or moved to the rhythm of the music. I thought my principal was exaggerating until I heard half of my classes humming along to the Final Countdown the next day. In addition to making class more efficient, music cues provided multiple short mental breaks for my students. Next year, I plan to continue music cues.
- Promote Self-Questioning – I’m sure George Polya would say, “Obviously.” As I recounted earlier this year, I learned more and more the value of getting students to ask themselves questions. I always knew self-questioning was an important part of problem-solving to teach students, but I explicitly stressed this practice during the second semester. I paused during and after practice activities to ask students what questions they were asking about problems. I asked students what questions they could ask about problems using a new concept. In some cases, I provided students a list of questions to help guide thinking. Other times, I just asked students to describe how they approached a task. I initially felt awkward asking these questions because students would sometimes just stare blankly at me (not a good sign), but with time students realized that questions were helpful guides for problems.
- Ask Students About Their Weekend and Other Classes – It’s an easy way to start a class on Monday or any day, as well as reminding students you’re interested in their growth beyond your four walls.
- Tell Students When a Class was Awesome – It made me feel good. I’m sure it made students feel good. It was especially helpful when third quarter was dragging. I feel like awesome is used too much in everyday conversation, so I use it only when I really mean it.
- Acknowledge the Positives – Similar to my last point, I learned this year to take time to acknowledge the positives. Write a brief positive email or make a quick call to a parent when you notice outstanding effort, improvement, helpfulness, thoughtfulness, etc. from his/her student. Write positive referrals for students (if your school does that kind of thing). Give verbal compliments to students when they file out of class. Do the small things that not only make you a healthier teacher, but a healthier person.
- Spiral Homework – I spiraled a majority of the homework assignments for my general math classes. Over the course of the year, I saw higher completion, retention, and less negativity about homework. Tests were also less daunting because students had mixed practice throughout entire units. I plan to post these assignments soon. I’m not sure if I’ll manage to spiral assignments all the time next year, but I hope to use it somewhat consistently.
I hope these practices continue to grow in my teaching next year. This post is a reminder to my future self when the going gets tough. If any reader happened to take away something from this post, that’s a bonus.