Using Notability for Classroom Observation

This article describes how to use the app, Notability, to assist in classroom observation.  Classroom teachers can easily adapt these directions for student observation.  I recommend Notability at a cost of $1-$2 over any potentially costly commercial classroom observation system I’ve yet seen.  Notability provides the most flexibility for meeting individual needs.

If you’re looking for a checklist system of observation, Google Forms provides a free system that’s fully customizable.  Notability offers a blank page for handwriting notes, typing notes, and adding pictures and audio recordings.  If you’re still using Apple’s built in notes, stop.  Here are step by step directions for using Notability as a classroom observation tool.

You will want to create a notebook for each teacher.

1.  Create a notebook by tapping the plus sign.

2.  Tap the edit button to bring up the option to color code your notebook.

 

 

 

 

3.  Choose a color.  You may wish to color code grade levels so that all first grade teachers are blue, for example.

4. Create a new note.  You’ll use a new note for each observation and store all notes in the individual notebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.  Add a photo by tapping the plus sign towards the top right and choosing “Take a Photo.”

 

 

 

 

 

 
6.  You can either handwrite or type or your notes by selecting the appropriate icon.

 

7.  Share the note by tapping the universal share button and sending it by email.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it.  Repeat this for each teacher or student you wish to observe.  You can move notes around between notebooks by dragging and dropping them into a different notebook.

One of the best things about Notability when used this way is that each teacher/notebook will have a number next to it showing you how many notes/observations have been completed.  So, you can clearly see how many visits each teacher has had.

Please leave your tips or suggestions below.

Update:  You can import PDF documents and then handwrite and/or type on them.

How do I import a PDF?

There are several ways to import a PDF into Notability:

  • 1) If importing from an email attachment or Safari browser
    Tap the PDF to preview. Then select Notability from the
    “Open in” list.
  • 2) If importing a PDF file from Dropbox and other cloud services
    Tap the Import button on the top toolbar in the library and select
    the desired service.

Four Steps for Troubleshooting iOS Devices

There’s not too much you can do to fix a problem when your iPad or iPhone stops working…that’s the good news.  There’s just a few things you can try and these usually work.  Try each of these one at a time and see if one of them will fix your problem.

1.  Update your apps.

2.  Force quit the app.  Double-click on the home button.  Find the problematic app on the bottom of your screen where it shows recently used apps. Press and hold on the app icon until it wiggles.  Click on the red circle with a minus sign.  Your app icon goes away.

When I’ve used this successfully: iMovie was crashing.  Forced it to quit and then it worked fine.

2.  Restart the device.  You don’t normally need to turn off your device.  However, whenever you’re having problems, it’s a good idea to do so.  Press and hold the power button on the top right of the device until you see “Slide to power off” on your screen.  Now, swipe to power off the device.  Then press the power button to turn the device on.

When I’ve used this successfully: A strange fluttering was showing up on the screen in all apps and on the home screen.  Restart and problem went away.

3.  Delete the app and reinstall (use this for app-specific problems).  Press and hold on the app icon on the home screen until it wiggles.  Press the red circle.  The app will be deleted after you confirm.  This sometimes might also delete your data for that app so only try this when you have to.  Then go to the iTunes store and download the app again.  You will not be charged twice if you are using the correct account.

4.  Restore the device.  This wipes out everything and is done by hooking up the device to iTunes.  I’d only use this if a bunch of apps are giving you problems as it’s a headache having to set up all your apps again.

If you have any other troubleshooting steps, please add them below.

Parent Better and Change the World in 2012

 

 

On a recent journey to Costa Rica, I had the opportunity to reflect on good parenting.  Due to a brief layover, we had to switch planes mid-way and on each leg of the journey, we found ourselves sitting in front of children (yes, the same people we left our classrooms to get a break from).

I’m not (yet) a parent.  However, I believe the principles that I’ve laid out previously about classroom management apply to parenting as well.  Specifically, when you can help it, never expose children to a new situation without first letting them know what to expect from that situation and what appropriate behavior is in that situation.  Naturally, life presents unexpected situations all the time.  However, taking your students to the library, the computer lab, or a performance and taking your sons and daughters on airplanes are not unexpected events.

We teach children about individual upcoming events ahead of time for two reasons:

  1. Once we’re in a situation, it’s too late to teach the special rules (you can’t stop a performance, or halt takeoff and landing to discipline).
  2. Most importantly, misbehavior results from children being anxious.  When we explain to them what to expect they are less anxious and less likely to act up.

Classroom

In the classroom, if you’re taking your students to the library, you first discuss what’s going to happen in the library and the special rules there (use a marker to find a book, whisper when you talk, etc.).  I do not take my students to the library until I’m confident that they know how to behave there.

Rafe Esquith talks about having his students sit through the entire sound recording of a symphony in his classroom before taking the students to see the real symphony.   By listening to a CD beforehand, he taught them when to clap, how to listen, and what to listen for so they were not bored when they got there.

Living Room

At home, if you know you’re going on an airplane, into a toy store, or to the post office, you need to explain the special behaviors expected in each of those places.

How This Plays Out “In the Wild”

On the first leg of our journey, as the plane was taking off, the child screamed at the top of his lungs and yelled out, “I’m scared.”  His mom laughed.  Perhaps she didn’t care that her child was screaming—but that’s for another blog post.  He spent the flight kicking my wife’s seat.  When we landed, his mom asked him to be responsible for his own jacket and told him he had to walk.  He said no, started crying, and his grandmother ended up carrying him.

During the break, I discussed with my wife how we’re going to parent differently and then on the second leg of our journey, another family provided a perfect example.

On the final flight, another child sat down behind us with his mom.  Before the flight took off, she discussed with him the popping he’d feel soon in his ears when the flight took off.  She explained that he would need to keep his seatbelt on.  She reviewed with him what they were going to be seeing in Costa Rica.  That child was a dream to sit in front of.  Nothing was a surprise to him and he knew how to behave.

When the flight landed, another passenger asked this dream child what he was looking forward to seeing.  “A volcano,” he said, “I want to see the lava coming out it of it.”  As a bonus, talking to your child develops language and verbal ability.  I didn’t hear the annoying kid say anything other than screams and grunts on the first flight.  It seems obvious, but talk to your child if you want them the learn to talk.

The Future

I’m worried.  I’m worried about what I see as a complete breakdown of expected behavior in public.  Mild-mannered me has been getting in fights with people at movies and plays about them texting during the show.  I’m not sure how we address a growing self-centeredness that puts one’s own needs ahead of anyone else.  However, I believe it’s those parents who are not setting behavioral expectations who are contributing to this general breakdown.  If you really don’t care about others, then I’m not sure I can help you.  However, if you want a better world, I think I’m laying out for you one way we can get there.

First Day of School Activities

First Day of School Activities

Lots of First Day Activities from Cape Brenton Victoria School Board

First Day of School Activities by Katie Hallum

First Days of School Script for Teachers by Katie Hallum

Back to School Preparation Checklist and Month by Month Schedule for First Grade by Terry Analore

Everybody Needs A Rock Activity by Jan Tappan

Activities for First Day by Scholastic

Interest Inventory for getting to know your students

Nine Questions to Ask Students on First Day of School by Elona Hartes

101 Things to Do on the First Day of School

Math Activities for the Beginning of the Year

Article: Reviewing the Steps to Take Before Starting the Year

Ice Breakers

Kathy Schrock’s First Day Activities/Ice Breakers

Teachnology Ice Breakers

Ice Breaker List

Ice Breakers and Warm Ups

Welcome Letters

These can be adapted for any grade level and were created using Printshop:

First Grade

Second Grade (Spanish/English)

More sample Letters from Scholastic

First Day of School Read Alouds

First Day of School Books

Also Worth Reading

Back to School, It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

How to Encourage Parental Involvement

Classroom Management Articles

Have a great year if you haven’t started already!

 

Lessons for Teachers from the Oprah Finale

Background

I remember when Oprah premiered on television, somewhere around the 2nd grade.  I grew up watching Donahue at 3:00 and Oprah at 4:00 with my grandmother after school.  I watched for many years though I started to lose track somewhere around high school.  I must confess that as I got older I found the show alternated between fascinating and grating.

However, I rediscovered the Oprah show after freshman year in college just in time for her  launch of “Change Your Life TV.”  It may not have changed my life but it did provide some needed emotional support as I was still figuring out the world and discovering my place in it.

A few years later I found my place teaching kindergarten as a long-term substitute.  I became a full-time teacher soon after and that was the end of my Oprah watching.  Full-time teachers’ hours were not conducive to watching a show at 3:00 in an era before Tivo and DVR.

But I caught up one last time to watch the Oprah finale which was broadcast last week and I think that she had some profound lessons for the lives and careers of teachers.  She didn’t give away any cars or offer any big surprises, she spoke from the heart about the lessons she learned and expressed her gratitude to her audience.

“…you are responsible for the energy that you create for yourself
and you are responsible for the energy that you bring to others.”

All life, from plants to animals, is made up of energy and we give that energy off every day.  Our friends and family are recipients of that energy, of course.  But to a large extent, our friends and family get to choose how much time they want to spend with us.  Our students are receivers of our energy and they have no choice.

What kind of energy do you give off to your students?  Are they happy to be in your classroom?  Or do they hate being there?  A teacher’s positive attitude, forgiving smile, and unconditional support goes further in creating positive energy than a pizza party and a Friday movie treat.

You don’t have to like all of your students but everyone has a human need to be seen and understood.  The “bad kids” have this need even more than the others.  Do you understand all of your students and believe they have the ability to become better students and better people?  Do you put forth that energy or is it the energy that keeps them stuck in a cycle of misbehavior?

You Are Responsible for Your Life

Teaching is  a rough career.  Your students, full of possibility, graduate year after year but you stay in the same place.  You’ve already made it.  How does that feel?

I know a lot of teachers who resent their districts, their professions, their students because of choices they themselves have made that have led them to become teachers.

We became teachers because we wanted to teach.  And if we didn’t, or don’t, then we are able to make choices to do something else as well.

Find Your Passion

Teachers need to be passionate.  Some are passionate about teaching but some are passionate about something else that fuels their souls.  If you are not passionate about something you’re as good to your students as an empty shell.  You do not need to love the same things your students do but you do need to love something to be an interesting teacher and not be someone who’s full of bitterness.

How to Encourage Parental Involvement

While some education reformers might argue that poverty is not a reason for students’ lack of success, I haven’t heard anyone claim that parental involvement doesn’t impact student learning.  As a matter of fact, I would argue that a students’ best chance of overcoming poverty is parental involvement in their education.  While we have little control over what goes on in the home, the first step in fostering parental involvement is creating a school environment in which parents (as well as students) want to participate.  To get parents involved you have to get them in the door.

When I worked at a neighborhood school (I now work at magnet schools) we found it difficult to get parents to come to school even though parents lived nearby.  Teachers frequently complained that although the auditorium was packed for our holiday performances, parents rarely showed up for parent conferences or any of our academic functions.  At my last science night at the school, however, I had a full house while the teacher next door had only two parents show up.  It wasn’t my charming personality that brought them in (the teacher next door was far more charming), I had learned to make academic events engaging and create an environment that was welcoming to parents as well as students.

Here are my tips for a well attended event:

Make it Convenient. Events and conferences need to be at a time when working people can attend.  When parents don’t show up it’s often because they can’t, not because they don’t want to.

Get the kids to bring their parents. If Science Night is Thursday, I remind students about the event every day for a week about the upcoming event so that excitement builds and there’s no way anyone can forget. The same is true for parent conferences, Back to School Night, etc.  If the students want to come, they’ll bring their parents whenever possible.

Learn the language. If your parents do not speak English, you need to learn a little bit of their native language.  Many teachers resent this and there’s no law that says you have to.  However, if you want parents to feel comfortable, you need to at least be able to say hello.  I speak Spanish horribly.  Students usually laugh when I speak it.  However, parents have always appreciated when I am able to conduct parent conferences in Spanish and attendance has increased once parents know that I can communicate with them.  Substitute another language with Spanish if Spanish is not the language of your community.

Give control of your room over to students. I let students put their own work up on bulletin boards.  This means they know where their own work is and feel more ownership of the room.  I do straighten the boards up a little if they end up looking too messy but I’m not one of those teachers who won’t put up a bulletin without the use of a level so if things are slightly off kilter but student created I prefer it.

Teach students to be hosts in your room. Once I asked a parent if she’d like to see the report her child had been working on and the parent told me, no.  However, when I tell Suzy, a student in my class, to show her mom around, no one ever refuses.  Parents prefer to hear from their own child what they’ve been working on in class.

Make it an Event. We used science night as our movie premiere night.  Many fellow teachers thought that was cheating.  Our movie was about animal camouflage so I think it counts.  The evening began, however, with hands-on activities centered on the butterfly life cycle, then continued with student presentations, and as if that wasn’t enough, we scheduled a volcano explosion (the old vinegar and baking soda trick) as the finale to our evening.  The evening was undoubtedly fun.

Make it Visual. Particularly if you have parents who speak another language, school is a much more comfortable place if they are able to understand what’s going on.  Movies, hands-on activities, and explosions lend themselves to comprehension more easily than lectures.

I could add, serve refreshments though I confess I rarely do.  It’s a great idea.

What are your tips?

 

How to Reduce the Amount of Teacher Talk

Pair Share

Pair Sharing: A Best Practice

Pair Sharing is generally acknowledged as a best practice in education. In classrooms I visit, however, I rarely see it used, let alone integrated into lessons as a regular practice. Reducing the amount of teacher talk and getting students to talk to each other is one of the cheapest and easiest education reforms anyone can implement. The structure of schooling must change to become more child-centered or it risks becoming irrelevant. Teachers need to get off the stage a little bit and here’s a way to do it without giving up complete control.

10-2

I was lucky enough to be trained in the GLAD strategies early in my teaching career and their philosophy of 10-2 greatly influenced my thinking about pair sharing.  Their idea is that for every ten minutes of teacher talk, there should be two minutes of student talk.  This means that you do not have to necessarily have students answer a question when they are talking with each other, they can and should sometimes simply summarize what you’ve been talking about.  While students share with each other—and this is the most important part— teachers circulate around the room and listen in.

Having student summarize what you’ve been teaching helps students to:

  • Transition information into long-term memory through talking and not just listening.
  • Release energy that’s been bottled up for the previous ten minutes.
  • Refocus if they’ve been tuned out while you were talking.

Having students summarize what you’ve been teaching helps teachers to:

  • Assess whether students understand what you’re talking about.  You’d never know whether they understand if you don’t take the two minutes to get that feedback.
  • Increase accountability for what’s discussed by requiring students to talk about it in pairs and then whole group.
  • Listen to students.  They feel like they’re not listened to and, generally speaking, they’re right.
  • Encourage students who are normally shy but have great ideas to share their ideas with the whole class.

Classroom Management

Before starting pair sharing you need to teach students how to do it.  Choose a volunteer from the classroom and Model:

  • How to find a partner (they should be close by)
  • What to do if there are no partners (a group of thee is fine if that’s all you can find)
  • Body language for listening (look at your partner, sit still)
  • Appropriate volume (everyone practice saying “I like pizza in a quiet voice)
  • Signals for getting the class back together as a whole.

The first time you try this, it might go badly.  Please expect that and don’t give up.

Other Uses for Pair Sharing

In addition to summarizing, students can solve problems, answer questions, or share a personal experience when talking with partners.

Pair sharing can and should be a part of every single lesson every single day or else I’d say the teacher is likely hogging the stage and students may or may not be retaining what’s being said.

How do you get students talking in your classroom?

Six Ways Teachers Can Improve Education This Year

This post is about six things teachers can do in their own schools and classrooms to improve the entire field of education in the 2010-2011 school year.

1.  Say hello at the door.

I used to think this was silly until I read that the few words exchanged at the door may be a students’ only positive interaction with an adult all day (maybe even their only personal interaction with a teacher all day).  It gives students a chance to know I care about them as individuals and lets students who may have misbehaved the day before know that they have a blank slate this morning.  It also means students can’t escape in my classroom.  Right away students are accountable to me in a nonthreatening way.  They’re not going to coast in this classroom.  Think of all the students coasting through school who we might be able to reach if we all just said hello.

In order for your classroom not to fall apart while doing this, you must have an activity for students to start on as soon as they get to their desks.  I’ve used Daily Language Review as my morning warmup.  The morning warmup routine has to be established so I wouldn’t send students into the room on the very first day without me.

So that I don’t get bored, I even say hello in different languages.  Aloha, buenos dias, shalom, etc. mix it up a little so it keeps it interesting and quickly a rapport develops between teacher and student.  Sometimes students have something to tell me and it gives me an opportunity to get to know them.  Over time, I teach students to stop in the doorway, look me in the eye, and say good morning back as if they are going on a job interview.  These are skills students need but I only teach them once students feel comfortable.

2.  Eat in the teacher cafeteria.

Shocking advice?  If you find your teacher cafeteria to be a hotbed of negativity there’s only one way to change that.  You need to go in there and be an engine of positivity.  Brainstorm instructional strategies instead of complaining about students or change the subject entirely and talk about your trip to Hawaii or the latest episode of Glee.  Families eat together and if your school faculty is to be a family then they need to share a meal and learn to get along.  When a school “family” is a happy one then individual members of that family are happy.  When teachers are happy, students are happy, and it makes a school a better, safer, more productive place.

3.  Teach authentic writing.

Stop having students simply write for their teachers.  Stop correcting everything for students.  Stop telling students what the purpose for their writing is and start asking them to decide on a purpose for their own writing.  I strongly recommend Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle: New Understandings About Writing, Reading, and Learning which talks about teaching Reader’s Workshop in Middle School.  Nevertheless, I’ve found it to be invaluable advice for teaching writing in elementary school in the way it gives students responsibility for making their own decisions and includes extensive use of mini-lessons and modeling to teach missing skills.

The weakest area in California student test data seems to be “Writing Strategies.”  It’s no surprise since this part of the test measures students’ ability to analyze and revise text and I doubt they are learning this in their classroom.  In order to teach writing, you will need to be a writer yourself.

I’ve written about teaching writing before.  I also recommend Dean Shareski’s recent post, Writing, Are We Teaching it Wrong? which excellently points out many of the problems with our current teaching of writing.

4.  Incorporate Multi-Media Into Every Lesson

In my last post, I wrote about The Right Way to Show a Movie in Class.  Teachers can also use realia to bring subjects to life.  Make it a point to include relevant manipulatives, photos, videos, realia, audio CDs, iPods, or web sites even just a little bit in every lesson.

While I’d like to think that my personality is charming and my stage presence dynamic, there is a limit to how much engagement I can garner with just my voice, my face, and and my unending wit.  If everyone used something besides themselves and a piece of chalk to teach lessons, learners of different modalities would be engaged and school would be all around better.

5.  Teach Art as a Discipline

You may have heard about it but the L.A. Times recently published a database of teacher effectiveness (more on that some other time).  In examining several schools I’ve worked at, I’ve found that consistently the most effective teachers teach art and teach it well in addition to all academic subjects.  If done right, art can lead to higher level thinking and problem solving.  If you’re going to have students draw, teach them to make straight lines, curved lined, dotted lines.  If you’re going to teach students to drum, teach them rhythm and how to count.  If you’re going to teach students to dance, teach them how to use different parts of their bodies.  And most importantly teach them to analyze artwork. How to Talk to Children About Art is an excellent book that helps teachers who feel ill-equipped to talk about art how to do so.

Use art, not as a Friday fun day activity, but as a discipline and it can lead to higher level thinking.

6.  Teach Test Prep Two Minutes Every Day

If you haven’t noticed, the public wants greater accountability for teachers.  I would agree that standardized testing is not the best way to measure student achievement but it’s the measure that the public wants to use.  While we’re busy coming up with better measures, let’s play the game.  If your students are higher level thinkers, critical problem solvers, and sufficient readers, why shouldn’t they be able to do well on a test…unless, they’re not familiar with the format of tests.  Teach students to eliminate obviously wrong answers, teach students, to read questions before reading passages, teach students how to use the process of elimination.  If test taking is a game, let’s teach our students how to play.

What are you going to do this year to make education better?

First Day of School Activities

excerpted from Classroom Management for Teachers.com

First Day of School Activities

Lots of First Day Activities from Cape Brenton Victoria School Board

First Day of School Activities by Katie Hallum

First Days of School Script for Teachers by Katie Hallum

Back to School Preparation Checklist and Month by Month Schedule for First Grade by Terry Analore

Everybody Needs A Rock Activity by Jan Tappan

Activities for First Day by Scholastic

Interest Inventory for getting to know your students

Nine Questions to Ask Students on First Day of School by Elona Hartes

101 Things to Do on the First Day of School

Math Activities for the Beginning of the Year

Article: Reviewing the Steps to Take Before Starting the Year

Ice Breakers

Kathy Schrock’s First Day Activities/Ice Breakers

Teachnology Ice Breakers

Ice Breaker List

Ice Breakers and Warm Ups

Welcome Letters

These can be adapted for any grade level and were created using Printshop:

First Grade

Second Grade (Spanish/English)

More sample Letters from Scholastic

First Day of School Read Alouds

First Day of School Books

Also Worth Reading

Things to do before starting year of Open Court Reading

Back to School, It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Classroom Management Articles

Have a great year if you haven’t started already!

Good Teaching Should Be Like Pulling Teeth (Sometimes)

Teaching students to work independently.  Getting students to problem solve math problems without a teacher intervening.  Facilitating student-led discussions.  Asking students to engage in higher level thinking when analyzing literature.  Doing any of these things in your classroom for the first time may be like pulling teeth.

The reason why higher level thinking doesn’t happen often in classrooms is because students can’t do it.  But students can’t do it because they haven’t been taught how to do it.  And if they don’t know how to do it, then it’s difficult to teach them.

When I reflect on my day, naturally it’s the lessons that flowed easily, when it seemed like all the students were “getting it” that help me to sleep better.  However, if we never challenge our students, they can never rise to new levels.  Higher expectations for all students doesn’t simply mean that if we built it, they will come.  We have to help students reach our higher expectations and getting there from where we are now takes work.

So, here’s to pulling teeth.  I wouldn’t encourage you to remain at frustration level for very long but pushing your students past their cognitive comfort zone is our job.  Getting there may feel like pulling teeth but the good teachers keep pulling and less effective teachers just give up.