Column

Teachers and Good Books

Question 1

What are some ways by which nonreading staff members can be encouraged to read more information or books that pertain to their work?

I was reading an article, “What Makes a Great Teacher?” which summarized sixteen characteristics arrived at by participants of the 2008 Phi Delta Kappa Summit on High-Performing Educators. I believe at least seven involved reading in some way. They include:

  • has the ability to be flexible, optimistic, self-reflective, progressive, and innovative;
  • excites a passion for learning in his or her students through skillful facilitation, using twenty-first-century tools;
  • goes beyond the classroom as a collaborator with colleagues;
  • wants to improve himself or herself by learning good instructional skills;
  • is someone who knows the curriculum and works well as part of a team;
  • builds relationships and facilitates lifelong learning; and
  • recognizes and adapts when he or she isn’t getting through to students.

Every teacher needs to be a lifelong learner. Professional development can be an avenue of educators learning together. Administrators need to be readers who find articles and books that encourage teachers in their practice. Just putting materials in the hands of a teacher is not enough. There has to be a designated, structured time for professional development built into the teachers’ work week.

Even so, teachers may not find time to read the articles on their own time prior to coming together for learning. This situation is a good opportunity to teach and use reading strategies that can be used in the classroom at any level while at the same time having teachers become aware of ideas that are new or need to be reinforced. Students at any level appreciate having a book read to them, provided it is done with expression. Ask a teacher who demonstrates these skills to read the article aloud and then identify what makes the reader capture one’s attention. Identify opportunities to use this in the classroom. Use paired reading, not only to teach the skill, but to learn what the article is about. Share what was learned from the article and also how the content of the article as well as the strategy can be implemented in the classroom. Use before reading, during reading and after reading strategies (e.g. comprehension skills, guided reading, outlining, summarizing, fast writes, response journals) to remind teachers that reading strategies can be used as a teaching tool in every area of learning. In the context of learning and sharing with their colleagues, teachers read the article, are exposed to, or have reinforcement of teaching strategies which can be used in the classroom. Maybe this will spark spontaneous shared learning at a future time.

Work Cited 

  • Young, Erin. “What Makes a Great Teacher?” Phi Delta Kappan 90 (2009): 438–439.

Question 2

As a teacher I understand that I am supposed to teach my students certain subjects and concepts according to state standards and curriculum. What if there is a concept such as particular math lesson or a sports skill that more than half of the class can’t seem to grasp? Do I continue on to the next unit once that unit is finished even though I know my students don’t get it, or do I keep working on that particular unit until they get it? If I continue on with the old unit, how do I continue on with the other units without having to play catch-up?

… Analyses reveal that higher-achieving countries teach fewer topics more deeply each year; focus on reasoning skills and application of knowledge, rather than mere coverage; and have more thoughtful sequence of expectations based on developmental learning progressions within and across domains (Darling-Hammond and McCloskey, 264).

I believe that when teachers examine the prescribed curriculum expectations, we have to determine the essentials that must be learned and then what is desirable, but not necessarily essential. In reviewing a set of prescribed learning outcomes, I see a progressive building on what is expected at the previous grade level. We have to share the learning outcome expectations with students in language they can understand, and also describe what it looks like to achieve a specific learning outcome. For example: A student must achieve A, B, and C to demonstrate knowledge of a certain learning outcome. If B is not achieved, another opportunity can be given to achieve it or the concept can be presented using a different teaching or learning strategy. Rick Stiggins, a leader in assessment for learning, states, “Accompany this with actual samples of student work that reveal to students the continuum along which they will travel on their journey to success” (421). When a rubric is used for assessment for learning, the students and teacher can determine very quickly what has to be accomplished in order to demonstrate adequate knowledge of a concept. Even a slip of paper handed in at the end of class on which the students indicates “I understand the concept or” I don’t understand this part of the concept,” gives the teacher immediate feedback, allowing the concept to be presented in a different way in a manner that meets the learning styles of those particular students. When feedback is given early on, the teachers can reflect on why the lesson was not understood and can take steps to remedy the situation, rather than waiting until the majority of the unit is completed. I believe the literature on assessment for learning gives educators helpful information that will prevent the situation described in the question.

Works Cited 

  • Darling-Hammond, Linda, and Laura McCloskey. “Assessment for Learning Around the World: What Would It Mean to Be Internationally Competitive?” Phi Delta Kappan 90 (2008): 263–72.
  • Stiggin, Rick. “Assessment for Learning in Upper Elementary Grades.” Phi Delta Kappan 90 (2009): 419–21.

Question 3

I was wondering what to do with a student who does not care if he/she gets into trouble. If a student does not respond to discipline, what can I as a teacher do to help him/her?

As a reflective practitioner, one always has to ask, “What is happening here? Why is this happening?” My experience in teaching tells me there usually is a reason, and in some way I have been able to determine the cause. As simple as it sounds, what was necessary was talking with and really listening to the student. The suggestions Van Dyk offers regarding students who display a lack of motivation may also apply in this situation:

Try to get to know them personally-their likes and dislikes, their hopes and fears. Simply ordering the students to do their work won’t do. Try to discover what blocks the students’ interest and motivation. I recommend getting the students involved in regular evaluative discussions: How is this class going? What do you like and dislike? How can we improve this class? Scary stuff, I know. But taking risks at this point may pay off (91).

Building on that which the students chooses to reveal can often help determine what is causing the behavior. In talking with other teachers and administrators, you may determine whether this behavior is evident in just some or all of the student’s classes. A conversation with the student’s parents may give insight as to the reason for the behavior. As much as we try to understand the student and the situation, we also have to pray for wisdom to be discerning because boundaries have to be set in the classroom to allow for optimal learning and all students have to live within the boundaries of the caring classroom community. Sometimes limits or boundaries are what the student is seeking. A key component in this is prayer and recognizing that this is God’s child. Love as spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13 has to apply.


Work Cited

  • Van Dyk, John. Fostering a Reflective Culture in the Christian School: The Maple Wood Story. Sioux Center, Iowa: Dordt College Press, 2007.