Keeping the Kids on Track: Tips for Teachers in the Final Weeks of School

The end is closer than it was last week and I am slowly, slowly, drowning in a pile of paperwork!  My last post was an edited version of the newsletter article that I submitted for publication.  That little piece sparked this little 3 part series and unfortunately, I feel much more overwhelmed than last week and fear my writing will suffer.  Please bear with me on this one.  I am feeling under the pump!screen bean sinking papers

Any teacher will tell you that the final weeks of the school year are frantic.  While the countdown has well and truly begun, the classroom continues to run at full speed.  While teaching and learning continue to roll on, a long list of ‘wrap up’ tasks land on the teacher desk and seems to only get longer.  The teacher calendar can include any of the following tasks or events:

  • School based assessments and reportingcalendar clipart
  • Standardised testing
  • Data analysis and collation
  • Curriculum Planning Meetings (and homework)
  • Class celebrations
  • School Open Days/ Enrolment afternoons
  • School Christmas Celebrations (Christmas concert, Fun night, Carnival)
  • Extra-curricula planning, activities, and break-ups
  • Returning all borrowed Library Resources
  • Trying to find the borrowed Library Resources
  • Classroom Cleanup – students taking home portfolios and personal items
  • Classroom Cleanup – rearranging furniture
  • Teaching Team Reflections
  • Parent/ Teacher Conferences
  • Behaviour Management follow-up
  • Creation and Maintenance of Resources
  • Mentoring and Pre-Service Teacher Reports
  • References for students and colleagues
  • Timetabling for the next year
  • Organising thank you gifts for classroom volunteers and support staff
  • Organising student gifts
  • Continuing Professional Development (and official recording of this
  • Proof of Reflective Practice (handed in to the principal).
  • Strategic Planning for next year (class lists, programs running, budgets, PD activities, events for the calendar, resource purchasing and creation).

When all of that is going on, the teacher is tired, the weather is hot and the kids are getting ready for their Summer break, it is difficult for teachers to retain their focus.  When this difficulty arises, here are few tips to keep you sane.

How Do You Keep The Kids On Track? 3 TIPS FOR TEACHERS

STICK TO THE SCHEDULE

lesson plan clipartYou might be thinking I have said this before and I have.  If the parents need to keep the routine rolling at home, you need to do the same.  There will be things happening in these final days that will interrupt the normal flow of events.  But, as much as possible, you should keep things as they are.  Keep the seating plan in tact including the location of furniture in the room.  If you do Literacy in the morning, then do the English Exam/ assessment task in the morning.  Pay extra attention to transitions and other classroom procedures.  If you usually set homework, then keep setting homework.  If you usually expect students to read silently when they come in from lunch, then continue to have this expectation and enforce it.  The moment you “relax” or “let it slide” because the end is near, the kids will sense that you have begun to check out and they will too.

KEEP IN TOUCH

talkingThere I go repeating myself again.  But this follows on from the paragraph above.  If you contact parents regularly for various reasons (we can call home to say something positive too you know), then keep it up.  Send home a calendar with the important events that will be happening at school and emphasise to the students and parents that every day counts.  Find out if students are going to have a planned absence and plan accordingly.  This is much easier said than done, I know.  However, if every student is at school everyday, you won’t have to organise catch up assessments or chase up extra homework tasks.  Just as you are ensuring all the activity at school is on track and important, ensure your students and their parents know it.

LOOK AFTER YOURSELFbubble bath

There will be a long list of things to do.  You have seen the one above.  This will be even longer if you are moving classrooms or schools at the end of the year.  Stress and related illnesses are common among teachers at this time of year and this is especially true for those new to the profession.  Schedule some time for yourself- that means something you enjoy doing, not something you think you have to enjoy doing.  If you like coffee with friends, that’s good, plan to do that regularly.  If you would prefer to curl up with a book, visit your Nana or play with the cat, then plan one of those activities.  Saying “NO” is not a crime and if you are feeling too overwhelmed to go out or clean the house then let it slide. checklist funny

Another important part of looking after yourself is being realistic.  You can’t do it all!  Don’t kill yourself trying! Make a list of everything that needs to be done and then put them in order based on when they need to be done.  For example, last week I really wanted to work on some lesson planning, but I needed to have my newsletter article completed so I did that first.  This week I wanted to work on the assessment items for my class but the agenda for a team meeting was more urgent.  I still did my lesson planning and worked on assessment items for my class.  I just made sure that I got the other things done first.  I also took a few things off my list that can simply wait until the holidays, or even next year.  For example, I would like to have all the task cards printed and laminated for the first week of school activities with my new classes.  But, that might have to be a job for my holidays.

I know I said 3 tips… but this one is really important! 

ASK FOR HELP

Being realistic is important, and saying “NO” is necessary: Asking for HELP is vital to your survival in the last weeks.  Ask your students to help with finding resources and tidying the classroom.  Kids on detention can do all sorts of little jobs: sorting books, returning resources, sharpening pencils, filing papers, cleaning out cupboards, packing resources and taking down displays.

help wanted postits

Teacher Aides, while busy too, are there to help, don’t be afraid to ask for help with resource creation, filing, typing, packing and organising (most TA’s love re-arranging and sorting items into logical systems).  Talk to your colleagues about sharing supervision in order to give each other a bit of time to get some work done.  Ask your colleagues how they manage paperwork and reporting.  Share the load with them: you design and mark the comprehension tests and they design and mark the maths tests.  Get together and work on reporting comments and lesson planning.  If you are struggling, inform your principal or immediate supervisor and ask for any assistance that is available.  They might be able to pay back the non-contact time that is owed or they might be able to extend a deadline for you.  The work won’t go away but you can get help to manage it.

Ask the Family and Friends.  If the house needs cleaning, ask your partner/ housemate/ kids to pitch in and maybe even pick up some of the slack while you are in “COUNT DOWN MODE”  and assure them that you will owe them one when the holidays start.  Accept that it’s okay to have take away for dinner if cooking is too hard and let go of the idea that the bed has to be made every morning (or insert other arbitrary household activity like drying the dishes).

That’s it from me!  Now I have to go pet my cat for 10 minutes before I jump right in to some marking; after which I will be writing thank you notes for the LN Team at my school.  I have revision booklets to create for my class before throwing myself into the LN Program Planning for next year.  I can’t wait to go shopping with my Best Friend tomorrow!  Good thing I’m taking care of myself!

Hang in There Everyone!

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PART #3 How to Manage Support Resources in your Classroom: Getting the Best From Your Education Assistant

Click here to read part #1 

Click here to read part #2 

Teachers will welcome all the help they can get.  Unfortunately, teachers are not always prepared for the help that comes their way.  Even the most experienced teacher can improve their management of the resources available.  It is essential to know who is available to you and then plan the best way to use their time and skills. Education Assistants (EA) or Teacher Aides (TA) and even parent helpers are the human resources of your classroom and they are often left untapped.  Here are 5 ways to ensure you are getting the most out of the assistance in your classroom.   

help wanted postits

#1 PLAN and ORGANISE

This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway.  Effective teachers have a goal for each lesson and plan learning experiences accordingly.  Effective teachers plan ahead so that all the resources (from videos to pens and paper) are readily available and valuable learning time is not wasted on ‘getting organised’.  If you know the plan for the lesson and the learning goals of the lesson ahead of time, you can communicate them to your EA and make sure you are on the same page.

At my school, learning support TA’s are accessed through a booking system on our school network.  Teachers who want a TA to support students, have to know ahead of time (at least 24 hours) and make a booking.  Part of the booking process includes a short description of how the TA will be utilised during the lesson.  Descriptions like “crowd control” or “behaviour management” are not accepted in this system.  The Teacher has to have a clear purpose for the extra person in the classroom.

#2 PROVIDE NOTES AND PLANS

NOTES: If there are notes going on the board for students to copy take extra copies and give them to the EA.  How the EA uses these notes will depend on your classroom context, but you should always have them available.  Worksheets are also a good reference for the EA to have.

If EAs are supporting in my classroom for assessment, I will give them a blank copy of the assessment task as well as an answer sheet.

PLANS: Regardless of the support you want the EA to provide, a lesson outline is very important for the EA to have.  If you want the EA to sit with a few students during the lesson and simply keep them on task, it might help them to know which parts of the lesson are vital for the student to attend.  If they know that the student will have to listen for a few minutes and will then have an opportunity to move, they will be able to help the student stay focused with a promised change of pace.guideline key

Plans are especially important when you ask the EA to work with a small group or lead an activity while you are working with others.  The EA will need to know what you want the students to achieve, the prompts you want the EA to use with the students and focus questions for students to answer.

To be effective the EA will need to be aware of the following aspects of your lesson.

  • Learning goals
  • Literacy & Numeracy priorities
  • The task, resources, time allocated
  • The context of the learning in relation to past/future work – particularly assessment
  • Teaching and learning strategies to be used
  • Planned differentiation
  • Learning outcomes

#3 TALK TO YOUR EA

If possible meet with your EA before they come and work in your classroom.  At the very least, ensure you know their name and negotiate how they will be addressed by students.

dr lift on three

You may find it useful to discuss the following with your EA:

  • How will you address each other in front of the students?
  • Which students have learning difficulties and who will need the most assistance?
  • What are the behaviour expectations in your classroom and how is behaviour managed?
  • How do you want the EA to manage behaviour in the classroom? Some teachers want all behaviour issues referred to them immediately while others prefer the EA handle it to a certain point.

#4 MAKE THE PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP CLEAR TO STUDENTS

An EA is a paraprofessional in the classroom and an adult.  When the EA enters your classroom, introduce them to the class and explain why the EA is there. For example: “This is Ms Graham, she has come to help us with our reading today”. Make it clear to students that you respect the EA and you know what the EA will be doing.  This goes a long way to ensuring the EA has the respect of the students and is able to focus on educational support instead of getting the kids on side.

charlie and snoopy hifive

#5 TAP INTO THE KNOWLEDGE AND OBSERVATIONS OF THE EA

EAs spend most of their time working in the classroom.

I know from experience that the EA’s know more about students’ background, behaviour in other classes and interests. 

They also see lots of teaching strategies, behaviour management systems and strategies, assessment items and most of all: resources.  Use your EA to help you find resources or make extra copies of things they see in other classrooms.  Show your EA resources you are planning to use and ask their opinion.  If you don’t agree with them, you don’t have to follow their advice, but sometimes fresh eyes see things that tired ones don’t.  Remember they see the students in plenty of other classrooms and can usually tell when a worksheet is too busy or too difficult for a student they are supporting.

feedback

When in your classroom the EA is an extra pair of eyes and often sees things that you might miss.

There have been several occasions when the EA in my classroom has noticed the hidden struggling student before me (there is always one that blends in to the background), pre-empted student conflicts and recognised positive student behaviour while I’m busy dealing with the negatives.  My EA tells me what she has seen and then I can deal with it how I see fit.  Having that extra pair of eyes in my classroom helps me be a better teacher.

awesome emoticon

REMEMBER

Education Assistants or Teacher Aides are an asset to any classroom.  Most EA’s are passionate about education and have a “how can I help?” attitude.  They build positive relationships with kids as well as teachers and bring a whole new perspective to the classroom.  The most important message here is communication.  EAs are ready, willing and able to make a huge difference in your classroom; so tell them what you need and expect that they will deliver.  In fact, more often than not, they will give above and beyond your expectations.    

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PART #2 Where to Draw the Line: Levels of Support for SEP and ld students- How much is too much?

stic figure draw line

Click Here to Read Part #1

Teachers and Education Assistants often walk a fine line between supporting and taking over when the pressure is on for a student to complete work.  Many of us will question ourselves and feel uncertain about how much support to give.  These steps are recommended for Education Assistants.  

5 Steps to Getting Assessment Support Just Right (or close to it)

1. Talk to the Teacher

talking

Find out which students you will be expected to support and the specific reasons the teacher has flagged them for this help.  Sometimes the student and their capabilities will be well known to you but there will be times when the student is an unknown entity – make sure everyone is on the same page.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the students, the task and what the teacher expects you to do.

2. Be Prepared

a plus clipboardWhen possible, get a copy of the assessment task sheet/ exam and the criteria sheet prior to working with the student.  Ensure that you understand the task and the skills that are being assessed.  For example: in a maths test are students being assessed on reading the question, the procedure they chose to use or the accuracy of their calculations?  The skills being assessed and the knowledge required for a “C” will impact how much support you can give.

Review the content knowledge that the student will need to know.  Make sure you know how to access the notes or materials that students will need.  You don’t need to become an expert on chemistry to help in an exam, but if you can at least access a glossary of terms and know which way to steer the student if they are really stuck, it will certainly help.

Check what the assessment conditions are and time the student will have to complete it.  Also find out where you will be working with them (will you be in the classroom or in the library?).

3. Breakdown the Question/s

screen bean puzzle solverOften students understand the content but don’t understand the question and give up.  If the question is in two parts, cover up the second part and help the student to focus on the first part.  You could help them make a list of separate steps they need to take to complete the question. Underline the key words in the question that relate to the knowledge or skill that the student needs to use.

4. Use questions to probe for student understanding

Follow this process to help students work it out on their own:bw question mark

  1. Read the question slowly to the student (sometimes this is enough).
  2. Ask: What words in there do you know or recognise?
  3. Ask: What do you know about that topic?
  4. Say: What could you do to answer this question?
  5. Ask: What is confusing you about this? (If a direction is unclear this would be a good time to reword the question or break it up into smaller steps).
  6. Reword the question or say: remember when we did (insert skill here) in class.  We were looking at (insert object or topic).  Can you remember the steps we followed?
  7. Reassure the student and encourage them to get started.

5. Scribe Don’t Write

Scribing is writing down exactly what the student has said in answer to a question or when composing a paragraph.  Consider the criteria when have been asked to scribe, if spelling is being assessed then insist the student attempts to spell content words.  If students have been asked to write an essay but the main criteria refer to content, focus your questions on the content and don’t get bogged down with spelling or grammar.  You might know that the wording is awkward but if that is something being assessed you need to let it go.  When you have scribed a sentence, re-read it so the student can hear it out loud and make necessary changes.ta supporting student

Use questions to prompt correct sentence structure and punctuation.

  • Does that make sense?
  • Is that a question?
  • Do I need to start a new sentence here?
  • Is this in the same paragraph?

FINALLY

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for Education Assistants is a dynamic issue.  Education Organisations need to ensure that support staff are indeed qualified to perform the duties expected of them.  The role of Education Assistant is an essential one, especially when providing sufficient support for students with disabilities and learning difficulties.  This content is helpful for Education Assistants however it is best used to stimulate discussion in an informal development environment.  

When teachers request the support of an education assistant in the classroom or they are blessed with the offer of support, they should be prepared to use and manage the resource efficiently.  Stay tuned for Part #3 coming soon.  

PART #3  How to Manage Support Resources in your Classroom: Getting the Best From Your Education Assistant 

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PART #1: Supporting Special Education and Learning Support Students to Complete Assessment

tchraide with kid

Students with Disabilities (SWD) and Students with learning difficulties (Sld) are provided with reasonable adjustments to classroom strategies, resources and assessments so they are not disadvantaged. It is often difficult for educators to determine the most appropriate adjustments and whether or not they are reasonable. A reasonable adjustment for one student is not necessarily reasonable for another. The use of an education assistant (EA) to “help” with assessment is a common support strategy. Therefore, EAs need to have the skills necessary to support students in the testing situation without taking over and completing the task on behalf of the student.

 

Teachers want their students to succeed. After spending five or more weeks teaching specific knowledge and skills to their students and revising this content, teachers need to assess the understanding that has been gained. When administering assessment it can be very frustrating for a teacher to see students struggling to show what they know. The level of support or adjustment that a teacher gives can impact greatly on the end result a student achieves. Finding the balance between prompting and taking over is difficult. Teachers often walk a fine line when assisting students to get by. Considering the difficulty that teachers experience the importance of professional development for EAs is obvious.

Education Assistants work to build positive relationships with their students and have the opportunity to do so in several subject areas. Many EAs will see particular students several times a week as they work in various classes with the student. Teachers may only see these same students twice a week and are not able to take as much time building a rapport. EAs will usually have a better idea of the capabilities of a student and things that impact this such as: behaviours, learning styles, special interests, family, background, triggers and how often they need to rest. The desire an EA has to see his/her students succeed is often greater than that of the teacher. This is especially true when the EA has worked with the student for a number of years. Testing situations can place the EA in a compromising and confusing position as they battle between keeping it positive and ensuring the student given the grade they deserve.question mark of questions

The question is: HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH?

This question is asked by EA’s in every school. Both trainee and experienced EA’s alike will wonder if they are helping too much or if they need to do more. Maintaining the delicate balance between just enough and too much is difficult for everyone and the level of support required will change for each student. Remember: what is reasonable for one student may not be reasonable for another.

LEGISLATION and POLICY

policy definitionIt is important for EA’s and classroom teachers to be aware of the policies and recommendations set forward by the governing body of education in the state and district. Policy Documents are a good starting point for this and can be accessed, in most cases, online.

HEAD OF DEPARTMENT

While it is useful for EA’s to be aware of the department policy, it is more important for them to know what the head of department expects. It is easy to become overwhelmed with technical jargon and confusing processes written in policy documents. Therefore, the head of department needs to be clear when outlining expectations for support staff and communicating these expectations to classroom teachers.

CLASSROOM TEACHER
talking

There are times when EA’s are given very little warning (5 minutes or less) that the student they are working with will be completing
assessment during the lesson. In this situation it is practically impossible to prepare for the situation and ensure a level of support has been negotiated between the classroom teacher and education assistant. When possible, teachers need to explain the assessment item and criteria to the support staff (more than one Education Assistant may be required over a period of time). It might also be helpful for teachers to share their own techniques for supporting students during assessment, especially in terms of language, suggested examples and class notes they could access.

EDUCATION ASSISTANT

When the EA has been working in the classroom with the student and has extensive background knowledge of the subject matter as well as the student, this needs to be acknowledged. The EA needs to be recognised as a knowledgeable member of the team supporting the student. At the same time, the EA needs to remember the purpose of the assessment and the criteria, ensuring that it is the student’s knowledge and skills that are being used to complete the assessment.

I hope that has given you something to think about.

PART #2: Where to Draw the Line – 5 Steps for Supporting Students to Complete Assessments

PART #3: How to Manage the Support Resources in Your Classroom – Getting the Best From Your Education Assistant

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