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Monday Mapping: Effective Learning & Study Habits for Secondary Students

Secondary students, while physically grown and developed, are still in the process of developing their cognitive abilities.  To help them along, we can provide structure in the secondary classroom that will set them up with effective learning and study habits for the rest of their academic careers.

While each secondary classroom is, and should be, different, the structure for basic learning should be the same.  This will help students to know what to expect and will help them to structure their own study strategies for most effective academic success.

What are the most Effective Learning and Study Habits to practice in the classroom? 

They are utilizing practices based on the following 6 simple principles:
  1. Attention - Getting and keeping students' attention is key.  Make lessons relevant and use engaging bellringers to draw interest at the beginning of each day.  Keep students engaged by involving them in every stage of the learning process and by assessing for comprehension and content understanding on a regular and frequent basis.
  2. Goal Orientation - Setting goals helps everyone to know where they are going, and then to get there faster and with less interference from distraction.  In the classroom, these goals are specific objectives for each day and for each unit.  They should tie together, be understood by students, and be reachable.  HOWEVER - do NOT write "lesson plan objectives" on the board for student goal orientation.  They do not care about the standards or the wordiness required in our lesson plans for the administration.  Just state it simply and be clear on what you expect.
  3. Organization - Organization is KEY!  Knowing where you are going, and transitioning to get there effectively helps reinforce the overall objectives of the lesson.  More importantly, it helps students know what to expect and will help them to stay on task.
  4. Rehearsal - Practice makes perfect!  We grew up with that explanation for every challenge we tackled.  And it's true.  Studies show that we better retain content when we rehearse or practice it multiple times.  Introduce content in varied ways, utilize varied activities, practice skills to reinforce content, rehearse all lessons with whole-class discussion wrap-ups, and always close with a check on the objective and its completion.
  5. Time on Task -Setting aside appropriate time for lessons is the greatest challenge for most teachers.  We know what we want to teach, but knowing how long it will take depends on so many uncontrollable factors.  The key to success in this area is being willing to step off the schedule when it is needed.  More importantly, allow the time needed for activities, and do not push students to stop the learning process just to meet a time restraint.
  6. Depth of Processing - Students need to be engaged with challenging content.  When they are forced to think harder, they will learn to think better, and they will eventually gain processing skills vital for more in-depth learning.  In addition to teaching the process skills, it will also help student retain the content as they continue to process and practice the information.
Setting up this basic structure in your classroom can help students better focus their time and energy to help them learn more effectively and with less stress and frustration.

Need a tool to help students examine their learning and study habits?  Take a look at this Student Study Survey in my TpT Store.
Happy Teaching!

Why Do We Have to Learn History?

By this time in the semester, students have taken the first unit test and they are starting to ask 
the BIG questions...

Why do we have to take this class?
Why is history important?
How will I ever use this in my REAL life?

While I have my own answers to these questions, this great Time article, America's Students Need History - But Not for the Reasons You're Hearing, says it all with great research and updates on current reforms and issues circling the History classroom. 

Read it for your own information (and that feeling or reassurance) or, even better, have your students read it for a great lesson!

Happy Teaching!

Monday Mapping: Effective Questioing 101

Years ago, when I was a student, the basic questions for learning were the the 5 Ws and H.  Some teachers just wrote "5WH" on the board, and we knew what was expected for our assignment.  We compiled our assessments, essays, and even research papers in the basic format.

Who?  What?  When?  Where?  Why?  How?

In becoming a teacher, I learned that there are reasons behind each of those questions, and there are also better strategies for questioning students in the secondary classroom to help they learn to question for themselves, the greater goal for a Social Studies course!

Teaching requires the use of effective questioning skills.  If you are only making statements in your classroom, not only are you limiting your students understanding and engagement, but you are stifling their opportunity for true learning. 

So, how do you question effectively

Start with these basic definitions and descriptions.
  • Basic Fact Questions - These information-seeking questions will help students see the layout of the topic of study.  They also set the foundation for the questions to follow.
    • What do you see?
    • Who is involved?
    • What are they doing?
    • Where is this happening?
    • When is this taking place?
  • Explanatory Questions - Answering essential questions and focusing on on the big picture is the goal for most history courses.  These questions guide your students to that level of learning.
    • Why is this taking place?
    • How is the event occurring?
  • Reactive Questions - Teaching empathy and how to see life through multiple perspectives can be the most valuable lesson your students will learn.  Using reactive questions can also be useful in keeping students engaged and helping them find the connections they need to make history or current events relevant to their own lives or futures.
    • How do you think they felt...?
    • How would you feel if...?
  • Imaginative Questions - Helping students think outside of the box is key to their unlocking the tools to the future.  Allowing imagination in the classroom also helps students weigh the relativity of the information and to find greater value in it for themselves.
    • What do you think happened next?
    • How could this problem be solved?
  • Challenge Questions - Encouraging students to take the information they have learned even further through investigation or analysis can help them learn the life lesson of the value of inquiry.  In our modern world of quick technology-based resources, learning to inquire for clarity or validation will be key for student success.  It will also strengthen their confidence as learners, preparing them with the tools they need to justify their positions and points in all walks of life.
    • How can we verify this information?
    • What sources will provide us greater understanding?
And once you have the questions developed for each lesson, deliver them in a spiral method. 
  1. Start with the obvious to engage all students.
  2. Build up slowly to develop understanding.
  3. Add depth to push for critical thinking.
  4. Wrap up for all student inclusion.
  5. Review to help foster retention.
While getting into the habit of questioning in your classes can be a challenge at first, it will become second nature to you in no time and it will make you a much more effective teacher.  More importantly, it will make your students much more effective learners!

Happy Teaching!

Monday Mapping: Promoted Thinking in the Social Studies Classroom

Students often enter their Social Studies classroom thinking it will be a course based on simple facts and memorization.  They do not see the classes in the Social Sciences as those requiring thought, and definitely not ones that will teach them critical skills useful in their academic careers or in their adult lives.  They are wrong!  Social Studies courses are exactly where they can learn and practice to THINK, the cornerstone for all other critical learning.

As Social Studies teachers, we need to stress those thinking strategies in our classes to help students develop a greater understanding of our content, but also to become stronger overall learners.

Here's just a few strategies to help you introduce critical and historical thinking in your course:
  • Asking Questions - This skill sets the stage for all others.  Through asking questions, students learn to acquire content, to research and investigate, to interpret or analyze information, and to develop greater, more essential questions for deeper understanding and thought.
  • Monitoring Information - As students learn to effectively highlight, annotate, and underline information as they are reading text, they are practicing the vital skill of understanding.  Developing this skill helps them find greater success across the curriculum.
  • Activating Background Knowledge - Students are often unaware that they already know something about our content.  Learning to turn on that background understanding and to apply it to current learning will facilitate deeper comprehension and greater engagement with the content and in learning.
  • Evaluating and Judging - Practicing analysis, viewing information from multiple perspectives, and determining what is important are vital skills for effective citizenship, but also for learning.  While these skills are essential to the study of history, they are also the foundation for many careers in our modern society.
  • Summarizing - Students learn to summarize in grade school, but developing this skill is paramount for higher-order thinking and deepened learning.  At the secondary level, students should practice both concise summary and expanded summary to show comprehension, but also to develop their ability to express themselves and their individual ideas effectively.  
The skill and process of thinking is often something we take for granted.  We assume that it is a natural skill, once everyone can acquire without instruction or practice.  But if you look around us, and listen to conversations among our younger generations, you will see that is not the case.  Students today, especially in their abbreviated world of interactive communication, need explicit instruction in how to think effectively.  Start teaching and practicing that in your Social Studies classroom!

Happy Teaching!

Confidence Building at the Beginning of the School Year

After a few weeks in the school year have been tackled, I often stop to reflect on my year so far.  It's at that point when I question everything, including my own knowledge and skillsWhat do I know?  Am I really prepared to teach the whole year?  Can I do this?

With that in mind and this Bright Ideas Blog Hop on my schedule, I decided to team up the two topics.  So, my Bright Idea is to to build my back up my CONFIDENCE by getting back to the basics. For me, a Social Studies teacher, the basics fall into the subject of Geography.

Geography can be tough.  There is just so much to know, and it is constantly changing.  Still, I play a few games to refresh: Both my knowledge and my ATTITUDE!

So, it's time to test your skills!  Can you find your way through a Geography Scavenger Hunt Quiz?  Can you follow directions?  Do you know the basics?

You and your kids will love navigating through this fun, FREE activity, all the while reviewing the basics of geography!  Try it - start with the following link:

Answers - I'm not giving them to you!  You can figure it out!  I am confident you can.  :)  And then, you can create your own Wix scavenger hunt for your students!

If this is just too easy for you, jump over to one of my favorite practice websites, SheppardSoftware, where you can tackle the basics in every subject area with games and fun activities!  And best of all, you can build up your confidence for FREE!

For other great ideas, please follow my A Lesson Plan for Teachers Blog, my Pinterest Boards, and my TeachersPayTeachers Store!

For other Bright Ideas to help build up your confidence to tackle the rest of the school year, hop through the links! 

Happy Teaching!

Getting Things Started in the Secondary Classroom

One of the greatest challenges for secondary teachers is Getting Class Started on time.  When working with teens, their attention is often on anything but your classroom objectives, so getting them started is key to keeping them on track!

I've written many posts on Bellringers and Previews over the years.  These other posts offer suggestions for engaging starters that can enhance your class lessons.  But before you can find success with these ideas, you must have your students trained to look for and complete the class starter without hesitation.

Here's my advice for making bellringers a priority in your classroom:
  1. Start off your school year by defining and describing bellringers for your students.  Explain the significance to your students, and detail how these class starters will work in your individual class.
  2. Be consistent.  Have the bellringer up and ready EVERY DAY.  Always post the bellringer (or the basic assignment prompt) in the same place each day.
  3. Set a specific period of time at the beginning of class for the bellringer to be completed each day.  Do not disturb your students during this time and do not allow them to disturb each other.  I always allowed 5 minutes for standard bellringers each day, which gave me time to complete attendance.
  4. Hold students accountable for bellringer completion.  My students kept a class notebook.  You can see time-saving grading guidelines here.
  5. Use the bellringer to transition to your day's lesson.  Bellringers should not be isolated topics, but should engage students on your topic at hand.
And most importantly... Make your bellringers relevant.  Utilize current events.  Address controversial topics.  Encourage personal connections.  Keep it real!

Now hop along to visit other posts sponsored by Secondary Smorgasbord for great ideas on starting your classes effectively!

An InLinkz Link-up

And special THANKS! to Desktop Learning Adventures and The ELA Buffet for organizing these helpful link-ups for the Secondary classroom!

Happy Teaching!

Monday Mapping: Centers in the Secondary Classroom

School has started and you are determined to make your middle or high school classroom different than the rest.  What do you do?  Easy!  Transform your classroom from the desk and chair lecture monotony to an interactive walk through history or set up intriguing Centers, archeological digs, response group lessons, or other fun, engaging activities.  

While elementary classrooms have utilized centers activities for years, it has been a foreign concept at the middle and high school levels.  Many classrooms still focus on the instruction gathered through the use of textbooks and lecture notes, while students grow more and more apathetic and disengaged by the minute.   

Change that!

Some may argue that with all of the content secondary teachers are challenged with presenting in their curriculum, it is virtually impossible to create, set up, and assess centers activities without giving up your entire life.  This is a valid consideration, unless you choose to NOT reinvent the wheel.  Find already created centers activities, either from my TpT Store or from other curriculum based programs.  These lessons will not only provide the content standards to your students, but they will make your classroom one that is fun and engaging.

Finally, follow these tips to make setting up and maintaining your centers a snap from year to year:
  • Laminate everything!  Once you find great resources to use in your centers, laminate them to preserve their use from year to year.  Use a strong card stock and print at high quality, and your savings will stack up as the years go by without having to replace your resources. 
  • Set up after school.  Every morning is stressful, and finding that you are missing something for a center can throw your day completely off.  Set up in the afternoon before you leave for the day, allowing yourself time in the morning to relax before you start the lesson.
  • Cluster desks together in the corners of the room for the centers.  Allow students to sit on the floor in the center of the room to start and finish the lesson.  I called this "carpet time" and always had big, high school boys running to get the best spot on my rug!
  • Organize and store center stations individually.  Use file folders or ziplock bags to place all needed materials in individual bags (and then into the master bag or folder).  When setting up, each is already sorted to help with classroom organization.
  • Recruit students to set up the activity.  Offer a few bonus students for students willing to stay after school to set up your activities.  You'll find that they will read and view the materials as they set up (without realizing it) and the real bonus may be with their content retention!
  • Use OnlineStopwatch.comThe website has a number of options for keeping time and calling times up!  Project the stopwatch onto the board to keep students on task and using their time wisely.
And then HAVE FUN!  Walk around as your students work, ask them questions, and share insights with them as they investigate the information at hand.  Also throw in off-topic conversation to help build the rapport and classroom environment where your students will want to come in and learn.

Your classroom will be one that is loved by all!

Try these great Centers or other Interactive Lessons from my TpT Store!

And many more...