Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Why Teachers Should NOT Treat All Students the Same Way

November 25, 2011

When I first began my teaching career, I made a great effort to be fair with all students by treating them the same way under the same circumstances.  We all want to be fair with students if we are decent human beings as teachers.

However, over many years of teaching (and parenting) I discovered that treating all the same way was not producing the best results.  Over time, my focus changed from concentrating on being “fair” to doing whatever was necessary to bring each student to his highest and best performance in my class.  Furthermore, each student’s best performance was not at the same level as any other student.  This is where teaching becomes an “art” rather than a procedure, or a delivery.

Let’s look at some specific examples.  If students don’t do their homework (math, for example), they arrive in class unprepared to learn from their mistakes in that day’s lesson.  It is not important if they got the right answer in their homework; what is important is whether they attempted the problems and knew at which points they encountered difficulty.  Then they were ready for that day’s work and explanations.

So, how can teachers get students to do their homework (each student’s highest and best effort)?  In my early teaching days, in attempting to be “fair,” I would have given an identical penalty to every student who did not do their homework.  After two decades in the classroom, my approach had changed.  In Grade Three, I put A’s on every paper where the homework was completed (correct or not, although grades were not counted–unknown to the students, but known by their parents) and F’s on any homework undone or uncompleted (again, not counted, as above).  Other than that, I used different incentives for each student.

One student might need a threat–threat of a phone call to a parent, threat of staying in from recess, threat of extra homework.  Another student might need a reward–verbal praise, positive note home from the teacher, getting to be first in line all day long, reading a book while others continue to work.  Still another student might need extra help in class, extra time with the teacher, help from a classmate arranged with the teacher’s blessing, help speaking to a parent.

This is where teaching becomes an art.  In order to know when to use the carrot and when to use the stick, and how much carrot or stick, or which carrot or stick to use, a teacher must know all of his or her students individually, and know them well.  In a normal class of 25-30 students, it takes about two months to know the students this well.

Some teachers don’t want to know their students, and put up a wall.  It’s also harder for younger teachers who are closer in age to the students they teach.  The older one is, the easier it is to get to know students individually without compromising privacy or classroom discipline.  Sometimes older students assume that younger teachers want to be their “friend,” whereas younger students with an older teacher don’t make this assumption even if they do become actual friends at some point.  So the older the teacher is, the easier this is.  Sometimes younger teachers need to erect more of a barrier.

So, how to get to know one’s students?  The first way is through grading their papers, reading their opinions, and by commenting on their papers regarding what they have said.  The second way is through classroom discussions, and by being open and honest with students in classroom discussions, which encourages them to be open and honest with teachers in return.  You both learn about each other.  It’s always easier to do this in primary school than in secondary school.

Regardless, any effort expended in knowing students individually will pay dividends both in personal rewards as well as for knowing what to use to motivate that particular student.  Students who know and respect a teacher will work hard for that teacher as a person.

The reason students must not be treated the same is that some are motivated by carrots, some by sticks, and most by alternate use of various carrots and sticks at different times, and under different circumstances.

–Lynne Diligent

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Teaching Conditions Faced by Teachers in the Rural Middle East and North Africa

November 22, 2011

Imagine 46 students per class (with the teacher having 550 different students per week), no chalk, no electrictiy, and no heat in freezing winter conditions.

The current generation of young teachers are often placed in government public schools which are now built in agricultural and mountain regions.  I spoke with one of these teachers, an incredibly dedicated first-year English teacher, who is teaching in one of these schools, and listened to him describe to me the teaching conditions he has to endure.

He teaches in a school without electricity or any sort of heat (and it is winter now with freezing temperatures), and without enough chalk for him to use.  The school finally was able to obtain one box of chalk to use.  When I asked him how long this was supposed to last, he told me the whole year.  I asked him if it might be possible for him to buy additional chalk from  his own pocket (even though he shouldn’t have to).

A rural, public secondary school.

He said that the problem was that as a new teacher, he hadn’t received his salary yet.  When I asked why not, he told me that all the teachers placed in public schools did not receive their salary for the first one-to-two years on the job (although I am assuming that they do eventually get the salary to which they are entitled)!  He said that teachers at private schools do get their monthly salaries upon starting, and that this is just a problem in the public-school sector.  When I asked about salaries, it appears that new teachers in the public sector generally make about $400 a month; whereas veteran teachers of many years usually make about $700 a month.  The top end of the salary scale is around $1,000 a month for the most veteran teachers in the most difficult subjects (possibly math, chemistry, physics).

My next question was, therefore, how was he managing to live, if he wasn’t getting any salary?  I asked if students ever invited him to their homes for meals.  He said no.  He said that he was very fortunate, compared to some teachers, because his parents had actually moved to his new location with him (he’s 25) so that he could live with him and they could support him during his first few years in this job.  (In this country, most new teachers are placed first in rural areas, and after several years of teaching in such conditions, they can apply to come to the city.  But it usually takes many years to actually be able to get to a school in a city.)

School hours are from 8:00 am – 12:00 Noon, and again from 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm.  This particular teacher is an English teacher in a middle school.  He has 550 students a week.  His classes average 46, and in each class, the age of students ranges from 13-20!  Each of the 550 students spends about two hours a week in his class, once a week.  So each day he has three classes.  One goes from 8:00 am to 10:00 am.  Then he has a ten-minute break.  The next class goes until noon, followed by an hour for lunch.  The third class is from 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm, and another class from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm.  He has tried assigning homework, but has so far found that only five or six students out of 550 actually did the homework.  He says that most students take notes, but never open their notebook once they have left class.  The school has no library at all, and twenty classrooms which are equally as crowded as his.  The school has no extra resources even to buy an extra box of chalk for the teachers.

I asked about the sex ratio in his classes.  He said that being a secondary school in a rural area, it’s about 70% boys and 30% girls, but that the girls are far more serious, and study better.  Some of the reasons behind the lower attendance of girls have to do with girls’ labor being needed in the home, as well as it being dangerous and far for the girls to walk to school.  They cannot walk alone (for safety reasons).  The school is 2-3 kilometers from most of their homes.  The older girls get, it is more difficult for families to keep them in school, than it is for boys.

This teacher told me that he started his class year by having only two rules, which he explained to his students.  These are to have RESPECT, and to DREAM BIG.    He talked to the students about respecting themselves, about respecting others, about respecting their teachers, and about what it means to have respect in each of these areas.  Next he talked to them about their dreams.  He tried to encourage them in whatever their dreams were, to take steps toward pursuing them, whether it be becoming a soccer or basketball player, or becoming an artist.  The saddest thing, he said, was that most of them don’t have ANY dreams at ALL.  He said they have been raised in such a way that such thinking and ideas are not encouraged.

A typical public secondary school in a small city.

I told him (speaking as a teacher of many years) that no teacher can hope to be that “special” teacher for everyone, but that every teacher CAN hope and expect to be that “special” teacher for at least some students.  Teachers can change the lives of students by opening up possibilities and giving emotional support.  We discussed it, and he said that while middle-class students are now having dreams, that lower-class students (the majority) are not yet to that level.

As a first-year teacher, he told me that he desires to be a “modern” teacher, using games, songs, and playing.  However, he quickly found this did not work.  “If you have fun with them,” he says, “then they think you are a cool teacher who ‘lets them do whatever they want’ and they don’t respect you.”  He has problems with students getting up out of their chairs out of their chairs without permission, and many students talking in class, disturbing the others.  When he tries to get them to CALM DOWN they don’t want to listen.  These are the same problems I had for many years in my classrooms in this country, although I found getting older (as a teacher) helps!

Interestingly, English teachers in this French-speaking country tend to follow Western models of teaching, and the education departments follow modern methods from America.  They are not being taught in ed school just to have students “memorize” and the like; however, they have the same trouble as foreign teachers do with finding that often more fun and interesting methods don’t seem to work with students who have been raised with different sorts of ideas by their parents, and by the local culture.

This teacher and I live in different parts of our country, and I spoke with him over Skype.  His English was unbelievably good, even compared to other English teachers I have met.  We are a French and Arabic-speaking country (upper classes speaking French, and lower classes speaking the local dialects of Arabic).  It was as good as if he had been raised in England or America, and only had a very slight accent.  He spoke with perfect grammar and pronunciation, and in our two-hour conversation I heard only one slight mistake, which he self-corrected.  I think it’s amazing that someone of this quality is teaching in such a far-off rural school.

I mention this teacher’s good English as a comparison  to my daughter’s experience less than ten years ago in respected private school in a big city in our country.  I went to a presentation for parents in a large auditorium.  The English teacher got up and spoke to parents for five minutes from the stage, explaining what the students were going to do.  Yet, I could barely understand a word!  When my daughter (a native speaker) was in her class, she used to tell my daughter that she wasn’t speaking English correctly (not true).  Since that time, I have found that the English standards of the public-school teachers generally seem quite superior to those of many private-school teachers (although I’m not yet sure why that is).

This teacher’s dedication really impressed me and made me feel as if I wanted to be a student in his class!

–Lynne Diligent

How Mothers Feel!

November 22, 2011

Should Tutors Help Students Who Haven’t Done ANY of Their Own Reading?

November 16, 2011

Sometimes I tutor students who have been allowed to advance to a grade far beyond their reading level.   Special help (other than ordinary private tutors) is not available in my country.   So my problem is how to help these students.

This week I had a student in upper middle school who was supposed to read a book of classic literature written in about 1880.  The student wasn’t able to read the book at all (not even one page).  I taught this student many years ago in an early elementary grade and he was weak then.  He is even weaker now.  This student is now approximately four years advanced beyond his reading level.  There is no question that this boy has a learning disability, but there are no facilities or specialists for testing such things in my country.

When this student left my class five years ago, I told his mother that what he really needed was as much encouragement as possible to stay in school.  Today I see that the student is still interested, motivated, and DOES try in spite of not being able to read anything for the class.

I began by trying to rewrite the classic book as a much simpler story so that I could read it with the student.  It’s quite a long book, so I was only able to rewrite a quarter of the book in a few days.  I finally gave up on the rest (done in my free time for no pay).  I did read through this easier version with the student, and he enjoyed it; however, there were still many common words in English that he did not know, which people who are native speakers might know.

Once we got though what I’d written, we only had an hour to summarize the rest of the book before my student has a test on it in two days.  So I quickly tried to highlight the most important parts of the story and dictated four or five paragraphs of the rest of the story, which my student copied.  He relies on copying things down and trying to memorize them.

Should I do this?  When the student came to me, he was already getting an F.  If he fails, he will drop out of school.  Our school is a high-standard college prep school.  There are no other alternative English-language schools within 300 miles, and those are three times the price of our school, to say nothing of this student not having any family or other support to attend a school far away.  The student cannot switch to a school in another language at this late date.

While I’m sure this student will not make it to college, my objective here is to help this student get his grade up to a C (or higher), to stay in school as long as possible,  and to get as much as possible out of his education.  It’s not ideal, but the student is definitely learning, is still interested, and still positive.  Learning anything is better than learning nothing.

Siobhan Curious, who teaches introductory college literature, wonders how to motivate students who don’t want to read.  This is a similar problem to motivating my students who can’t read.  I think part of the answer is to try to get them excited about the story itself, sometimes even helping them to read it– which gives SOME the incentive to want to read it on their own.

What do others think?

–Lynne Diligent

Santa Grants Students’ Wishes

November 16, 2011

How to Get HBO Programming Ten Years Before Anyone Else

October 23, 2011

What Do Teachers Make?

October 4, 2011

Taylor Mali was at a dinner party.

Another dinner guest said, “The problem with teachers is, ‘What’s a kid going to learn in life from someone who decides his best option in life is to become a teacher?  Those who CAN, DO; and those who CAN’T, TEACH.”

I bite my tongue, instead of his, and resist the urge to remind the other dinner guest that it’s also true what they say about lawyers….because, we’re eating, after all, and this is polite conversation.

“I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor.  Be honest….what do you make?”

I wish he hadn’t done that.  You see, I have a policy about honesty, which is if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it.

“You want to know what I make???  I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could!  I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor, and I can make an A- feel like a slap in the face!  How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best!  You want to know what I MAKE???  I make kids sit through 40 minutes of Study Hall in ABSOLUTE SILENCE.  ‘You cannot work in groups.  No, you can’t ask a question.  So put your hand down.  Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?  Because you’re BORED, and you don’t really have to go!’  You want to know what I MAKE???  I make parents tremble in FEAR when I call home at around dinner time, ‘This is Mr. Mali….I hope I haven’t called at a bad time….I just wanted to talk to you about something that your son did today…He said (to another kid), ‘Leave the kid alone!   I still cry sometimes, don’t you?’  I said (to the parent), ‘It was the noblest act of courage that I have ever seen!’  I make parents see their children for who they ARE, and who they CAN BE!  You want to know what I MAKE???  I make kids QUESTION; I make them CRITICIZE; I make them APOLOGIZE and MEAN it; I make them write, write, write; and then I make them READ; I make them SPELL–‘definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful’–over and over again, until they will NEVER misspell either one of those words again!  I make them SHOW all their work in math, and then hide it (all their rewrites) in their final drafts in English.  I make them realize that if you’ve got THIS (a brain), then you follow THIS (your heart), and that if somebody tries to judge you based on what you make, then you give them THIS (obscene gesture)!  Let me ‘break it down’ for you.  Let me break it down for you so you know what I say is TRUE.  I make a G* ***m difference!  Now what about YOU?

Taylor Mali is a vocal advocate of teachers and the nobility of teaching, having himself spent nine years in the classroom teaching everything from English and history to math and S.A.T. test preparation. He has performed and lectured for teachers all over the world.

–Posted by (but not written by)  Lynne Diligent

Teaching Cursive Part 4 (of 25) — Making Decisions About in Which Order to Teach the Cursive Letters

September 6, 2011

Many possibilities exist for the order in which to teach cursive letters.  So the question becomes, how to decide?

Should one teach small letters first, capital letters first, or a mixture of the two?  Should letters be presented in the order of the alphabet, similar letters together, or those letters most-used to be learned first?

I taught cursive for many years, and made a number of sets of masters with letters taught in different orders each time.  After a great deal of experimentation, here are my conclusions.

Teaching the small letters first, and capitals later (the most common system) often gives the result that many students never completely master the capitals.  When this happens, students don’t ever feel completely confident with their cursive, and those students are the ones who are first to revert to printing in subsequent years.

I’ve even had teachers (in their 20s and 30s) tell me that this happened to them as children, so they never felt confident with their cursive, and are embarrassed to write on the board with it.

My recommendation is to teach similarly-formed small letters together. Teach the capitals of those same letters at the same time as the small letters, and give students immediate daily practice with these capitals.  As my class masters just a few letters, I immediately make supplemental cursive masters with my students’ names on them.  Students love learning to write the names of every student in the class with proper cursive capitals.

Over the years I’ve made several sets of cursive masters, with the letters in different orders.  My objective this time was to give priority to the vowels so that as many real words can be written as soon as possible, even from the first day.  This give tremendous pleasure and motivation to the learners.  Here is my most recent planning list of cursive masters:

Planning Sheet for My Latest Set of Cursive Masters

My two priorities here were to get through the vowels as quickly as possible, in addition to grouping together similarly-formed small letters.  Capitals for the same letters are added on the the worksheets at the same time.  By the time I got to the last worksheet, there was only “z” left, which is why it is alone.

I would suggest making a worksheet of numbers and punctuation FIRST, rather than putting it at the end.  I just forgot to do it that way this time, which is why it is the last worksheet.  By including numbers, it’s easy to correct students’ writing of figures in math and on tests.  By including punctuation, it helps to correct all the students who don’t have a clue where to start a comma on the line and pull downward, or the students who finish the top half of question marks and exclamation marks right down on the line, and place the period part actually below the line.

Any grouping you choose, as a teacher, will be fine.  Just know in your own mind why you are choosing it.  For example, the vowel “o” might make more sense to follow Worksheet 1 (c, a,  d) in terms of formation, but since “e” is more commonly used in words, I chose to go ahead with “e” and “l” in Worksheet 2.

The next post will discuss which style of cursive writing to choose.

-Lynne Diligent

Part 1:  What NOT to Do When Teaching Cursive in the Classroom

Part 2:  Help for Teachers/Other Adults Who Need/Want to Learn Cursive on Their Own, or in Preparation for Teaching Cursive

Part 3:  How to Prepare the Paper to Make Your Own Cursive Masters

Part 5:  Which Form of Cursive Should I Teach?

Teaching Cursive Part 3 (of 25) — Preparing the Paper to Use As Cursive Masters

August 14, 2011

American / English wide-ruled notebook paper

This post will explain how to prepare the paper for making cursive masters which can be photocopied for students.

Not every teacher has access to cursive workbooks.  In addition, there are some problems with the cursive workbooks, such as not being able to turn the book on the proper angle to write, without great difficulty.

Wide-ruled paper which has been cut, taped into a wider sheet, and photocopied for use as a cursive master

Take a sheet of wide-ruled paper (11/32 of an inch, or 8.7 mm spacing between horizontal lines) as in the top photo; or cut, tape, and photocopy two sheets of paper as in the second photo above, depending upon your preference.  The second horizontal style is especially nice to use with younger children because it gives them a half-lesson to work on at each sitting, and seems less intimidating.

how to teach cursive writing, preparing the cursive master sheets

Dotted pencil lines are drawn at the midpoint between each ruled line

Next, take a ruler, and draw dotted PENCIL lines at the midpoint between each ruled line.  It’s important to use pencil for two reasons.  First, you can erase and correct any line which doesn’t come out quite right.  Second,  after you are satisfied with the lines, take a can of hairspray and spray it thoroughly.  The paper doesn’t have to be soaking wet, but just be sure you cover all the pencil marks.  This makes the lines permanent so  that they cannot be erased.  If you use pen or ink to make the lines, the hair spray will cause your dotted lines to bleed into the paper.  This problem does not happen with pencil.

Now your master is ready to photocopy.  Make approximately 30 photocopies, on which you will make cursive masters for various letters (and numbers).  The next post will deal with how to write the cursive masters.

–Lynne Diligent

Other Cursive Posts by Lynne Diligent:

Part 1:  What NOT to Do When Teaching Cursive!

Part 2:  Help for Teachers/Other Adults Who Need/Want to Learn Cursive on Their Own, or in Preparation for Teaching Cursive

Part 4:  Making Decisions about In Which Order to Teach the Cursive Letters

How Teachers Should Respond to Being Bullied By Students

August 2, 2011

Earlier this week I read a question on an education blog asking what aspect of your teacher training was most overlooked.  In my case, I’d say it was any instruction on dealing with classroom discipline issues.  I did get some of that from my student teaching, as my supervising teacher was a master teacher with 30 years of teaching under her belt.  But an actual class in classroom discipline techniques is sadly lacking in education schools.  I’ve never even heard of such a class being offered.

I laughed aloud watching this great video demonstration for teachers.  The first role-play demonstrates how things might typically go in a high-school classroom with a teacher being cursed-out by a student.  It does not end successfully for either the teacher or the student.  The second role-play shows an entirely different approach taken by the teacher, in reaction to the students’ behavior.  It ends successfully for both the teacher and student.

I only wish I had had this type of instruction when I was in ed school.

–Lynne Diligent