Monthly Archives: October 2014

Advice for New Teachers: The First Parent-Teacher Conferences

With Parents’ Weekend looming, Jacob came to me today, seeking guidance. To prepare for these short, ten-minute conferences, the most fundamental requirement is first to center yourself and overcome your fears. The vast majority of parents take the time to attend these conferences because they want to meet you, learn about their child, and support you in your efforts to educate him or her. They do not come to attack and criticize. So the first principle is to relax and to have confidence in yourself and what you are doing.

Begin the short conference with your grade book closed. Make direct eye contact with them and state calmly and positively some of the more salient characteristics of their child that you have observed. Be sure to state any critical comments in a positive manner. Project an image of genuine caring for their child.

Only after you have shared some general observations about their child should you then open your grade and talk numbers. Be sure to have their child’s latest average and perhaps their last graded requirement on hand. Identify any trends you see. Showing them a sample of their child’s work can help to reinforce your more general comments on him or her.

Inform them of the times you are available for extra help, if their child needs it.

Finally, try to offer a few recommendations on how the student may improve. Again, try to end on a positive note.

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Advice for New Teachers: Power Points

Power Point software was a tremendous boon for teachers who grew up in the age of overhead projectors and acetate Vu-graphs. Praise God! For many years I tried to pack as much content into my Power Points as possible. Eventually I realized that the “more is not better” principle applied.

          I enjoyed the creative challenge of summarizing the important points of a lesson and adding visual and audio media to the presentation. It was also comforting to know that I could fire up the Power Point and everything was there for the entire period. I would talk, embellish, ask them questions, tell my jokes, and my students would write.

          In hindsight, I can see that I was too teacher-centered in my approach. With my longer presentations, my students wrote feverishly and developed writer’s cramp by the end of the 50-minute class. The more self-confident students would respectfully comment on the quantity of info they had to transcribe and ask for mercy!

          For a 50-minute class, I now do my best to hold the number of slides to 8-12, including a Cover slide, a Review slide, an Overview slide, and a Conclusion slide. In addition, I have found that it helps my students if the content on my slides is incomplete, just the key concepts and the initial words of a sentence. At the Smart Board, I fill in the blanks manually. This allows them a more reasonable amount of time to transcribe the truly important content.

          A word about the Overview slide: I have come to place much emphasis on this. I prepare this slide at the very end of my preparation of the entire lesson. Only then can I make a good judgment on what it should contain. I sit back and ask myself: If I have only five minutes to teach this class and one slide, what should I put on the slide?

          Another step I take to be fully prepared for class is to synchronize my lesson plan with my Power Point. My lesson plan can be a summary of the entire reading. I cannot possibly cover all the material in the lesson. With a highlighter I highlight the words that I place into the Power Point. With a second different highlighter, I designate that material I shall manually write onto the slide during class.

          I have found that making my Power Points more reasonable in length—trying not to cram extraordinary amounts of content into them—has helped my students to transcribe the truly important content. It forces me to distill the lesson into the most important points, themes, concepts, and essential questions. With this approach, I am getting fewer complaints about writer’s cramp. Overall, I feel my teaching format is much more student-centered.

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Advice for New Teachers: Crashing the Boards for Test Prep

Today Jacob entered my classroom shortly after I had dismissed my students. They have their first test tomorrow, and so I used most of the period for a group exercise at the blackboards. Jacob gazed at the blackboards filled with outlines of answers to short essay questions which the students in groups had prepared.

After giving the students guidance on what to study, I had sent them to the boards to outline answers to the possible short essay questions. I required them, using their books and notes, to list four to eight details which would serve as the contents of the paragraph. After they had completed this, I required them to draft a Topic Sentence. The key to writing a good paragraph is to start with a general statement—the TS—and to follow this with details. This is the fundamental principle, or “science,” of good expository writing. The art of the writing comes into play by deciding which details are necessary to develop the TS, in what order should they be written, how many details are sufficient, and the best possible words to choose for the TS. There is no one perfect TS for a given body of details; however, there are many poor TSs that are possible. A concluding summary sentence is not necessary. Also, be sure to answer the entire question.

I have found that this teaching format serves a number of objectives. It:

Forces the students to review the important content

Helps prepare them for the test

Gets students talking to each other and teaching each other.

It gets their bodies moving, stirring them from their seats.

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