Teaching the Teacher – Who is Teaching whom at School?

Teaching the Teacher

Who is Teaching Whom?

Teaching the Teacher
A Classroom in Waiting

Whenever I have some time off I begin to reflect on the classroom and the precious kids that I am so lucky to spend time with five days out of every week. I get so much out of this vocation. Most recently, I have been pondering the question, “Who is doing most of the teaching? The students or me?” The truth is that my students have always been teaching the teacher even when I didn’t realize it. I have been given the grace by God to continually see children in a whole, new light as He reveals new insights to me through them. As I looked over the classroom of 15 kids marching down the hallway the other day they appeared to me as little soldiers for Christ. I began realizing how they are God’s army, called to do his will. They are made by their creator to serve Him through the goodness, love, and as the image of God in which they were created. I began thinking about how they have such huge hearts, and yet their young, aspiring minds cannot even begin to fathom the enormous plans God has in store for each and every one of them. For now, they are just doing what comes naturally to them. I see how this is what Jesus talks about when he says we have to become like children to inherit God’s kingdom. At the age of 9 and 10 years charity towards one another is something very automatic and instinctive for them. We were designed for this and at 9 and 10 years old, we have yet to be changed by a world that is not of God’s ways.  Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor as our-self is something my students model for me every day. The examples of their kindness and love toward one another are too numerous to mention, but here are a couple of true stories I will share:

  • I’ll never forget the sorrowful expression of a very tearful kid in the lunchroom who discovered his mother forgot the sandwich in his lunch box. Seconds later he was being handed slices of pizza left and right from his classmates. Some of them gave up their last slice. The kid’s misfortune and tears evaporated instantly as he suddenly had a stack of pizza slices that matched the height of his joyful grin.
  • Earlier in the year, we had a girl as guest to shadow our fourth grade class for the day to see if she might be interested in enrolling the next day. She was understandably shy, but the entire class wasted no time doing everything they could to make her their friend. As we went out to the playground for recess I noticed that the girl had grabbed a basketball and was about to play alone. I was about to go over and shoot some baskets with her, but before I could make it there, another one of my students was escorting her out to the playground. At the end of the day, as the students said goodbye to their new friend, the joy on her face was unmistakable. This girl felt loved. I could not imagine her not wanting to come back.

Teaching the Teacher

The reward of it all

Of course, children aren’t perfect. They still need to be taught discipline, reasoning, listening skills, neatness, accuracy, details, manners, patience, study habits, organization, math facts, and how to write proper sentences. That sounds challenging, but the irony is that those things are not even what are most important. Isn’t it ironic? The most important lesson I can give them is teaching them how not to change – how to remain a child of God in a world that is so distant from Him. They can get ornery and give us teachers a lot of grief. I have to remind myself to not take it personally and to recognize that this orneriness is an outlet for the joy they have in being happy children who crave fun and excitement. I constantly pray that I can live-up to being the teacher, mentor, father-figure, role model, and example of Truth that God wants for them.  I am so completely blessed to be given the chance to serve God in this way and to get back so much love and wisdom. They are teaching the teacher and always will be. I feel as though I don’t deserve this. It is all so humbling.

Assessment Test – Creating an Effective Test for Students

assessment testDo I create my own assessment test or do I use the one that comes with my textbooks?  Before I answer that question I have to provide some background on the inspiration for writing this article. Well into my fourth year as a fourth grade teacher, the one lesson that I keep learning over and over again is that there is no one, single right way to teach. I think both new teachers and old constantly put ourselves in this box of doing what we presume teachers do and in the way we are supposed to do it. Well, I can’t stress enough how many times that I have had to remind myself that it is okay to step outside of that box and try new things, especially when we run into situations where something isn’t working. Some of the most effective learning improvement I’ve seen in my classrooms occurs after I recognize my old way of doing things were not working like I hoped. My answer to that opening question is that we should create our own assessment test when the situation calls for it, but you don’t have to entirely abandon those pre-canned assessments either.

Assessment Test Creation

One thing we like to do as teachers is to make things easy on ourselves. It’s not because we’re lazy but because we only have so many given hours in a day to lesson-plan, teach, strategize, tutor, grade, meet with faculty, staff, parents, and grade papers. When you think about how many things we do in a given day it seems nearly impossible to even think about creating our own assessment test. On the other hand, are we getting the most from our kids when we simply have them circle multiple choice answers and recognize word bank terms and vocabulary? Students will become good only at what they practice doing. Approximately 80% of their assessment test in Social Studies, Science, Religion, and ILA, are filled with multiple choice questions, word banks, and matching games. By doing this all year long they are going to get more proficient, of course, at grading higher on this portion, but on the written, deeper-reasoning parts of the test they are going to score lower, both grammatically and in accuracy of the subject.I constantly found myself getting frustrated when 9 and 10 year old kids struggled to write complete sentences on the open-ended question part of tests.  All of the grammar I’ve taught them all year seems to fall by the wayside and their answers are often, short, sloppy, abbreviated groups of words which often don’t even resemble a complete sentence. As I get frustrated I remind myself, “How much practice have I really given them?” We do write lots of sentences, monthly book reports, and five-sentence paragraphs, but this is not the same as learning to write proper answers to questions using complete sentences. In fact, this is a great building block for learning how to writing better paragraphs, essays, and establish good writing habits.  I began thinking to myself that I really need to give my students more hand-written, open-ended questions. This not only allows me for a better assessment of their mastery of the subject material, but gives them the much needed practice writing complete and proper sentences using the grammar rules they are learning throughout the year. So, what do I do with all of these pre-canned tests I’ve been using the last four years? Here is the best part and why test creation is a breeze:

Don’t throw away those Multiple Choice Tests and Word Banks

The beauty of the multiple choice tests, word banks, word scrambles, crosswords and word search activities is two-fold:

  • One: they serve as the question generator for the written tests
  • Two: They make great study guides for the students

I’ll explain how I use both of these to the advantage of both the students and myself.

Generating an Assessment Test

If you click on the Sample Test Link link, you’ll see that test problems 1-8 are comprised of 4 word bank questions and 4 multiple choice questions.

Here is an example of how I might turn question 4 into an open-ended assessment question:

4. Houston is an important center for what two types of research? 

A successful answer will include the correct information and a grammatically correct, properly written sentence that includes the question inside of the answer.

Below are examples of incorrect and correct answers:


A. Space and Medical Research

B. It’s important for Space and Medical Research


4. Houston is an important center for Space and Medical research.

Of course, there is more than one way for students to provide grammatically correct answers. The key is that they are getting practice learning how to properly formulate sentences. Also, there is more than one way to grade these papers. Part of the grade can be for Grammar and part of the grade for Social Studies. At the time of this writing, we are late in the year and the class has finished its grammar curriculum and requirements for the year. I am using these open-ended tests as a way to grade both ILA and Social Studies. I am also incorporating this format into our Reading and Science material.

Student Study Materials for Assessment Practice

The textbook tests can be used for test reviews, study guides, and also function as differentiated learning modifications for students with higher learning needs. The first couple of times I used open-ended questions for tests, I actually let the students use the correctly answered textbook tests as study guides. Based on the difficulty of the subject, I may sometimes continue to let them use their pre-answered textbook tests for help on the written questions tests.

Improvement takes lots of Practice

Even with correctly-answered study guides in the hands of the students, I was very disappointed with the initial results. After taking much prior class-time to model question-in-answer and complete sentences, the majority of students continued to provide incomplete answers with poorly written groups of words instead of complete sentences. This shouldn’t have surprised me. Old habits are hard to break and new ones require lots of practice. I handed back that first test to students, discussed and re-modeled both orally and on the SmartBoard, and then made them redo their tests for homework. The results were better, but still less than satisfactory, overall. Finally, on about the 3rd try, the majority of students began getting the knack of how to write complete sentences with the question inside the answer. As I began reading their mostly complete, grammatically correct answers to the test questions I realized how much practice they were getting with their writing and how much more they are actually going to learn and remember about the subject material. This became one of those joyful teacher moments that makes the job so rewarding and makes me look forward to teaching the next lesson. And all of this are the fruits that grew from a simple assessment test



Math Fact Games

iPad Math GamesMath fact games provide a challenging and fun way to motivate a fourth grade class at becoming highly proficient with their multiplication and division tables. I think most fourth grade teachers would agree that it is frustrating to watch kids fall behind in math because they do not have their multiplication tables memorized. Learning math concepts is confusing enough on its own for some kids. Learning long division becomes a monumental task for those students who have to count and use fingers to multiply sets of numbers that they should have memorized. After a while, most teachers can easily recognize which kids are struggling because they do not have their math fact tables memorized. There is simply no way to teach math facts; it is pure memorization. There are routines, however, that we teachers can put in place to make kids practice and even have fun. The key to a math fact program is consistent practice.

Daily Math Facts Program in School

Daily Math Fact Practice

Last year, my school had a school-wide math fact program in place for fourth and fifth grade students. The program was a simple, 1-minute, daily, math-fact, practice drill consisting of 80 multiplication and/or division problems. The daily math sheets progress in difficulty each time the student successfully completes all of the problems on their sheet within the time one-minute limit. If memory serves me right, the sheets had 80 problems each. Each set was labelled with a letter from the alphabet according to the difficulty of the problems. For example, set A might include only 0s, 1s and 2.s. Set M would include 6’s and 7’s, etc., etc. The beauty of the school-wide program was that we had parent volunteers to grade the papers, make copies, and distribute them to student folders for administering the next day. I didn’t really have to do anything other than to hand out the student folders and administer the 1 minute test at the beginning of each school morning. At the mid-point and end-point of our semester, we would administer 2-minute, 100-problem tests for midterm and final grades. While this made things easy for me, I don’t think it really helped the kids who needed to practice the most. The ones who failed to practice and memorize their math facts each day continued to score poorly on the practice and graded tests. The lettered tests did provide somewhat of a challenge for the students, but it wasn’t really much of a game. It all comes down to practice and those who failed to take the time to do this at home, were the ones who scored poorly on the tests. I’ve included a copy of the 80-problem 2 minute drill here: Math Facts 80 Problem Drill.  This PDF file is courtesy of Math Aids Website, which by the way, is an excellent website for generating all kinds of tests and practice sheets for mathematics of all grades. Alternatively, you may also click on the graphic to the right to get a full, printable view of the sheet.

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