Strategies, Strategies, Strategies: What really Works?

IMG_2230Let’s talk strategies.  We already are, you know; it is the hot topic.  That’s ok.  We all see the value of these, but for me, a high school teacher, time, energy and what actually works are factors in what I use.  I would love to say that I give a stellar performance everyday in my classroom, and that we have new, exciting strategies just flowing one right after another. Ha!  So many of you teacher friends are reading my blog because you have said that what I say seems to be the truth in the classroom, so I will not start lying to you now. Somedays we are just reading, silently because Mrs. McBroom needs a break.  Build those in, my friends, however possible.  Make each day meaningful, but not all learning happens the same.  Some days our little ones and older students are tired and need some down time in our classrooms.

First, let me say that I find something that works and stick to it.  Each year as we are presented new, hot ideas, I try to hang my hat on one, learn it and keep it or toss it.  That’s all I can do.  Don’t let so many thrown at you at once stress you:  the point is to assist you and learning in your room.  Stress defeats all of that.  I can’t do too many things at once.  Admit that and relax.

Second, in my opinion, here are the rules that govern good strategies:  it needs to engage as many students as possible and be something that all the students feel they can successfully do and require a low amount of prep time for me.  Years ago I was given a Smart Board.  These have tons of great uses, but for me, it really wasn’t helpful.  I didn’t have those hand held remotes for each student so that all could participate, so whatever we did could only involve a few students unless I got creative on group competitions with games or other things like that.  This took too much time that I don’t have.  I am sure that some of you have been more successful in using this.  So, if something requires lots of prep but very little reward for that prep or seems to leave some students out or feeling unsuccessful, it’s out.

Third, you are the teacher expert.  What someone tells you works wonderfully for them may be a nightmare for you.  That seems to be the biggest source of irritation for me.  In professional developments, we watch videos of teachers using amazing strategies and students all engaged, making charts, discussing…no one off track.  So what happens off camera?  I am sure that teacher would tell you that this doesn’t work for everyone, but sometimes that’s not what we hear.  More often than not, I have taught struggling learners with discipline problems.  When dealing with those students, get the discipline in line before you try strategies; otherwise, it’s a mess.  Also we all know that student who is going to do nothing.  Nothing.  You could offer him/her the moon, and…nothing.  That one you will need to work hard to figure out, but don’t give up.  It’s possible.  God came after all of us, and we must do the same.  Having said that, I typically have some classes that never, I repeat, never will work in groups.  Mama didn’t raise no fool.  They might work in assigned partners and still some of those will just sit and stare at the person who is assigned to help them.

Fourth, technology helps us here greatly.  I look for games, activities or assignments online that I can receive the feedback from what each student has done.  This can be done lots of ways, but if I put them on computers and there is no accountability, yikes.  Many of you are like me: there are no computers in your room.  I sign up for a cart that I can get about once a week.  This is better than nothing and definitely helpful.

Here are a few things that I have tried, and they are winners.  A large online timer seems to be my best friend.  Comment on this article and tell me what you do that works.

  • Vocabulary:  place the words on a powerpoint screen, have 2 students compete by holding flyswatters, standing to each side of the screen and as an audience member calls out the definition, the students must swat the word first, saying it as they do.
  • Make a powerpoint with only one word per screen and make the screens timed.  Student must choose a partner, or you choose.  For round one, one student faces the screen while one faces the student, face to face.  The student who is facing the screen must call out the word or question that he/she s seeing and the one not facing the screen must answer before the screen changes.  The one facing the screen can give hints if they know the right answer.  This same technique can be used as students sit at their desks and call out answers as a whole class.
  • I have also had students write questions on one side of an index card with the answer on the back individually.  Then I put them in groups.  As a group, try see how fast they can get at giving the answers with one person being the timer.  I tell them that the best of the best will compete and whoever is ultimately the fastest gets????
  • My daughter who teaches first grade has group/center time which involves her reading to one group, while others choose what they will do for 15 minutes–in groups, time limits are key!
  • I also like whiteboards.  All I need is a bunch of dry erase markers, white boards and paper towels for erasers.  I have some small rags in my current classroom, but paper towels work also.  I can get immediate feedback.  Here’s how I got the current whiteboards that I have:  I went to Lowe’s, bought a shower wall piece, told the really nice guy that I wanted it cut in pieces about the size of a sheet of paper and he did that while I waited.  This all cost me about $30-$40.

I use rewards in my classroom.  I have used tickets, but small pieces of individually wrapped candy works very well for high schoolers.  They will do anything for a mini tootsie roll.  There are better, more academic rewards but remember I tend to teach lower end kids, not advanced students.  It all got easier when I have taught advanced kids.

So comment if you have some great ideas.  Thanks in advance.  Thanks for reading.  And now your encouraging word form the only One Who can encourage us all:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Revelation 19:11

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

It's Christmas shoebox time!  This is such an easy way to make a difference!
It’s Christmas shoebox time! This is such an easy way to make a difference!

Even So Come by Kristian Stanfill

Praying for you,

Kathy McBroom


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