Friday, September 30, 2016

Tips for a Positive Attitude Adjustment

I’ve watched enough movies to know brainwashing is real. I’ve seen enough advertising to know it’s all around us. I’ve noticed peer pressure at work. So why not make this work for our students, instead of against them?

I used a couple of simple tricks to change the attitude of my students from negative to positive. I wanted their way of thinking to help them get ahead, instead of holding them back. Here are three tricks that worked miracles in my classroom.

1.       Motivational quotes: In addition to writing down their homework assignments as soon as they entered the classroom, my students also conjugated a verb of the day in every tense they had learned to that point, and copied down positive motivational quotes. They understood why they should do the first two. After all it was a French (or German) class. But they wondered why do the third?

For first year students, I explained they would probably need these for writing compositions in their English or History classes. I learned their importance from an author named John Maxwell. I told them I wished someone had told me about this when I was their age. This is true by the way, and they bought into it.

For second year students and beyond, if they asked, which was rare, I explained it was my attempt at brainwashing. I wanted them to be happier and more successful in life, which would make my job easier. They usually laughed, and told me how helpful the quotes had been in writing compositions in English and History classes the year before.

2.       One year I applied for a small grant. My stated goal was to improve leadership skills of my students. I won the award, received $200 and bought twenty copies of Seven Habits of Highly Effective Students by Sean Covey. They were added to my lending library.

3.        Whenever a student was finished early, and had nothing else to do, he went over to my lending library and picked up a book to read. Often, at the end of class, he asked if he could take the book home. I asked the student to put his name, the book title and date on a 3 x 5 card. When the book was returned to me, I wrote 10 points on the card, and dropped it into the “In Box” on my desk.

I also approached students who were class leaders, and handed them a copy of 7 Habits. I often did this on a Friday or the day before a three day weekend or holiday. “Here, you’ll like this.” When they finished, they returned the book and sang its praises. I told them I would give them 10 extra credit points if they told two of their friends about the book. Then, of course, their friends asked to check out a copy. Only once in ten years of doing this did a student answer the question, “What did you think about the book?” without something very positive to say. His comment was, “It’s okay.” I’ll take it.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” Why not bend the twig in a positive way? There are so many negative factors bombarding our students. Put a few positive ones in their path.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Full Ride Colleges and Universities Still Exist - Princeton

While the cost of obtaining a college degree in the U.S. has continued to climb, some colleges and universities offer enough financial support to make them virtually free to attend. Most of these institutions are private, and about two-thirds are liberal arts, according to a recent U.S. News and World Report survey. Half base how much they provide a student by the financial need of the family (as determined by the FAFSA form). The others base their contribution on merit alone.

One university where a Full Ride is possible is Princeton University, ranked number 1 in the nation by U.S. News. Princeton is located in a suburb in New Jersey. It was founded in 1746, making it the fourth oldest university in the nation. The campus covers 600 acres. The current undergrad population is 5,402 students. It’s a world class institution which provides an excellent education.

The application deadline at Princeton is the first of January. The early action deadline is November first. There’s a $65 fee to apply to the university. ACT and SAT test scores are due on January first. While it’s difficult to be selected to attend with an acceptance rate of only 7 percent, there’s an early acceptance rate of 19.9 percent.

The cost of tuition and fees for a year at Princeton is $45,320, (2016-2017). But with a Full Ride, this doesn’t matter. Most colleges that provide a Full Ride do so by combining student loans, scholarships, grants and a work-study program. The most important aspect of planning to go to any such university is to make sure that the amount of student loan required is zero, or close to it. The rest of the aid is free money. It never has to be paid back. It’s advantageous to attend college somewhere that provides a suitable education without leaving the graduate with a mountain of student loan debt.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Monday, September 26, 2016

Improve Your Grades by Adding Low-Tech Aids

I love my smartphone, tablet and laptop, but they’re not always appropriate to use. Sometimes I’m someplace that frowns upon the blue glow. I’m sure that happens to students all the time. But that doesn’t mean I’m stuck. Neither are you.

One day when passing back exams and making comments to students as I did, I complimented a girl on making only two errors on a four page German exam. The boy next to her said, “Sure. She’s smart. Of course she got an ‘A’.” Ah, a teaching moment. Love those. I said, “Okay, let’s see how smart she is.”

I asked her how she prepared for the test. She told us she studied with flashcards. “So you made them last night and studied for a while, right?”  “No, I make flashcards for each new vocabulary word or verb when they're introduced, but also anything else you put on the board. I start studying them that night. I study a little each night until the day of the test.”

I turned to the boy and said, “I guess you’re right. She is smart.” From that day on, I had all my students make flashcards on 3 x 5 cards cut in half. They kept them in a small Ziploc bag and carried them just about everywhere. They reviewed the cards whenever they had a free moment.

You know there are times you’ve finished your work in a class and you’re not allowed to pull out your phone or tablet. But you certainly can take out a bag of flashcards to study. When you’re in a doctor’s office or at home watching TV, or even waiting for a bus, you can study a little. It can’t hurt, and it certainly will help improve your grades which just might help you win more free cash for college.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Showing Up is Half the Battle

The importance of school attendance has been in the news lately. There are all sorts of studies proving what teachers have known for decades. We can’t teach them if they aren’t in class. I taught German and French for most of my career. There was no way students would learn these languages without coming to class. While I never penalized students for poor attendance, I made it worthwhile for them to show up.

I rewarded classes with perfect attendance and good naturedly teased the one student who was absent or late and ruined perfection. Rewards were never large, but any positive attention gives a positive result.  

The smallest reward was stickers. Yes, high school students like stickers, just as much as elementary kids. I bought large bags of inexpensive German or French decals or stickers as rewards. I also had buttons to give away on special occasions.

The greatest success I had in influencing behavior was when I played one class section off against another. They always knew the students in my other classes and were friends with most of them. They eagerly jumped into completion no matter the subject.

Once, about three months before the end of the school year, one of my classes had perfect attendance for three days in a row. Rather than stickers, I added five points to the grade they had earned on their homework assignment. This really got their attention.

I told them my other classes were jealous. I wanted to see just how long they could keep this going. Absences or tardies would ruin the game. After a month of perfection, they were eager to know their prize. I told them if they kept it up until the end of the school year, they would be very pleased with their reward. I did not specify what it was, but they trusted me.

Two weeks before their final exam, one of the students in this class had to be in court on a traffic matter. No excuses. He left court at lunch, drove to class, arrived on time, and went back to court after the bell rang. He didn’t want to ruin it for his classmates.

The day of the final exam, when the students took out their paper and pens, I went to the board and wrote in German, “Tell me if you’re happy with your grade. If you are, you’re finished with the exam. If you’re not, in German, tell me what you think your grade should be and why.” They were happy they had maintained perfect attendance for almost three months and so was I.

Whatever gets recognized and rewarded gets done.

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Photo Credit: Morguefile

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

More Reasons to Use an Easy Trick to Improve Grades

A surprising fact:  Lack of sleep makes it hard to focus while driving. This may be one reason why so many teenagers are killed in traffic accidents each year. If you want to live to see your graduation, you might want to get a few extra zzz’s.

Shocking news:  Lack of sleep causes depression and anxiety.  Suicide is the third leading cause of death for children 10-14 and the second leading cause of death for people 15-34. If you add these numbers to the leading cause of death of teenagers, traffic accidents, you can see lack of sleep is quite dangerous, and not just an annoyance to your teachers.

One year, four of my eleventh grade students came to me all smiles. They had a story to tell. I had tried to convince all my students to eat a healthy breakfast each day and to sleep about nine hours each night. They ignored me. But together, as a group, these kids thought they would give it a try over the three weeks of Winter Break. They did everything else as usual, but followed my advice about breakfast and sleep. When they came back, they were shocked to report I was right. One boy said the bags under his eyes (which he had for years) were gone. Another student said her skin cleared up. They all felt better and planned on sleeping at least nine hours each night and eating a healthy breakfast each morning. Surprise, surprise.

If you’re a teenager, then figure out what time you need to get up each morning to get ready for school (including time to eat breakfast). Then count backwards nine hours. Make this your new bedtime. One hour before that time, turn off your electronics. Thirty minutes later start getting ready for bed. Go to sleep at the same time each night, even on weekends. Your body will thank you. Your brain will reward you with more understanding, your grades will go up, and you’ll feel better about life. It’s all good news. Your social life will not be damaged.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Sunday, September 18, 2016

One Easy Trick to Improve Your Grades

I’m sure you’ve heard all the noise in the news about the importance of sleep. Maybe your parents have stuck some scientific study under your nose. I’m also sure you're doing your best to ignore all this. I’m going to try to change your mind.

Here’s a fact you might not have heard. Students who don't get enough sleep are often unable to remember what they learned the day before. There’s a simple reason for this. While we sleep, information we picked up that day is moved from our short term memory to our long term memory. Without enough sleep, it goes into the recycle bin. You know what that means. It’s thrown out with the trash.

One of my best students started to miss class. She wasn’t ditching. She was ill. She hadn’t been sick much the year before, so I became concerned. Her grades were suffering, but I was most alarmed because she looked terrible. I asked if she'd seen a doctor. She had not. Then she told me she was only getting about three hours of sleep each night. She stayed up to study. I explained there’s a line; studying past that line has diminishing returns. It would be far better to sleep nine hours, than to sleep less and study more. Since her grades had fallen from A’s to C’s, she agreed to try my suggestion. Two weeks later she felt fine, and her grades improved steadily.

Suggestion: Count backwards nine hours from when you need to get up. Make that your bedtime. You’ll feel better, and your grades will improve.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Friday, September 16, 2016

Improving Behavior

Make Grammar Easier, Make it Visual

Grammar is easier for students to grasp and remember if you make it visual for them. It’s even easier if they make something visual themselves. It’s hard to forget a rule if you have interacted with it, or see it every day.

I made it super simple for students to remember the Question Words in German and French by having each student make a depiction of the word. I showed them an example on the board; they went home and made their own on regular notebook paper.

Some students, however, went above and beyond the assignment. They used their computers or/or drew something stunning. This made the next step simple. Each row picked the image they liked the best for each question word. Then we voted as a class.

This procedure was repeated in all my first year classes until we had the best of the best for a final vote. I took the winners to a copy center, made color copies and laminated them. We displayed the posters on the wall for the remainder of the school year. The students, however, put up the ones they made in their bedrooms.

These visual representations of question words made them come alive. We never translated the words into English, but students knew what they meant and how to use them. You can adapt this assignment to other items that are difficult for students to either grasp or remember. It works, and it’s fun. 

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Photo Credit: Elizabeth Wallace

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

School Lunches in the U.S.

When I saw First Lady Michelle Obama had visited Howard University the other day, it brought to mind her campaign to improve school lunches across the country. While strides have been made, there’s quite a disparity between what students are served in U.S. schools and abroad.

Most Americans would assume we feed our students better, but that’s not the case. Take a look at this short segment from the CBS news magazine show Sunday Morning to learn the truth:

When I first saw this particular show, I visited the principal of my school the next morning with a question. How much does a student lunch in our school cafeteria cost to make?  The answer was $5.00. This is the same as in most French schools. There, however, chefs prepare complete healthy meals which are served restaurant style to all students.

Are we not one of the wealthiest nations on the planet? Yet we feed only some of our students, and those meals certainly do not measure up to the standards in other first world countries. We should do better by our children. Our future as a nation depends upon their health and well-being.

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Photo Credit: Morguefile

Sunday, September 4, 2016

How to Stop Bullying and Teasing

One day during passing period between classes, I saw a girl walk in for the next class. She straightened each desk along the row as she walked toward her own on the other side of the room. At the time there was a male student standing next to me watching. In the past, I would have expected him to either ignore her or make a cutting remark. He did neither. Instead, he said, “Isn’t that cute? She can’t keep herself from putting the desks where they belong. She must be a Melancholy.”

He was right, of course, but how did he know? About a month earlier the school was conducting a series of tests. They thought it efficient to pull out those being tested by grade level. Since I taught German classes which were composed of students from all four high school grade levels, several students were missing from each class period for the entire week of testing. There was no way to conduct regular instruction, so I used the time to teach students something I thought would benefit them in school, at home and in the future.

I taught them the four personalities as described in the book Personality Plus, by Florence Littauer. I was able to lead students through the discovery of their own strengths and weaknesses. They were better able to understand what made them tick. Even more important, they developed not just a tolerance of the behavioral quirks of others, but an appreciation of them.

So when the boy standing near me saw another student taking the time to make the desks more orderly, he was charmed by her behavior. This was not an aberration. After teaching the four personalities and helping students realize how this knowledge could help them better understand themselves and deal with the people around them, there was no more bullying or teasing in any of my classes.   

I highly recommend teachers read Personality Plus by Florence Littauer and find a way to fit the material into their lessons plans, no matter the subject they teach. Teachers will find this makes class management much easier. Students learn how to deal with their own strengths and weaknesses and how to better understand people they encounter in life.

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Photo Credit: Morguefile