I’m obsessed with trying to help my students accept responsibility for their learning.   I honestly think some students believe their learning is the teacher’s responsibility. I’ve heard students who are not successful in certain subjects claim they didn’t do well because the teacher hated them. Perhaps you have heard that claim too? Isn’t that an nice little facile explanation that absolves the students of any responsibility for their lack of success. It’s the teacher’s fault, not their fault.

I explain to my students that students and teachers need to work together as a team. Each team member has a job to do. Teaching and evaluating students is the teacher’s job and preparing for quizzes, tests and exams is the student’s job. I’ve written here about the learning plans I have my students complete to help them better  prepare for evaluations.  The student learning plans are useful to help students  prepare for major tests or exams.  I want my students to reflect on how well or how poorly they’ve prepared for quizzes, tests or exams. After students have written their tests, I have them complete a short  reflection handout asking them

  • how they thought they did on the test;
  •  how much time did they spend preparing for the test;
  • how much of the classwork and homework did they do;
  •  about how they prepared for the test;
  • what would they do the same;
  • what would they do differently?

My students, well most of them, have been very honest in completing their reflections.  test results and  the need to make better choices  for better consequences.

Sadly, some of my students don’t prepare for quizzes, tests, or exams at all beyond the review I do with them in class. I think some of my students may intend to prepare for the evaluations, but when they leave my classroom they leave their best intentions behind.   The test reflection handout I have them complete encourages them to remember to prepare for the next evaluation. After a while, they see the connection between preparing better for evaluations and achieving better results. I’ve found that almost all students want to do well.  I tell my students if you want different consequences (better test marks) then you have to make different choices ( choosing to preparing properly for tests).

Some of my students feel as if they are losers .  I tell them we are not born losers; we are born choosers. If we want different consequences then we have to make different choices. Here’s a different choice for a different consequence.

Here’s the handout I give my students.

Name: ________________________________  Date:______________________
How do you feel about your performance on this test? (circle one)
Awesome!!                   Cool                        Lame                                       Get Real
Do you think  you demonstrated what you knew about the topic on this test?


Why not?

How much time did you spend studying for this test?

I spent about

Days ____            Hours ____       Minutes____

studying for this test.

How much of the assigned work did you complete on this topic?

All____     Almost all_____  Some_______   Little_______

What would you do differently preparing for the next test?  Why?

What would you do the same? Why?

The Ontario government has made it a priority to close the achievement gap between students in the applied and academic classes. Research conducted at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate in Toronto supports the contention that destreaming students in grade nine English and geography classes helps struggling students be more successful . A high school in Kingston Ontario found it beneficial to students when it  destreamed Grade 9 students in math and English.

I’ve taught math to  students in the applied level stream, and I can see some problems with streaming students into applied level math  classes.  For one thing, taking applied level math classes even in Grade 9 makes it very difficult for students to attend university. Of course not all students want to attend university even students who take Grade 9 math in the academic stream don’t necessarily want to attend university. So maybe that isn’t such a big problem. There are always ways to met the entrance requirements for university by taking ma math bridging course. I have also noticed more students from low-income homes are streamed into the applied classes.  Many of my students in my applied math classes felt they were stupid because they were in the applied stream.

I don’t think that destreaming Grade 9 is going to make students more successful. All students weren’t successful before destreaming. Destreaming was going to be the solution to helping all students be successful. Why is education going around in circles?

I think school needs to be more relevant to students to catch their interest and make them want to learn and do well. What do you think?




What’s it take for good teaching to happen?   I think good teaching happens when teachers connect to their students and when teachers get their students to connect to the subject matter (Parker J. Palmer, 2007). For me my best teaching moments happen when my students and I connect on a person to person level. Let me explain what I mean.

As some of you might know, I’ve been a special ed teacher for a long, long, long time- some days it seems longer than others.  Quite a few semesters ago I had these two young lads (I’ll call them Sam and Dwayne)  in my grade nine learning strategies class who were extremely proud of their reputation for being bad. The first few days of the semester, as we were getting to know one another,  Sam and Dwayne told me they had been the best of friends since kindergarten and that they were proud of their reputation for were really bad. They  enthusiastically shared all kinds of stories of what they had done to teachers in the past. Scary, to say the least. Oh, did I mention they told me hated teachers and school?

The first three weeks of the semester did not go well. I  realized Sam and Dwayne could make this class this semester a living hell for me if I didn’t do something fast. They were a very dynamic duo, let me tell you.  I figured although they hated teachers maybe if they got to know me as a person who is a teacher (emphasis on person), things might not go so badly. I often tell my students that teachers are just people who teach. I don’t want them to lose track of the person in the teacher, and I try not to lose track of the person in the student.  I knew I needed to connect to Sam and Dwayne on a person to person level fast.

When I was thinking about strategies I could use to help make that person to person connection between Sam and Dwayne and myself,  the word Scrabble popped into my head. So I took out the Scrabble game, and I sat down at a table between the two of them  and started to set up the Scrabble  game. Sam told me he didn’t play any games with teachers. Oh, great ! Now what.  I just ignored what Sam said, mainly because I didn’t know what else to do. Pretending not to hear what Sam had said, I continued to set up the Scrabble game and surprisingly, to me at least, both boys proceeded to play Scrabble with me. I think I told them that day any words they made that were verbs got double points, another day the bonus words might be adjectives or adverbs. I liked using Scrabble to help my student  improve their vocabulary and grammar  skills. We played Scrabble together for part of each class for about eight days and got to know one another as people as we talked about “whatever” during the games. To my relief,  Sam and Dwayne became more and more cooperative in class and d hardly  disruptwd the class. We continued to play Scrabble from time to time throughout the semester because,  as it turned out,  they did like to play Scrabble with a teacher.

Although, I used playing Scrabble to help me make a positive connection with Sam and Dwayne, there are countless other  ways to make positive connections with students. It all depends on the teacher and the students. I like playing Scrabble, so I used playing Scrabble.  I was able to play Scrabble in my learning strategies class because the learning strategy class it isn’t really content driven like my math classes are. If Sam and Dwayne had been in my math class, I would have had to come up with another strategy to use to help me make a positive connection with them.  Making that the positive connection is the important thing. There isn’t just one way to create that positive connection.

From time to time, Sam and Dwayne came back to visit me after graduation  to tell me about the positive things that were going on in their lives now.  I had to chuckle when Dwayne told me during one of these visits  “Miss, I remember one day  in grade nine you just changed  and everything was better after that”. That day was the Day of Scrabble. That day was the day I made a positive connection with Sam and Dwayne.


I’ve found Parker J. Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach  (1998) very useful in helping me to continue to refine my philosophy of teaching.


I think it’s crucial to have a positive classroom climate so that I can do my best as a teacher and my students can do their best as students. For the moment, I’m going to set aside the question of what is it that teachers and students are supposed to do in the classroom. I’ll explore those questions another time in another post.

I have seen many different types of positive classroom environments. I’ve come to the conclusion after all these years a positive classroom environment is a function of the teacher’s personality and the students’ personalities; consequently, there are different types of positive classroom environments.

What do I think is a positive classroom environment? Well, for one thing I think it is a classroom environment that enables me to teach in an authentic manner so that I can be myself and not try to be someone I’m not. Consequently, one of the first things I need to do is to really know myself as a person. If you’ll like me you’ve probably taken some type of personality test during your undergrad or grad courses so you might already have a good idea what makes you tick. If not, you can always go online and find some tests that will help y6ou do that.

Over the years, I’ve taken oddles and oddles of professional development sessions and have found that I like having a classroom where students help create the positive environment. The Tribes training I took was especially helpful.

I’d like to share my way of helping to set a positive environment where I can teach in an authentic way. In a future post, I’ll talk about what I mean by being able to teach in an authentic way.

I begin by having the class create classroom agreements. I used to call the classroom agreements rules, but rules seem so top down, and I don’t want that. Some kids see red when they see the word “rule”. I want them to see green instead. I want students to buy into the classroom code of conduct, not rebel against it.

At the beginning of the semester we establish our behaviour agreements. Basically it boils down to attentive listening, appreciation, mutual respect and right to pass. You can view my PowerPoint for elaboration. I have written about my classroom agreements in an earlier post, but I’ll include it here for you.


I want the classroom agreements to be a result of collaboration so that the students will be more likely to buy into the code of conduct.

This is what I do
1. Tell students that since they are in grade 9, 10 or whatever, I know they’re experts at knowing what makes a classroom work because they’ve been in many so classrooms

2. Set up a placemat group activity that will ellict the students’ expertise

3. Ask students to take a few minutes to think about what makes a classroom work and then jot those things down on their section of the placemat.
4 Have students share their thoughts with group members.
5. Place four pieces of chart paper on the wall labeled mutual respect, attentive listening, appreciation, and right to pass. It’s amazing , everything seems to fall into these four categories.
6. Have each student choose two or three things that they think are the most important and write each one onto a separate sticky note.
7. Ask students to place their sticky notes onto one of the four pieces of chart paper according to where they think it belongs.
8. Discuss the results of the activity with the class noting how everything falls into one of the four categories.
9. Add my own stickies if I see that something has been omitted. I’m part of the class too.
10. Thank the students for their expert input and tell them that I think that what we have here will make our classroom work and ask them if they agree. Most will say they agree and that’s what I want.
11. Have students create posters illustrating the classroom agreements.
12. Review the agreements next day using the powerpoint presentation I made. That’s when I make sure everyone understands what kinds of behaviors each agreement includes.
13. Ask students if anyone would like to display their posters. I let them choose where, but ask that they make sure that each wall has some posters on it.

It’s interesting to see and hear what happens. Students will start to remind each other of our classroom agreements by saying things like no put downs, attentive listening , mutual respect and right to pass when someone is behaving inappropriately. It’s much more effective to cite the classroom agreements than to say stop talking while I’m teaching or stop calling him names etc. I even hear my students cite the agreements outside of the classroom when they’re walking in the halls . I love that because I want them to be proactive and advocate for themselves in and out of the classroom.


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