Every couple of days, I come across a new piece of presentation software. There’s Wideo, Metta, Prezi, Keynote, LibreOffice and the list goes on and on.
I love getting my hands on new software, especially when it’s free, but I’ve noticed something: While all of these pieces of software are ultimately “cooler” than Power Point, student presentations aren’t necessarily more engaging or organized because of them. In fact, the presentations are almost exactly the same—they’re simply dressed up in a different outfit.
But it’s not just students who are giving bad Power Point presentations
Most of us do way too much telling and not enough showing. Instead of providing our audience with an engaging image and a half dozen words, most of us load up each slide with a bulleted list, a crutch, that we not only read directly from, but rely on to convey our message.
Power Point or not, how do we teach our students to give better presentations? And how do we start giving better presentations ourselves?
To help answer this question, I’d like to share a few ideas from blogger and teacher technologist, Clint Walters.
How to Put a Little Power Into Your Students’ Power Point Presentations
Don’t write everything you want to say on your PowerPoint slide
Presumably your audience already knows how to read, so there’s no reason to load up your slide with text and read it back to them.
Stay away from bulleted lists
- Bulleted lists are worse
- You’ll just read your bullets
- Don’t think you’ll say more
- You won’t
Use no more than six words on each slide
Unless you are quoting someone, stick to as little text as possible.
Do use a variation on the PechaKucha (20x20) technique
If you’re not familiar with this technique, it’s all visual—there’s no text at all in a PechaKucha presentation.
Here’s how it works: twenty slides, twenty seconds of talking accompany each one. Each slide contains a sleek, visually engaging image and no more than six words.
While the 20 slides, 20 second formula is probably too much to ask of students right away, you might start with 10 slides, 10 seconds.
- No more than six words on every slide
- One engaging visual image that fits with what you are saying
- Make your image large!
If you are looking for free, high-quality, creative-commons images, check out a few of the sites below:
In fifth grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. K. She was a no-nonsense kind of lady, but like any master teacher, she was able to maintain a perfect equilibrium of toughness and tenderness. She demanded excellence, but she also knew when it was time to pull back and nurture. That’s a rare and special talent.
Two decades later, I can still remember things Mrs. K said, or the way that she could effortlessly transition between teaching long division and improvising songs on the piano—songs, I might add, that included the vocabulary and spelling words we were studying.
I wager that most of us have warm feelings about at least one teacher. We may not have seen this teacher in decades, but the impression made by him or her never quite leaves us. Excellent teachers come in all forms, but I’d like to share five things about my teacher that not only inspired me as a student, but turned me into an aspiring educator.
5 Lessons I Learned From a Master Teacher
She demanded excellence
Mrs. K knew how to have fun, but that never stood in the way of her demand for excellence in both our conduct and work. Anything less than the best and most urbane was not tolerated. We learned this quickly and rose to the occasion—and she did too.
She knew that there was a time for play
The first time Mrs. K joined our recess kickball game—ankle-length dress and all—surprised all of us. At our school, the teachers rotated recess duty: two would supervise while the others ate lunch in the cafeteria or prepped for the rest of their classes. On several occasions, Mrs. K gave up her prep time so that she could join in on whatever game her students were playing. When this happened, large groups of students would migrate to the baseball field to watch. Like us, they were impressed by this playful side of Mrs. K. I’m sure they also found it odd that the same woman who scolded them for dawdling, or marched them to the gym with the precision of an army sergeant, actually owned tennis shoes and knew how to thrown down on the kick ball court.
Joining in on our games showed us that our teacher could cut loose, laugh at herself, and that she genuinely liked spending time with us.
She found a way to incorporate her talents into the curriculum
Mrs. K wasn’t a virtuoso on the piano, but that never stopped her from playing “Happy Birthday” or banging out an improvised song that included creative ways to spell vocabulary words. Not only were these sing-alongs fun, they taught us something.
The lesson I took from this: Use your talents creatively, share them with students, and find a way to bring them into the classroom. This will keep things engaging for both you and the students.
She was forgiving
I’ve never given them a lie detector test, but I know a couple teachers who claim they never cheated in school. I happen to be one that did and, as you might have guessed, Mrs. K was the teacher who caught me. The details of the incident probably aren’t that important, but Mrs. K was no pushover; she knew there was no way I could have calculated the math problems she assigned our group in my head.
Once the rest of the class left for recess, Mrs. K called me up to her desk, handed me my paper and said, “You have the right answers, but I don’t see any work. Where is it?” Before I could answer, she added, “I just want you to be honest with me about this assignment.” I fessed up and to my surprise, she smiled, held out her hand, shook mine and said, “I admire your honesty.”
I didn’t receive a detention and I didn’t fail the assignment. Instead, she allowed me to redo the assignment for homework.
What did I learn from this? When I eventually had my own students, my classroom was not exempt from cheating. After weeks of going over plagiarism and proper citation, I would always find that two or three students had copied large sections of articles they found on Google and pasted them into their own papers. I felt betrayed, insulted and frustrated with these students. I may not have always handled these situations as gracefully as Mrs. K did—but I always strove to.
She made a big deal out of greeting us
What I always appreciated about Mrs. K was the way she greeted us every morning. As we would come into the class, she would stand outside the door, smile and greet us by name. This showed the class not only that she was pleased to see us, but that she was ready and eager to explore a day of learning with us. It was a simple, but important gesture that still sticks with me.
Before I started teaching, I spent five years as a writing tutor in the Marygrove College writing center. While each student had a unique set of needs, most struggled to commit their initial ideas to paper.
Like most of us, students want to get it right on the first shot. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Writing is chaotic. It’s messy. Why? Because most of us (that includes professionals) don’t really know what and how we’re going to say what we want to say until we actually start writing.
To help students move beyond the “scary white screen,” I came to rely on a writing strategy called clustering. If you’re not familiar with this invention strategy, the student starts by jotting down a nucleus word; this should be a word or phrase that is related to the assigned topic. The nucleus word should trigger a series of other word associations that students continue to jot down quickly and without censorship.
It’s a chaotic process, but even after five minutes of clustering, most of my students were astounded by how much they knew and how many questions they had about topics they, not even five minutes before, vehemently claimed were “boring.”
While I started teaching students to cluster by having them write on a scrap sheet of paper, I eventually turned to a free web application called bubbl.us.
During our session, the student and I would read through the clustering handout (you’ll find this below). Then I would pull up bubbl.us on my laptop and turn it over to the student.
bubbl.us. is convenient for a few reasons: First, there’s no learning curve. Second, it allowed me to save a digital version of the cluster and email it to the student. When we picked up the following week, all I had to do was pull up the file and I would know exactly what we discussed in our previous session.
In my experience, this exercise is helpful with students of all ages and abilities. I even use it myself. To help you teach clustering to your students, I’ve included the handout I used with my own students below.
What is Clustering? And How Can It Help Me Develop My ideas?
Most serious and experienced writers incorporate some sort of writing strategy into their habits, so you should feel no shame in using them. In the following exercise, you’ll learn how to use clustering as a way of developing your ideas.
First, you must think of a word or phrase. You can do this with any random word or phrase, but it is far more effective to choose something that is related to the assigned topic. Say you are writing an essay about your experience with the American Dream….well, “American Dream” might be the best phrase to begin with. Here’s what to do next:
- Get comfortable with the process of clustering by letting your playful, creative mind make connections. Maintain a childlike attitude by letting whatever associations come to you fall out onto paper. Avoid judging or choosing. Simply let go and write. Let the words or phrases radiate outward from the nucleus word; draw a circle around each of them if you like. Connect those associations that seem related with lines—even add arrows to indicate direction if you feel compelled. Just don’t get caught up in organization and tidiness; it’s not important now.
- Write down anything that is triggered by the key word—and whatever you do, don’t inhibit or censor yourself. At this point, nothing is silly, stupid, inane or unrelated. If you plateau and can’t think of anything, write, “I don’t know what to say.”
- Every writer is different, but you should know when to stop clustering when you feel a strong, sudden urge to write—this usually happens after a couple of minutes when you feel a shift that says, “Aha! I think I know what I want to say.”
- You’re ready to write. Scan your clustered perceptions and insights. Something therein will suggest your first sentence to you, and you’re off. Should you feel stuck, however, write about anything from the cluster to get you started. The next thing and the next thing after will come because your right hemisphere has already perceived a pattern of meaning. Trust it.
As an aspiring educator, I knew exactly what kind of teacher I would be: I would facilitate dynamic discussions; the students would not only read all of the assigned texts, they would devour them. Sure, teaching would be work, but I mostly saw myself as a facilitator—someone who would ask all the right questions and look on as my students marched towards intellectual victory.
You can probably see where this is going. Once I was handed the keys to the classroom, I was surprised when things didn’t magically fall into place like they were supposed to. (Does this sound familiar?)
It wasn’t that things were disastrous, but they just weren’t the way I imagined. Why weren’t students talking? Why weren’t they as excited as I was about what we were reading? Why weren’t they making connections and thinking critically about what they read?
It wasn’t until later that I discovered that I (not the students) was the reason our discussions fell flat. To spark discussions and critical inquiry, I asked my students a lot of questions. Questions are good, but most of the questions I asked students were what we would call nonessential questions.
To give you a clearer sense of what I mean by essential and nonessential questions consider the following examples from Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins’ book, Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding.
Essential question: “How do the arts shape, as well as reflect, culture?
Nonessential question: “What common artistic symbols were used by the Incas and the Mayans?”
Essential question: “Is there ever a ‘just’ war?
Nonessential question: What key event sparked World War I?”
Essential question: “What does it mean to be a ‘true’ friend?”
Nonessential question: “Who is Maggie’s best friend in the story?”
As you may have noticed, unlike nonessential questions, essential ones are timeless. Some can even be grappled with indefinitely; they are neither immediately apparent nor can they be answered with a fact or a simple yes or no response. Essential questions force us to interrogate our presuppositions, dig in, explain, defend, question and—hopefully—grow.
If you still sketchy on the difference between essential and nonessential questions, here are seven of McTighe and Wiggins’ defining characteristics of a good essential question.
A good essential question:
- Is open-ended; that is, it typically will not have a single, final, and correct answer.
- Is thought-provoking and intellectually engaging, often sparking discussion and debate.
- Calls for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction. It cannot be effectively answered by recall alone.
- Points toward important, transferable ideas within (and sometimes across) disciplines.
- Raises additional questions and sparks further inquiry.
- Requires support and justification, not just an answer.
- Recurs over time; that is, the question can and should be revisited again and again.
R.E Meyers’ book, Lively Language: Lessons for Reluctant Learners, does what most of us English teachers have been trying to do since the beginning of time: make grammar, spelling, punctuation and critical thinking lessons lively.
To do this, each lesson is infused with a dash of zaniness and a pinch of Meyers’ sense of offbeat humor which, in our opinion, helps inject new life into learning objectives that most students groan about.
The lessons you’ll find in this book will get students writing, but they will also ask them to think critically about the human experience—things like being sensitive, being original, being aware of others’ emotions, hypothesizing, analyzing, letting humor flow, elaborating and the list goes on.
To give you a better sense of what you’ll find in the book, we’ve pulled one of Meyers’ writing activities called “Your Talk Show.” This is a creative activity that will help students practice their punctuation, formulate succinct questions and work with direct quotations.
“Your Talk Show”
Imagine you are the host of a radio talk show that features unusual guests and people phoning to express their opinions. You have a great show lined up for next Tuesday, including these guests:
- A tea-drinking accountant from Okmulgee, Oklahoma, who has saved every tea bag he has used for the past 27 years. He drinks all brands but never touches instant.
- A six-year-old boy who can recite the Gettysburg Address backwards. (It takes him a little longer to say it frontwards.)
- A winsome 90-year-old great grandmother who can beat her 60-year-old husband arm wrestling any day of the week.
- A man who rode from Washington, D.C. to Boston on a unicycle in January.
- A salesman from Ohio who set a record for going around and around in a revolving door in a government building for 47 minutes. Since it was at the height of the rush hour, he was arrested by the local police.
- A girl who talked on her cell phone for 18 hours without stopping, changing ears only three times.
Because of time limitations, you will only be able to ask three questions of each quest. Write three questions to bring forth the liveliest responses from each.
Now that you have written your questions, write one of your interviews to submit to the editor of your program’s newsletter. Use your imagination for the guest’s responses to your questions. Be sure to use quotation and punctuation marks. In a direct quotation, the words of the speaker should be given exactly as they were spoken.
As a fledgling student, I always took a shine to writing and science, but the closest I ever came to engaging with professional writers and scientists came through copies of my dad’s National Geographic magazines. The pictures were great, but the articles felt impenetrable.
The thought that I could somehow shape the articles I “read” and interact with the professionals behind them never crossed my mind. If only Frontiers in Neuroscience for Young Minds had been around in those days!
Frontiers is a scholarly, peer-reviewed science journal for kids. Not only have they partnered with some of the brightest neuroscientists in the world, they’ve found a way to bring students—some as young as five years old—into the peer review process.
Here’s how it works: Established neuroscientists develop articles based on their research—but before publishing it to Frontiers, they invite criticism from young people so that the article can be made more digestible for a younger audience.
Neuroscientists mentor these Young Review Editors, help them review the manuscript and focus their queries to authors. Once the Young Review Editor offers his/her critique, the original author reworks the article and then passes it on to an Associate Editor at Frontiers for publication. How cool is that?
If your students are interested in becoming a Frontiers Young Minds Reviewer, all they have to do is contact the editorial office (firstname.lastname@example.org) with a short biography and a letter.
Here are some of the topics Frontiers covers:
· The Brain and Friends (social neuroscience)
· The Brain and Fun (emotion)
· The Brain and Magic (perception, sensation)
· The Brain and Allowances (neuroeconomics)
· The Brain and School (attention, decision making)
· The Brain and Sports (motor control, action)
· The Brain and Life (memory)
· The Brain and Talking/Texting (language)
· The Brain and Growing (neurodevelopment)
To read some of the published articles, click here.
We love our job, but that doesn’t mean that teaching is easy. There will be bad days and classes that don’t go the way we planned them—there may even be days when things go so wrong that we question whether or not we are in the right profession.
We want to remind you that you are not alone.
To help you put things into perspective, we reached out to fellow teachers and asked them to share words of encouragement and their best pieces of advice for recovering from a disastrous day.
15 More Ways Real Teachers Recover From a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
- “Tomorrow is another day. I remember that even the best rock star teachers have disastrous classes, disastrous days, and even disastrous weeks and semesters! I know that I'll examine the class to figure out what went wrong and take steps to remedy the situation, whatever it was.”
- “I remind myself why I'm doing this in the first place and that there are going to be bad days...they are part of life. AND prayer...definitely.”
- “Take a deep breath.......realize that those students are gone (and you won't have to deal with them the rest of the day!), that a new set is coming in and they need you to be at your best."
- “Quickly do a run through in your head and see if you need to make any adjustments to your presentation/teaching so that the next class won't go down the same rotten path. And keep in mind that they are just kids; we don't know what kind of home life they are coming from. We have to be adult and the bigger person.”
- “I keep letters from former students that were given to me in years past. When I have one of those days, I will read some of the letters and remind myself that what I'm doing does matter and is touching lives.”
- “You will have good days, great days, and bad days. Remember, you are there for the students, to teach them not only academics, but how to be good people. The students that are the worst need your help, love, and kindness the most. Don't take it personal.”
- “I think back to some of the positive things parents and students have told me that helps reassure me I am doing the right thing. This allows me to refocus, step back up to the line and get ready for the next period.”
- “A prayer for patience—and remember that tomorrow is a new start for both you and the students.”
- “I find positive things that happened in the same class period. I call home about these positive tidbits. It goes a long way with the students that actually do what they are supposed to and helps me realize my small victories. I always feel tons better after bragging on students.”
- “Do your best, put your heart into it, but don't take it personally when the kids let you down. You won't actually reach all of them, but work like you can.
- “Do not take it personally. Reflect on how you can change the lesson or dynamics so that the students will learn. Remember, it is not about you, it is about the students' learning. Chocolate helps too, though. J”
- “I try to figure out what went wrong and why, and then take action so the same thing won't go wrong the same way. And in the meantime, a deep breath and laughing with other teachers helps.”
- “It is so easy to focus on the disaster and forget about the good things. Remember that you teach students, not a subject. Don't tear yourself up. We are all human. Laugh it off. Reflect, and move on. Think of it as a memorable experience and embrace the next adventure. It can only get better.”
- “They need you! Just keep plugging!”
- “I am honest with myself and the students. Today for example, class went horrific. They were talking too much, not grasping the material, and not 100 percent focused (mainly because I have them before and after lunch). So I stopped class and told them to put their notes away. I told them that we will try again tomorrow because the cold weather has frozen our brains. We reviewed another topic and they did another activity.
I try not to force it when class is going downhill. Chances are I will have to reteach the topic again tomorrow anyway because of how the class went. So instead of everyone being frustrated or me rolling my frustration to the next class, I change up the lesson.”
Many of us have a clear sense of what we want to be—or more specifically, what we want to do for a living—from the moment we pop out of the womb. Whether or not it’s true, I know plenty of teachers who claim they knew they were going be educators while they were still walking around in diapers. Others of us, this writer included, didn’t find our niche or career path until well into adulthood.
While we do believe that kids should be kids, we would also argue that we have a responsibility to guide our students, help them hone their talents and move towards a fulfilling future. To help your students begin assessing their passions and career interests, we’d like to share three of our favorite resources with you.
3 Sites to Help Students Move from Classroom to Career
icould probably articulates its mission better than I can: “icould is about inspiration, encouragement and discovery. The idea is to help you make the most of your potential and talent by showing how others have used theirs.”
To pique your students’ interest, icould has compiled an impressive collection of video interviews with working professionals—anyone from laboratory technicians, engineers and speech therapists to music video directors, lighting cameramen and stewards.
Teachers will also find articles, classroom resources and a database of career-related articles on the site.
Unlike other career tests, Your Free Career Test is short (52 questions) and isn’t based on psychological theories. It simply asks students questions that relate to career categories; then it uses an algorithm to match their responses to careers. Upon completion, your students will receive an assessment that assigns them to a career category, recommends courses and offers a bulleted list of example careers.
In addition to interview and resume tips and career planning advice, you’ll also find a “Jobs For People Who…,” section that matches career options to your students’ interests. Also worth checking out is the “Do What You Love!” section where you’ll find a collection of interviews with anyone from animal communicators, astronauts and filmmakers to actors, musicians and LEGO master builders.
We don’t have to tell you this, but teachers are not superhuman—at least not all the time. We doubt ourselves. We struggle to reach our students and, despite our exhaustion, we often lie awake at night replaying the day, wondering how in the world things could have possibly gone so wrong.
But there’s good news: You aren’t alone.
To help you put things into perspective and find constructive ways to recover from what one of our favorite authors would call a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” we reached out to fellow teachers and asked them to share their best recovery strategies. The response was overwhelming and for that reason, this blog is going to be divided up into two parts.
Without further ado, here is part one of 10 Ways Real Teachers Recover From a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Class.
- “Rescue Remedy herbal drops under the tongue. Breathe.”
- “Several years ago, I started putting student notes, parent thank yous, administrative accolades and the like in a notebook. On those REALLY bad days, I take it out and remember all of the wonderful students and experiences I have had along the way. It's not a cure-all, but it does help me regain perspective and remember why I do what I do.”
- “I always try to learn from it. I look at the lesson and the kids. I've had lessons and units that one class might love and the other classes just hate. So I may tweak it a bit or decide the class was just not a good fit with that lesson.”
- “Remember that everyone has an off day, you are a good teacher and you tried your best. Also, always try something new; it does not always work but at least you tried.”
- “I find positive things that happened in the same class period. I call home about these positive tidbits. It goes a long way with the students that actually do what they are supposed to and helps me realize my small victories. I always feel tons better after bragging on students.”
- “Often, I have to remind my students that I'm a human being and make mistakes. If I've been a disastrous teacher, I find open apology actually earns the teacher some serious cred. If I've bolloxed-up a lesson, I make it right by re-explaining. But it is a reflective process. Look at it as a chance to reflect on your practice.
Another suggestion: Go for a hike (even if it's a local park) and sit and read some Emerson. Look at the trees and rock formations that have been here so much longer than we have and realize that your problems really aren't problems in the grand scheme of things. Keep your chin up!”
- Mr. Hamlin
- “I am usually willing to admit my mistakes. I have a frank conversation with the class and say, ‘Hey, I messed up!’ It allows the students to see you're human and that we all make mistakes.
- I also talk to them about their responsibility in the debacle. What did they do to compound the situation? A disastrous class is rarely just one party’s fault. Sometimes a written reflection helps: as the students write theirs, you write one of your own.”
- “I straight up, tell my next class(es) that I'm having an ‘off’ day—and I sometimes explain why. If I'm short tempered for any reason, I also tell them that ‘it's not them, it's me.’ I ask them if they can think of anything to make me smile (usually they do), I paste on a smile and move along with the lesson. But then when I get home, I go for a super long run: outside and with music playing loudly. Very loudly.”
- “I'm pretty frank with my middle school classes. I just let them know that I, too, realize that what we just did didn't work and we will try again tomorrow. They are pretty understanding and appreciate the honesty. We are teachers who work hard to do what's best for our kiddos. We are nowhere near perfect and can't beat ourselves up over a bad lesson. Learn from it and move on.”
- “Keep a ‘Why I Do This’ folder, virtually and physically. Inside, place any positive and supportive item you’ve ever received from a student, parent, or colleague, and pull it out on days like that.”
On Thursday, I posted part I of Things You Will Wish Someone Had Told You About Teaching. Like I said in the first post, I know that having a copy of Roxanna Elden’s book, See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, wouldn’t have solved all of my first-year frustrations, but it certainly would have put a lot of what I was going through into perspective.
I think other teachers—both new and old—can glean something from Elden’s frank advice, so without further ado, here are five more things you will wish someone had told you about teaching!
5 More Things You Will Wish Someone Had Told You About Teaching
Don’t be too worried about your students liking you
You’ve probably heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and even if you haven’t, you know from experience that love and intimacy are basic human needs. We all want to love and be loved—but look, you’re going to do a lot of damage when you try to earn your students affection by letting your classroom management slip.
As Elden suggests, it can feel unnatural, especially for young teachers, to “play the role of a nerdy or uptight adult,” but keep in mind that freedom is easier to give than take away.
Your students have friends—and let’s be frank, you’ll never be as cool as they are. You are an authority figure and a leader. Act like one.
Make a schedule for paperwork
Elden is right about a few things:
- First, you’re not going to believe how much of your job is tied up in paperwork.
- Second, the paperwork won’t end until sometime in June.
- Third, you’re going to get tired of it—and because you’re tired of it, it’s going to be tempting to put paperwork off.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is create a realistic grading schedule and stick to it. If you know you can only grade 10-15 papers in a night, don’t bring home a stack of 50; this will stress you out and lead to exhaustion.
Teaching is physically exhausting
Have you seen this short New York Times piece? If you’re already a teacher, you probably thought, “My gosh…it’s like looking in the mirror. That’s exactly how I feel at the end of the day.”
As a new teacher, you often drive to and from work in the dark. You’re on your feet all day and when you go home, you’ll probably think about the students that are at-risk. Even so, there’s some good news if you keep reading.
Things do get better
There will be days—and perhaps many of them—when you’re so physically exhausted and discouraged that you will consider throwing in the towel. During these times, do your best to remember Elden’s advice:
There’s a reason why so many people have chosen to become teachers: Certain moments in this profession more than make up for your worst days. Be patient. These moments will come—and when they do, you will understand.
Lock your door when you leave the room
A lot of new teachers leave their doors open because they are just “stepping out for a minute.” You’d be surprised what can happen in 60 seconds.
Grade-schoolers are cute; they wouldn’t dream of going into your classroom without your permission; they wouldn’t think about going through your desk. Right….
Wear your classroom keys around your neck, on your wrist, or attach them to your belt loop with a climbing carabiner so that you’re not tempted to leave your room unlocked.