Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Substitute Teacher's Infamous Bag of Tricks – Part 2

Yesterday I introduced the idea of having a Bag of Tricks for substitute teaching in secondary schools. While I am not yet field tested, I have a pretty good idea of what will and will not work in a high school classroom. And hey, if it doesn't work, then I guess it will make for a good learning experience and hilariously degrading post in the future.

My first trick was to scour blogs on the web for interesting and engaging news to build classroom discussions. In today's edition, we will look at two other useful tools.

Teach Your Skills
Do you have a special interest, hobby, or talent? What can you do that students may find interesting? Again, these tips are only for those times when the teacher's lesson that was left is either ineffective or non-existent. But when these times do appear, its good to have Plan B in your back pocket.

In my back pocket: a harmonica. Literally. Laugh all you like, but I've engaged both a college physics lecture hall and a Princeton Review hiring staff with my harmonica. How? No – I don't just play it. Rather, I teach it. I teach what it looks like inside, describe how the reeds work, and demonstrate how airflow over the reeds makes different noises and effects. I use body movements, ask lots of leading questions, and get kids moving. Its not what you teach, its how you teach it.

Q. What do you have that you can share? How will you implement it in your teaching? Please let us know! Contribute your comments and let us know what you do and how you bring it to the classroom. (Or if this approach is not your thing, please explain why.)

Using quotes is a truly magical way to teach. Here's why:
  • Just a short string of words can promote deep, higher-level thinking
  • One quote can be interpreted dozens of ways, aiding in class discussion
  • A quote can be useful in any classroom, whether its math, PE, wood shop, or biology
Here are some tips on using quotes in class:
  • Compile your own personal list of quotes. They have to be yours. Don't go purchase a quote book and open to a random page. Search for quotes that you understand and can explain.
  • For each quote, jot down a couple thinking questions you can ask the students.
  • Give students plenty of wait time; most good quotes are difficult to suggest. Even suggest they write answers down first before sharing aloud.
  • Don't quote Ralph Waldo Emerson. Granted, he is very quotable. The students know that. They all use him in their speech class and from that know you didn't put much research into your presentation either.
  • As with sharing news, pick quotes that high school level students can relate to and understand personally.
Some quotes I love and keep in my bag:
  • “Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds. Its fruit was diamonds. It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
  • “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” – Henry David Thoreau
  • “To live only for some future goal is shallow. Its the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top... But of course without the top you can't have the sides.” Robert M. Pirsig, Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Most Important:
The bag of tricks is a personal thing. Don't print off the Freaknomics article, learn the harmonica, and start quoting Thoreau just to fill your bag. If you do, it most likely won't be successful. You have to make this yours. Think deeply on it. Mediate on it. The Bag of Tricks is not just filler. Its real, teachable material.

What are you going to do to make an impression, promote learning, and have a meaningful class for both yourself and your students?

Q. What do you have in your bag?

I welcome you to contribute by sending in questions, personal stories, thoughts, and articles about substitute teaching. Thanks for stopping by.

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