Teacher’s Lounge Blog

Learn more about teacher preparation, test tips, online learning, professional development, and a variety of other valuable teacher topics.

Selecting Essay Topic on FTCE

October 16th, 2018 | Comments Off on Selecting Essay Topic on FTCE | Certification Prep, Literacy Certification, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses, Writing Certification

 

Many teacher licensing exams, such as the Florida FTCE, have a writing test that gives you an option to choose your prompt. Both prompts will lend themselves to excellent essays. The trick is to choose the one that fits your skills and experience. Here are some points to consider.

 

  1. Match your selection with your knowledge. When you read the prompts, you will likely have one of three reactions: “Yes, Yes, Yes!! I know this one!” Or “No! No way! Can. Not.” or “Hmmm…looks about the same.” If you have a “Yes!” choose it and be done. If you have a “No,” obviously you know what to do there. If you have a “Hmmm…,” don’t overthink it. Continue to the other strategies for selecting your topic.
  2. Consider the grading criteria. Your score on some areas such as conventions or organization will not be particularly impacted by your selection; however, your score on focus, ideas, and word choice could be doomed with the wrong choice.
    Support Because your essay needs focused support to develop the topic, try to jot down a thesis statement. Can you come up with two or three points that you’re able to support adequately? Do you have some anecdotal evidence or some research to work in?
    Word Choice List your key vocabulary. Make sure you have the domain specific vocabulary you’ll need. For example, if your topic is reading levels and you can’t remember the words instructional, frustration, and independent, you’re going to be in trouble. Look at the other topic.
  1. Evaluate the purpose. The FTCE gives you a choice of a topic to explain or a topic to defend with a position. Identify which prompt tends to expository and which lends toward a position. What’s your preference? Would you prefer to write an expository essay supported by facts or a position paper supported by reasons?
  2. Commit If you’ve followed steps 1-3, by this point, either one option is the obvious right choice for you, or it probably doesn’t make much difference. Today’s world offers more options than any human can accommodate. As a result, we flip through movies, shows, songs, posts, etc. We struggle with commitment. Don’t be non-committal on the FTCE essay. Commit. Commit quickly and completely. You’ve got your topic. Now write.

One early prep strategy: anticipate essay questions. What are the topics you’ve addressed multiple times through your courses? Think tech, school choice, teacher’s rights/responsibilities, student needs. Write out strong essays on viable topics. Develop some stock answers that you can massage on test day.

One last minute test strategy: On test day, as you answer multiple choice questions, note the academic vocabulary in the questions. Those words may become very precious when you write the essay.

 

Countdown to Teacher Licensure Exam

October 1st, 2018 | Comments Off on Countdown to Teacher Licensure Exam | Certification Prep, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

As you approach your teacher licensure exam, you can take specific actions that will ensure you are confidently prepared to test. You want to show up on your state’s annual pass rate report in the pass column rather than in the fail column.

You have been anticipating this exam since your first education course your freshman year of college. Now, you find that the time has come to reserve your exam day and make your final preparations. What’s your plan?

Determine the required tests. Exam requirements vary wildly from state-to-state. Ideally, six months before you want to test, you’ll set aside a two-hour block to read every word of your state’s education department website that relates to specifications for certification.

Review the entire set of test objectives and descriptive statements. You can find the test objectives on the website of the test provider for your state.

Try some practice questions. The test provider, your state education department, and/or your university will have a few sample questions on their websites. Again, set aside a block of time—this time to test. Review your results. Determine where you stand.

Review your coursework. Every reputable education course has some content which appears on teacher licensure tests. Commonly, instructors flag the content that aligns to the stated test objectives. Review the content flagged in your coursework.

Feel overwhelmed. And, yes, that is a required step. If you do not find yourself overwhelmed with the enormity of preparing for a licensure exam, you have underestimated the gravity of the task ahead of you. Some licensure tests have pass rates in the 50% range. Absorb that thought and rush to your next step.

Take a test prep course. PrepForward, for example, states, Our courses have been proven to boost performance on licensing exams. Our pass rates are near perfect.” We recommend that you get the prep course several months in advance to allow yourself to benefit from all features of the course. In addition to lessons, you’ll find scores of sample questions with in-depth explanations. Instructors are available. Using all features of the course works provides substantial benefit. If you’re down to your last weeks and days, while it’s not your best option, it may be time to cram. Prep courses provide you with a succinct one-stop source for coaching.

Acquire physical and mental stamina. Check the time allotted for your test. Use your test prep course to practice sustaining a mentally-demanding activity for the allotted test time. During that time, be conscious of your restroom breaks, avoid eating, avoid diversions such as checking phone messages. Maintain focused attention on your one task.

Every year, thousands of candidates follow these or similar steps to pass their teacher licensure exams. Get started today on making sure your next career step is a positive one.

 

Effective Teachers Organize

September 17th, 2018 | Comments Off on Effective Teachers Organize | Certification Prep, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Article from the Series: Essentials for Effective New Teachers

Any healthy list of “Factors that Overwhelm New Teachers” is incomplete without a mention of “the stuff.” The combined accumulation of what you bring to the classroom and what you inherit from your predecessor may have you spiraling. You’ll need to get organized for the sake of your own efficiency, but most of all for the sake of your students.

If you find yourself standing in the middle of your classroom asking, “Does this stuff exist so that I can organize it or so that my students can use it to learn,” it’s time to make a change. Let me assure you—there’s a better way. It is not a sin to throw deadweight educational resources away. You may not want to purge too much your first year, but no one wins a prize for the storage closet with the most stuff.

Let’s look at the why and how of organization.

  1. Believe in the value of organization. If all new teachers really bought in to how vital classroom organization is to student learning and behavior, you would have no problem investing the time to get meticulously organized. Think back on the annoying issues you dealt with in student teaching. Not the giant issues such as fights—but the daily problems that wore you down and ate away at your effectiveness. How many of those could you trace back to poor organization? Were you able to solve any problems by rearranging desks or systematizing a transition?

For many students, breakdowns come in transitions. When transitions feel less like transitions and more like routines or habits, students feel safe in knowing the next step. The room stays calm and peaceful and is less likely to erupt in chaos.

  1. Create obvious spaces. At least half of your students, and more like three quarters, will not have a natural bent toward organization. For many students, a file is a file, a tub is a tub. Organizing books by reading level or matching scissor bin #1 with table #1 is not intuitive. You’ll do everyone a favor by making your organizational system simple and eye-catching. Think through traffic patterns. At first glance, it may seem obvious that you would keep all the scissors together on one bookshelf. However, if you observe that your “supply helpers” tend to congregate and get into mischief when sent on their mission to secure scissors for their tables, you may want to re-organized. Keeping all supplies for each work station strategically place in opposite corners of the room may turn out to be a better strategy. Avoid clutter. Students lack the ability to discriminate between one heap of clutter and the next. Avoid clutter.
  1. Walk through your day. Think through all your normal procedures; for example, passing in homework. If you say, “Pass in your homework,” you can expect to see papers flying through the air, kids bonking the student in front of them on the head, kids up out of their seats taking a stroll. You’ll wonder if you said, “Please mutiny,” by mistake. Instead, think how to minimize confusion and get the job done—Homework on the front desk before class begins? Wait for the homework behind you and pass the stack up together? Choose a strategy that works for you. Model it. Enforce it until it becomes routine.
  1. Find an organizer. If you’re not by nature an organizer, borrow the skills of someone who is. Remember the dad, Mr. Gilbreth, in the old classic book Cheaper by the Dozen. He was obsessed with efficiency—to the point of having all twelve children’s tonsils removed at the same time. You don’t have to go to that extreme with your students, but it may be worth talking to a seasoned teacher or your mom or…

At the beginning of the year, keep things simple. As students (and you!) master the simple, add more complexity. A commitment to organization, efficiency, and peace will make a measurable difference in your and your students’ days and year.

Passing the Composition Exercise: Mechanics

July 31st, 2018 | Comments Off on Passing the Composition Exercise: Mechanics | Certification Prep, Literacy Certification, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Writing Certification

PrepForward provides online preparation courses to candidates practicing compositions for state teacher tests, including the MTEL Communication and Literacy Skills exam in MA. In this series, I’ll share the most common errors I see and tips for making a solid score on each performance characteristic.
Other articles in series: Passing the Composition Exercise: Usage

Spelling, punctuation, capitalization — these three areas are evaluated under the Mechanics trait on the MTEL Communications and Literacy Skills composition exercise. Let’s look at some strategies for earning a top rating in Mechanics.

First, save time to proofread your composition. I believe that many mechanics errors are keyboarding errors. A purposeful proofreading with an eye for errors in mechanics could make a measurable difference on weak compositions. If your problem lies in keyboarding, sharpen your skills with a few hours of practice.

Remember, you’ll be working without a grammar or spell check. As you write practice compositions, turn off any automatic computer proofreading helps. Write your paper. Turn the checkers back on, and see what gets flagged. Analyze your errors to find your weaknesses.

Below, you can find a quick list of spelling, punctuation, and capitalization reminders. The list is not meant to be exhaustive. It’s intended to remind you of trouble spots so that you can research, practice, and perfect your Mechanics score on test day.

Spelling

Suffixes
Double the final consonant, drop the final e, change y to i—rules, rules, rules! Yes, multiple rules must be applied when adding suffixes to root words. The good news is that, with a few exceptions, the rules normally apply. Learn the rules; learn the exceptions; learn to apply the rules consistently.

  • Double the final consonant for a one-syllable word ending in a single consonant, preceded by a single vowel (run, running; fat, fatter; shop, shopping). Double the final consonant for a multi-syllabic word that ends in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel when the last syllable is accented: control/controlled, but exit/ exited.
  • Drop the final e when adding a suffix that begins with a vowel (drive/driving, use/usable).
  • Keep the final e for words ending in ce or ge (courage/courageous, notice/noticeable) Keep the final e when adding a suffix that begins with a consonant (use/useful, rare/rarely).
  • Change y to i when a word ends with a y preceded by a consonant (beauty/beautiful, happy/ happiness, but monkey/monkeys, chimney/chimneys). Keep the y before suffixes beginning with i (copy/copying).

i before e
This spelling rule still works. So, you’ll write believe and achieve with i before e, and receive and neighbor with e before i.

Homophones
Homophones sound the same but may be spelled differently. Their is possessive of they; there introduces sentences or clauses (There is/ There are); they’re is a contraction for they are. Weather is the condition in the atmosphere; whether is a conjunction introducing choices.

Punctuation

Apostrophes
The #1 trouble spot I observe in Mechanics is with the use of apostrophes. Rule recap:

  • Apostrophes for possessives. Apostrophes are used to change a noun to the possessive form. For example, the truck of the man is the man’s truck, the home of the Smiths is the Smiths’ home, and the coats of the children are the children’s coats.
  • No apostrophes for regular plurals. Unless following the normal plural rule will lead to misreading, do not use an apostrophe to form a plural. A’s (on a report card) could easily be misread as As, so an apostrophe is needed. Otherwise, avoid apostrophes to form plurals.
  • Apostrophes in contractions. The original use of an apostrophe was to indicate when letters had been left out. You will almost certainly write your composition in standard, formal English which will eliminate the use of contractions. Should you need to write speech in dialect, you can use an apostrophe.

Hyphens
Do you feel like it’s impossible to keep up with hyphen rules? You might read three different sources and find three different spellings. So how do you know if it’s homeschool, home-school, or home school? Hyphen rules have some degree of flexibility. Here are a few general reminders.

  • Compound adjective before a noun: the long-term prospects
  • Select prefixes: ex-President, pre-treat
  • Age as a noun or before a noun: a six-year-old student
  • Numbers 21-99: twenty-one, ninety-nine

Commas

  • Introductory elements. Following the assessment, students…
  • Nonessential elements. Commas can change the meaning of a sentence. Consider the difference between these two sentences. 1. The sixth graders, who tested late due to inclement weather, received their results in the summer. 2. The sixth graders who tested late due to inclement weather received their results in the summer.
  • Compound parts. A compound subject or verb does not require a verb. (Students loaded buses and traveled across town.) A compound sentence requires both a comma and conjunction between the compound parts. (The teachers led an assembly, and they orchestrated team activities.)

Capitalization

Of all aspects of the composition exercise, I would say that capitalization has the fewest distracting errors. Proofread for keyboarding errors, watch for proper adjectives (pre-Columbian discovery, Vietnamese food), and capitalize the full title of specific locations (Yellowstone National Park). Don’t be careless, but you should be okay on capitalization.

You’ve probably been studying spelling, punctuation, and capitalization rules since your early elementary days. Now, you’re taking what could be the biggest test of your life, and they’re still haunting you. I suggest you review the most troublesome rules and give yourself time to proofread on test day. Be encouraged. Mechanics is the one characteristic where every candidate can achieve perfection.

Effective Teachers Evaluate

July 17th, 2018 | Comments Off on Effective Teachers Evaluate | Certification Prep, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Article from the Series: Essentials for Effective New Teachers

Is it fair to say that every on-the-job minute of a teacher’s life is spent evaluating? Never a moment passes that a teacher is not called upon to evaluate student learning, classroom atmosphere, lesson delivery, behavior, and more. Based on these evaluations, teachers are expected to use their quick wits and their long term planning strategies to optimize student learning in the moment and over time.

Let’s consider a teacher’s responsibility to evaluate.

Assessment of Student Learning

In both traditional and modern settings, a high priority has been placed on determining how well students have learned their lessons. In recent years, this process of evaluating student learning has fallen under the broad heading of “assessment.”

Teachers are responsible to assess individual students. Teachers assess before and after teaching. Teachers are deemed to be more effective when they use a variety of assessment tools from informal self-assessment to peer evaluations to highly-structured standardized testing.

High stakes educational testing has increased the pressure to ensure that students can demonstrate their learning on state tests. Results of large-scale assessments typically get back to teachers after instruction for that year has ended. The tendency then becomes to look at the group results and wonder what went right or what went wrong. The answer lies in the individual results. Class results can only be improved as individual students achieve. Take a minute to look at the results of the individual, and then consider what led select students to soar under your care.

For a new teacher, authentic assessment can be a greater challenge that state testing. It calls upon the teacher to have a clear picture of proficient work. For example, a second-grade teacher may know that students need to have a command of language. Does that mean they need to use plural possessives ending in s correctly in writing? How many supporting details in a descriptive paragraph should be expected of a second grader? In order to accurately evaluate, a teacher must have a clear picture of proficiency at the grade level.

Evaluation of Teaching Strategies

Teachers are wise to reflect on each lesson, that is, to analyze the effectiveness of communication in taking students from the known to the unknown. To teach effectively, you need to take a close look at formative assessment results. Discover the students’ prior knowledge and get busy structuring a lesson that will convey the student to the new content.

You may have the privilege of teaching the same content to several different classes. If you find that one class embraces your teaching and one struggles, you could draw the conclusion that your teaching is fine and the problem lies with the students. A more mature (though exhausting) outlook is that now you must specialize your lessons so that all classes can learn. You may have to design different activities, enrichment, or additional practice for your classes. While your primary responsibility during a class period may be instruction, evaluation is your constant companion.

Reflect and Modify

The most important piece of evaluation is what you do with what you’ve learned. Whether your powers of discernment are geared to students, classroom environment, your delivery, or some other aspect of education, your next step is to process your findings and decide what (or who) needs change and what will flourish with more of the same.

Licensure Tests: Prepare or Procrastinate?

July 3rd, 2018 | Comments Off on Licensure Tests: Prepare or Procrastinate? | Certification Prep, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

For the first time in decades, teacher licensure has become easier rather than more difficult in multiple states. Teacher shortages have pushed legislators to re-evaluate the high scores that have been required at various levels of teacher preparation. It’s not too difficult to imagine returning to a time when candidates were deemed qualified for their first year of teaching by completing course work, a single basic test, and student teaching under a master teacher.

Once upon a time, your only ticket into a teaching career was to pass licensure tests. Now, you’re looking at the reality that you may not have to pass as many licensure tests—or at least not with a score that required selling your soul for a year of grueling preparation.

Given the potential for more reasonable requirements, are you wise to prepare or to wait it out? I’m going with the unpopular answer of—you still need to prepare and work for the highest score possible. Let’s consider some reasons.

Economics:

Educators and legislators alike suspect that one factor driving teacher shortages is money. The level of attention being given to teacher salaries, benefits, and retirement plans is unprecedented. Ideally, the attention that teacher compensation has attracted will result in greater revenue. If that happens, more candidates with higher qualifications are likely to be drawn to teaching. At that point, states may be able to revert to or maintain high requirements and still keep their teachers. Securing a high test score makes sure you’re qualified not just during a temporary teacher shortage, but for the long term as well.

Content Mastery:

Teachers have to be good at so many things. You need to be able to communicate, organize, motivate, entertain, and manage resources, just to name a few. Did I mention teach?? With so many demands, you don’t also want to be wrangling with the academics. You can take some stress off the daily demands by becoming a master in your content area. Mastery of the content was one of the intents of licensure testing. Push for that mastery now—don’t put it off until you’re in the classroom.

Career:

It’s hard to predict the next turn that will be made to guarantee high quality teachers who can provide an excellent education to American students. While requirements may shift at least temporarily, the future of teacher certification is unknown. Hitting the high standards of today may turn into one of the best career moves you could make.

 

Do yourself, your students, and your career the courtesy of meeting the high requirements of today. Be wary of an attitude that rejoices at lowering requirements for teachers. Strive to be the one that can earn a top score on the test and then transfer your pursuit of excellence on to your students.