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  • Five Skill Sets For a 21st Cen Five Skill Sets For a 21st Century World and Their Instructional Implications

    • From: Elliott_Seif
    • Description:

      In the face of major societal and technological changes, all students need to be prepared with critical knowledge, skills, and attitudes and behaviors that allow for continued learning and growth beyond high school. In particular, they need to develop critical and creative thinking skills and the skills necessary for finding and processing huge amounts of information. Even with the Common Core standards, our current educational emphases aren’t adequately preparing most students for learning beyond high school – for college, career, military or other future endeavors.

       

      While a critical knowledge base and positive attitudes and behaviors are important for future living, this commentary, along with others I have written in the past (see figure one, below) focuses on five skill sets students must develop if they are to adapt to

       

      Figure One

      Previous ASCD Edge Commentaries about Five Skill Sets

       

      Teaching the Right Skills For a New Age- Inquiry Based Instruction http://bit.ly/vVhpSQ

      Seven Principles for Teaching the Right Skills for a New Age http://bit.ly/yLVZ0M

      Using Inquiry-Research Projects to Teach the Right Skills for a New Age http://bit.ly/tU0RPR

      Six ways to Build Greater Curiosity in Students http://bit.ly/TTKPqO

       

      this new world and examines ten specific strategies to help students learn these skills. The five key skill sets should be given a laser-like focus in order to prepare students for continuous learning in this new age are the following:

       

      Building Curiosity (Asking Questions, Formulating Problems and Challenges)

      In today’s rapidly changing world, curiosity – interest in and willingness to learn new things – is critically important. Most educators realize that the curiosity of young children seems to lessen as they go through school. Curiosity manifests itself through students demonstrating an interest in and a willingness to try new things and learn new ideas, ask questions, and pose and define problems and challenges.

       

      Information and Data Literacy (Processing Information and Data).

      New technologies that give us instantaneous access to huge amounts of information and data make information and data literacy skills imperative.  Our students need to be able to use many approaches to search for (research) information and data effectively and efficiently, sort through large amounts to find the most useful and relevant, and determine the most reliable and valid information and data. Search engine results, gleaned in less than a second, require the ability to sort through, evaluate, read, and digest multiple information and data genres and formats.

       

      Thoughtfulness (Thinking Deeply and Flexibly).

      All students need to have the ability to think deeply and flexibly in today’s rapidly changing world, and be prepared to take their place as 21st century citizens. They need opportunities to compare and contrast, analyze and interpret, and develop unique relationships among information, data, and ideas. They need to be able to translate information into visual and quantitative data. They need to “think outside the box” and solve problems creatively.

       

      Application (Drawing Conclusions, Applying Learning).

      With so much information, the ability to “pull together” and synthesize information and ideas, form educated opinions backed by argument and evidence, solve complex problems, and determine ways to apply information and ideas to the “outside” world become critical. Summarizing, synthesizing, drawing conclusions, and applying learning to new, novel, and “authentic” situations are all critical for living in a 21st century world.

       

      Communication (Communicating Effectively).

      Effective communication in many forms is extremely important in a world of e-mail, twitter, Facebook, cellphones, Skype, and collaborative projects. Students need opportunities to practice communicating effectively through all types of writing, explaining ideas to others, diverse representations, effectively participating in discussions, and oral presentations.

       

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      Given the importance of these five skills sets, one would think that they would be front and center in our educational discussions. Unfortunately, in today’s educational climate, many of these take a back seat to a relatively small group of skills useful for doing well on standardized tests – namely, the ability to distinguish correct answers in multiple choice questions, to write short pieces coherently, or to state opinions and ideas with evidence from text (Common Core). So, in this commentary, I am suggesting ten simple and easy to use strategies – two for each skill set – that can make a big difference in the ability of students to learn and apply these skills.

       

      Curiosity

      Question Census. Ask students to brainstorm questions that they would like to explore for at least one unit of study. Together develop categories for the questions and then select questions or categories of questions that are the most challenging, interesting, or focused around big ideas. Use these questions to focus student learning and study the unit at hand.

      Student developed challenges-problems. Find someplace in the curriculum where students can develop their own challenges or problems to give to others. Give students a chance to develop puzzles, games, historic or current challenges, math problems, or other challenges and problems, and then have them share these with the rest of the class and see if other students can solve the problems or challenges.

       

      Information-Data Literacy

      Readings-Data search. Either as a homework or in-class assignment in a computer lab, ask students to find one or more readings or data sources that supplement current learning. Help students learn how to use search engines and find and use helpful search terms. Work with students to help them determine which sources of information and data are reliable, then how to read and interpret these meaningfully. If several readings or data sources are found, help students figure out ways to compare and contrast them and find the essential information, ideas, or data in each.

      Close reading.  The Common Core Reading Standards advocate that students do more of the work of reading and teachers do less.  “Close reading” means that students read more deeply as part of their daily activities. Instead of teachers providing answers and “feeding” students, students are asked “text-dependent” questions. Text dependent questions force students to go to the text to give opinions and justify them through the text. Students are asked to “read like a detective”; to read text more than once; to analyze paragraphs sentence by sentence, to consider the nuances of a text, to analyze data sources. “Text” reading becomes much more significant as part of the learning process[i].

       

      This type of reading should be encouraged, but takes time. If we are to foster information and data literacy, students, as often as possible, should be asked to do close reading.

       

      Thoughtfulness:

      Graphic organizers. Graphic organizers are a good way to promote deeper and more flexible thinking. Through a visual analysis, they help students take learning apart (analysis), organize information and data for decision-making, or weave a web of information and ideas. Use graphic organizers to help students extend and deepen student thinking[ii].

      Brainstorming A brainstorming strategy is a good way to help students learn to “think outside the box”. Students are provided with an open-ended problem or challenge that has the potential to have many different types of solutions. They are asked to discover as many alternative ways to solve the problem as they can, and are given four rules around the acronym DOVE to help them with coming up with alternative possibilities: Defer Judgment, Offbeat Ideas encouraged, Vast number of ideas sought, Expand on other people’s ideas. Ask students to work in small groups to come up with as many ideas as they can, with one person acting as the recorder of all the ideas.

       

      After the brainstorm, students share the ideas and make the list as long as possible. They may also be asked to indicate which five ideas are the most logical, the most unusual, the most interesting, and/or the best. Several ideas might be used to try to solve the problem and consider what would happen if the idea were put into practice.

       

      Application

      3-2-1 Reflection. A 3-2-1 Reflection activity is often given at the end of a lesson or specific time period, such as a week, two weeks, or at the end of a unit. You can use this activity to ask students many different questions to discover what they learned and to uncover their thoughts about other aspects of the class: for example, to determine what main ideas students have learned, what questions they still have (good for stimulating curiosity), and what they most enjoyed.

       

      A 3-2-1 activity that supports the development of the five skill sets might look like this: Ask students to write down 3 major ideas and-or principles that they learned, 2 conclusions that they can draw from the learning, and one way they can apply their learning to the outside world[iii].  

      No multiple-choice question test. For at least one time period, abandon the traditional multiple-choice short answer test for a test that requires students to draw conclusions about what they have learned and asks them to apply their learning to a new and novel situation. Performance tasks are good alternatives, as are long essay exams. Consider open book essay exam questions and essay exams where students take home three questions to prepare, and one or two of them are written as an in-class exam[iv].

       

      Communication:

      Five minute explanations. For this activity, students are asked to explain a concept, big idea, understanding, or principle in their own words. They may do it in pairs, giving explanations to each other, or as a writing assignment, or as a presentation to the larger class. This activity may be completed after all or part of a lecture when a teacher has shared a new understanding and wants to determine if students understand what has been presented, or as a study activity at the end of a unit.

       

      A corollary to this activity is that students use an active listening approach – as they work in pairs, one student provides an explanation and the other has to repeat the essence of the explanation in his or her own words. They then switch, and the other student provides an explanation while the first repeats the essence of it in his or her own words.

      Persuasive arguments. In this activity, students are asked to create a persuasive argument in support of a point of view – an opinion about something they are studying. They need to state or write their point of view and provide arguments and evidence that support it. Once they state or write their argument, they can share it with others, either in small groups or in the total class. Persuasive essays are also good ways to introduce debate skills.

       

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      There are many additional activities that can be used or adapted to promote the learning of these five skill sets – developing questions for conducting interviews or for going on field trips, wait time to encourage deeper thinking, research projects based on student interests or related to a topic under study, oral presentations, creative problem solving strategies, individual book reflections, on-going, multiple types of writing activities, thinking skill activities, and choice of activities and courses.

       

      In sum, the point of this commentary is that teachers who have limited time for developing some or all of these five sets of skills can do short, relatively easy to implement activities, even occasionally, that can make a big difference in 21st century skill development. These types of activities, represented by the ten examples above, can be especially significant if everyone in the school supports the development of these sets of skills and institutes instructional activities designed to help students learn and refine these skills.

       

      If you are convinced that these skills are important for students to develop, chances are you will think of other activities that you can implement or adapt to promote the learning of these skills. Once you accept the importance of these skills and start thinking about how you can help students develop them, the sky’s the limit. Ironically, teaching these skills can also help students to perform better on the more traditional tests that have currently become so important for measuring classroom and school success.

       

       

                                                                                                              ENDNOTES



      [i] For further insight into text-dependent, close reading based on the Common Core Standards, see Christina Hank, Defining “Deep Reading” and “text-Dependent Questions”, at Turn On Your Brain, http://turnonyourbrain.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/defining-deep-reading-and-text-dependent-questions/

      [ii] There are many sources of information on graphic organizers. One resource is by Vicki Urquhart and Dana Frazee, Teaching Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, Then Who? 3rd Edition (2012), Chapter 12. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

      [iii] Many resources are available to help you develop 3-2-1 reflections. One can be found at http://www.facing.org/resources/strategies/3-2-1.

      [iv] As a student, the use of take home questions was my favorite way of being assessed, because I could really take the time to prepare and learn. It changed the nature of assessment from “mystery” to “mastery”.

       

       

       

      Elliott Seif is a long time educator, Understanding by Design trainer, author, consultant, social studies teacher, former Professor of Education at Temple University, and Curriculum Director in Bucks County, PA. If you are interested in further examining these five skill sets and ways to implement them, as well as other dimensions of a 21st century education, examine his other commentaries on ASCD Edge or go to his website at  www.era3learning.org

       

    • Blog post
    • 9 hours ago
    • Views: 92
  • 7 Tips for Re-doing the Studen 7 Tips for Re-doing the Student Re-do Process

    • From: Jennifer_Davis_Bowman
    • Description:

      In grading a recent test, I noticed that the scores were lower than usual.  I questioned if we had spent enough time on the material.  I wondered if I had failed to address the challenging content appropriately.  Was I to blame for the below average scores? Was it time for the dreaded “It’s not you, it’s me” speech.  After wallowing in this short self-blaming, “I stink as a teacher” mode, I decided to do something about it.  I decided to offer my students a re-do.  I love a good old re-do because they are wrapped in hope, second chances, and all things warm and fuzzy.   I think we all could benefit from a do-over every now and then (or every day).  Like the infamous episode where Oprah gave away cars, teachers should give away do-overs in their classrooms.  Every once in a while teachers should say, “here’s a free do-over for you, one for you, one for you…”  The only problem is that there are some drawbacks to the revision process.  Students may take advantage, the revision opportunity may limit the effort put forth on the initial work, and of course the practicality issue (in the real world we do not always get to correct our mistakes).  Lastly, sometimes students don’t follow through and do not participate in the revision process at all.  In the spirit of revision, I have developed a list of 7 strategies to facilitate the process and in turn encourage student participation:



      1.  Assess student interest in revision.

       

      When thinking about assessing interest, an online ad (it has over 20 million views) about gender stereotypes came to mind.  You can watch the entire ad here.  In the ad, there are adolescents that role play physical activities "like a girl" and then they act out the same activities "like a boy".  Unsurprisingly, within the role plays, the girls are portrayed less flatterinly than boys (for example they run less powerfully, swim less aggressively, etc.).  The best part, however is after a discussion of gender stereotypes, the adolescents are asked if they wish for a second chance to do their role plays "differently".  Instead of forcing a do-over, the children are invited to revisit their stereotypically laden gender beliefs.  And you know what-each child participates in the do-over. The big take-away here is that a simple participation request allows for instant participant buy-in and thus increases participation in the revision process.  

       

      2.  Include students as peer reviewers in the process.

       

      Even though teachers are more knowledgeable than students (we are the experts in the classroom), we can learn a great deal from our students.  The “curse of the expert” theory outlines how experts may sabotage learning (they often underestimate the level of task difficulty and overestimate potential performance of novices).  In order to get around this, try to incorporate the help of your students in the revision process.  Students share the same language or jargon, and provide a variety of feedback to help one another improve their work (Cho & MacArthur, 2010).

       

      3.  Consider how to manage time in the revision process.


      If you are not careful, all of your teaching time will turn into revision time.  To avoid this, one educator in an article titled “The utility of a student organized revision day" describes the benefits of designating one class day for student revision (Gill, Ong, & Cleland, 2012).  Another idea that I tend to use-would be to include detailed rubrics so that the students have what they need to get the assignment right the very first time.  A final suggestion would be the use of video to record assignment instructions or tips (Whatley & Ahmad, 2007). The video method is effective because conversational style is often more user-friendly than written/formal style (personalization learning principle).

       

       
      4.  Consider how your feedback influences student revision.

       

      An article titled "What does it take to make a change?" shows the that the type of teacher feedback impacts the likelihood that a student will participate in the revision process (Silver & Lee, 2007).  Specifically, when teachers offer advice about how to improve work quality, this facilitates more revision than other feedback methods (such as praise or criticism).  So, if you tell your student, “I wonder if you can provide more details”,  instead of saying “I like how you use detail in this one part”, the student may be more inclined to revise the work. 

       

      5.  Examine how students view the revision process.

       

      Do you remember Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs?  In general, Maslow described our needs in terms of layers- basic needs had to be met before we could pursue higher order needs.  A Maslow-like theory may explain how students perceive the revision process (Thompson, 1994).  In a paper from the College Composition and Communication conference,  an educator described that in revision,  students attend to basic needs (what is required to pass or not fail the assignment) and then they move on to higher order revising skills (creativity, synthesis, etc.).

       

      6.  Adjust classroom perception of revision.

       

      Students view revision as a reflection of themselves.  One study from the English Teaching Practice and Critique Journal showed that students believed that teacher revision comments indicated they were "careless" (Silver & Lee, 2007). Also, students reported that the teacher feedback lowered their confidence and made them feel angry. My take away from this study is that teachers must work to improve the way students perceive the re-do process. Perhaps reminding students that change is not bad.  Additionally, identifying real-life examples of revision (such as remaking movies or remixing songs) to help students see that revising is a normal part of life.  

       

      7.  Measure the revision process.


      If you decide to offer students a re-do, measuring how well the process works (or not) is useful.  Think about asking the students to provide feedback about their experience with revision.  Typically, students report that revision allows for an increase in knowledge and confidence (Gill, Ong, & Cleland, 2013).  Also, reviewing the grade changes (before and after the revisionn) will offer insight into the usefulness of allowing students to re-do future assignments.  
       





      

    • Blog post
    • 1 day ago
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  • So You Want to Be an Administr So You Want to Be an Administrator? 5 Tips for Aspiring Principals

    • From: Ryan_Thomas1
    • Description:

      aspiring principalYou’ve already spent years, maybe even decades, in the classroom as a teacher, you know how to lead and organize, and you certainly have the “in-the-trenches” perspective that every administrator worth his or her salt must have. Now what? What should you do to make the prospect of becoming a principal a reality? To help answer these questions, we’d like to share a few tips from Peter Hall’s book, The First-Year Principal.

      So You Want to Be an Administrator? 5 Tips for Aspiring Principals

      Skip the resume—for now
      Your first inclination may be to dust off your resume and start looking for open positions, but as Hall wryly notes, the “application” process begins long before resumes, long before you had the crazy idea that “13-hour days with no lunch sounded appealing,” and long before you even had the slightest inkling that you wanted to become a principal.

      Hall suggests that you start with “those people with whom you have worked, the contacts you have made, the folks from whom you have earned support and respect.” Do you need to “schmooze” these people? Not at all, but keep in mind that “relationships with credible professionals” are a form of currency—and that currency is priceless.

      Stay in the moment
      Regardless of their career aspirations, aspiring principals should always “stay in the moment.” For Hall, this means that you must continue to “focus on students in your care and your current school organization as a whole.” In addition to this, it means aligning your “work practice and decision-making with the established school goals.”

      For Hall, there is “no reason to focus on anything but excelling in your current position.” This means going where no teacher has gone before: Set and exceed new standards of excellence and watch as your name becomes associated with positive results.

      Involve yourself in projects beyond your current position
      So you’re continuing to perfect your craft and excel at what you do? Good. Now it’s time for you to do a little more. Start by participating in district activities, committees, panels, focus groups, and other school or district groups and organizations. Just don’t take on so much that you begin to shirk your current job responsibilities or your students; doing so will only undermine the benefits you are hoping to gain from joining these organizations.

      Be respectful to everyone you meet
      You’re an educator, so you already know that the job doesn’t end when the bell rings. This is especially applicable to teachers who live in small, rural towns, but even those of us who live in the city will run into students, parents, and colleagues at the mall, the grocery store, or in restaurants. We may not even see these people, but you better believe they see us and they take note of what we say, do, and how we behave when we’re out in the community. Eyes are always on us. Keep this in mind not only when you are in the classroom, but outside of it as well.

      Find an experienced mentor
      There are plenty of books offering advice for aspiring and first-year principals, but few are as wise as someone who has been doing what you hope to do for the last five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years. Seek out a mentor and learn from him or her. Hopefully, this relationship will not only reaffirm your passion for the position, but also help you become better prepared for the road ahead.

       

       

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  • Cultivating a Trusting Environ Cultivating a Trusting Environment

    • From: Mindy_Keller-Kyriakides
    • Description:

      I’m sure we’d all agree that a trusting classroom environment is crucial for students. We know that they naturally thrive in an environment where they can reach out to be heard and possibly take creative risks. The sense of community in a trust-based classroom is stronger, and students feel more like they belong to something, which, in turn, positively impacts their learning.  All that's a given. But while teachers tend to start the school year relatively well in this area, somewhere along the line, things start to unravel. So, how do we go about actively creating this environment and, perhaps more importantly, maintaining it in the classroom? 

       

      One way to tangibly cultivate a sense of trust in the classroom is to ensure that the physical environment reflects trust.  For example, the seating arrangement of a class sends an immediate message of trust or distrust. Sitting in rows (all facing the teacher at the front) or a U-shaped arrangement (everyone facing inward) each says something different about how much the teacher trusts the students. One approach says, “I have to have you all looking at me at all times,” and the other says, “Let’s learn together.” Compare these two:

      layoutgood.jpg

       

      Granted, the types of desks in the left image are designed to be more flexible. Nonetheless, any desk type can be reorganized in a shape that is more inviting than rows. Further, we’re talking about first impressions, here, as the needs for the class will shift throughout the year. (Rows might be necessary at some point, but they aren't immediately necessary.)

       

      standard rows.jpg

      Of the two classrooms, though, which one would evoke more trust from the student perspective? Taking the time to mindfully choose a classroom layout that sends a message of trust is a step we can take before students even arrive in the classroom.

       

       

       

       

      Once school has begun, a teacher’s choice of words, whether spoken or written, can also serve to cultivate trust or distrust. Are we actively creating a sense of trust in how we refer to the class and students? Take a look at these two classroom posters: 

       

      Notice2.jpg

       STUDENT NOTICE.jpg

       

       

      (For a clearer look at these images, click here.)

      The use of “we” and “our” makes a huge difference in establishing the foundation for trust, here, particularly the vast difference in tone between “This is MY classroom” and “This is OUR classroom.” Further, the negative expectation of failure (snarkily cushioned with "if" statements”) versus the positive expectation of “will” sends out completely different messages of trust. It’s as though one teacher  expects to have all sorts of problems, which automatically sends out an “I don’t trust you” message. The teacher on the right expresses a sense of confidence in the students (and himself/herself) that is designed to cultivate trust.   

      Imagine coming into a classroom on the first day and seeing one of these posters. Which classroom would you really want to be a part of? In which classroom would you feel more likely to express your thoughts and take creative risks? (On a side note, the poster on the left is offered as a “Motivational Poster” on eBay for $8.95.  The other image is my revision of it.) Actively seeking to establish a sense of collaboration and community, once students are in the class, is another crucial step we can take.  

      Maintaining the trust throughout the year is probably the most difficult part, and having a strategy in mind to maintain patience will aid in keeping that trust alive. Well-intentioned teachers may start out the school year just fine. They’ve set up the classroom and diligently used language designed to inspire collaboration, but somewhere in October, things can fizzle. Kids start to fray our nerves; we lose patience and react without thinking. Unfortunately, losing that patience also means that any trust we’ve established will begin to dissolve.

      Acclaimed educator Rafe Esquith (2007) notes, “It is deeds that will help the children see that I not only talk the talk but walk the walk.” Walking the walk entails not only our initial actions, but also our reactions. For example, if you’ve told students that you will use a particular procedure for getting their attention (such as raising your hand or counting to five), and instead, you lose it and start yelling at them (“Alright! Everybody QUIET!”), they will no longer trust you. You are not walking the path you said you’d walk. Once you’ve lost your cool, you’ve evaporated the trust, and you’ll have to work to build it up again.

      Having a strategy for maintaining patience, even in the midst of chaotic mutiny, really helped me out with high school freshmen. My strategy was a little silly, I guess. I would visualize the calmest person I could think of: Mahatma Gandhi.

       

       

      gandhi.jpg

       

       

      Then, I would repeat a mantra: Be what I want to see (a quick version of his famous quote “As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him” (Gandhi, 1958).

      This sort of “channeling of Gandhi” strategy compelled me to pause before reacting—not unlike counting to ten, but a tad more inspirational. Who pops into your head as the epitome of patience and calm strength?

       

      Another means of maintaining trust is to cultivate a mindset that is passionate for understanding. In this mindset, no matter what, you do whatever it takes to ensure your students “get” what you want them to get. Esquith (2007) offers this straightforward strategy in developing the mindset—answer all student questions:

       

      I answer all questions. It does not matter if I have been asked them before. It does not matter if I am tired. The kids must see that I passionately want them to understand, and it never bothersme when they don’t. During an interview, a student named Alan once told a reporter, “Last year, I tried to ask my teacher a question. She became angry and said, ‘We’ve been over this. You weren’t listening!’ But I was listening! I just didn’t get it! Rafe will go over something fivehundred times until I understand.”

       

      What the student described is pure trust. This approach sounds easier than it is because having one student ask you something and then having the very next question be the same question can be exhausting and annoying. However, a kid who knows that you’ll answer his questions, no matter what, trusts you. In that “knowing” is the trust. 

      This kind of trusting classroom environment is attainable if we take some time to reflect on how we present the physical environment, what messages we convey, and actively seek to maintain it. What do you want your kids to “know” about you?


      • Create a physical environment cultivates trust
      • Use language that cultivates trust
      • Find strategies that will help you maintain patience and trust
      • Cultivate a mindset that is passionate for understanding

       

      Mirror site: Joyful Collapse

       

      References

      Esquith, R. (2007).  Teach like your hair’s on fire (Reprint). Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=11644

      Gandhi, M.K. (1958). The collected works of Mahatma Gandhi (Vol.19, p. 233). Delhi, India: Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Publications Division.

      

      

      

       

      

      

       

       

    • Blog post
    • 5 days ago
    • Views: 1502
  • Word to the Wise: 10 Tips for Word to the Wise: 10 Tips for First-Year Principals

    • From: Ryan_Thomas1
    • Description:

      first year principal

      By the time they step into the position, most principals have already spent years—even decades—in the classroom as teachers. This experience certainly comes in handy, but rarely is it enough to keep first-year principals from being broadsided by new challenges. While experience is often the best teacher, we’d like to help new principals avoid common first-year blunders by sharing 10 tips from real principals. These tips have been adapted from Tena Green’s book, Your First Year as Principal: Everything You Need to Know That They Don't Teach You in School.

      Word to the Wise: 10 Tips for First-Year Principals

      • Principals are forced to make decisions on a daily basis. Some of these decisions are run-of-the-mill, but others are high-stakes and have far-reaching consequences. When it comes to decisions, Veteran principal James Gasparino suggests that first year principals do two things: First, resist the urge to react impulsively. Second, learn to “differentiate what needs to be settled right away and what…require[s] reflection and input from others. First-year principals may want to do everything right away, and by themselves. It is difficult, if not impossible, to get buy-in from others if they did not have a voice in the decision-making process.”


      • First-year principals often fall into the trap of trying to do everything for everyone. According to veteran principal John Fielding, it is imperative that new administrators realize (and realize quickly) that they cannot—either physically, mentally, or emotionally—“be everything to everybody.” Keep in mind that “If you are too tired to move, you are no good to anybody else. You do not really have to know and do everything yourself. That said, you do need to know these things that require your attention and those you can let others handle.”


      • Echoing Fielding’s advice is principal Jory Westberry, who urges first-year principals to “Avoid thinking you should have all the answers” or that you “have to make all decisions quickly.”


      • Despite the fact that most principals have spent years in the classroom as teachers, many of them forget—or at least appear to forget—what it’s like to teach. Principal Barry Pichard reminds us that we must never forget what life is like in the classroom and remember that teaching is “one of the toughest jobs around.”


      • A first-year principal may have only the best intentions when s/he replaces that tattered and creaky sofa in the lounge or when s/he boxes up a wall of dusty trophies to make room for a student exhibit…but faculty and staff may see these seemingly innocent changes as a direct assault on the school culture. Principal Roy Miller suggests that first-year principals proceed with caution and “learn both the culture and the ‘hidden culture’ of the building” before making any changes.


      • What’s one of the biggest mistakes a first-year principal can make? According to principal Michael Miller, it is “coming on too strong and feel[ing] you have to show [faculty and staff] who is boss. If you have to ever remind them who the boss is, you have a problem.”


      • Since we’re talking about faculty and staff, we thought Oliver Phipps’s tip would go nicely here: “Make staffing a priority. More specifically, though, make sure your staff is complete with people who share your vision.”


      • When discussing the burdensome responsibilities of principals, Tammy Brown suggests handling them “one at a time. I try to do the paperwork and office tasks early in the morning or after dismissal so that I can be in classrooms, halls, and in the cafeteria interacting with teachers and students as much as possible. Something often comes up that must be dealt with immediately, but most often, things can be prioritized.”


      • John Redd reminds first-year principals that it “is better to take your time before reacting to a situation. It will give you a different perspective if you take the time to get all the facts before making a hasty decision.”


      • Here’s another solid piece of advice from principal John Fielding: “Pick your battles. I always use the measuring stick of ‘is this decision good for the kids?’ If it isn’t, it may not be worth fighting for. There will always be one more silly thing that somebody thinks is important, but does it really help kids in a significant way?”

      Photo credit: Farid Fleifel / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

       

       

      Download our FREE Principal Coaching Gui

      

    • Blog post
    • 6 days ago
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  • Time-Capsule Teaching Time-Capsule Teaching

    • From: Tom_Whitby
    • Description:

      Have you ever been witness to a time capsule being opened?  If you are not familiar with such events it is very simple. People select items that represent their culture or personal lives, and place them in a container to be sealed up for a long period of time. After a few decades the container is opened up at some sort of ceremony and people look at what was the height of technology, and life, decades ago. I guess we older folks get to appreciate those types of events more than the younger people, because the items in the time capsule usually do not need to be explained to us, as they need to be to the younger generations. I guess the fascination with time capsules is dependent on the apparent and dramatic effect technology has had on the culture represented by the encapsulated items which were selected.

      It is one thing to study and talk about how technology and learning has made great strides in the field of medicine, but it is another conversation entirely when one experiences finding blood-letting tools in a time capsule. It prompts a great conversation that is lost in a textbook version of such events. It usually elicits from the youth questions like “What the hell were they thinking?” Of course the field of Medicine has probably developed faster and in more directions than any other field. I used to do a presentation where I would show a slide of a 19th Century operating room, followed by a picture of an operating room of today. The contrast was inimitable. Since this was a presentation for educators I showed a picture of a 19th Century classroom, followed by a class of today. It was the laughter of the audience that was inimitable at that point. There was little change. The upsetting point here is that if I were to do that presentation again, it would probably still hold true for the slow change in too many American classrooms.

      As I engaged some of my connected colleagues in Edchat last week, we were discussing how the education system pays lip service to asking for innovation in education and for teachers to be innovative, while at the same time putting in place policies and mandates to stifle any such notion a teacher might have.

      I pointed out how we are supposed to be teaching our kids how to be effective, competitive, and educated in the world in which they will live, while using tools for communication, collaboration, and creation that will exist in their world.

      One Connected colleague pointed out that there is one school, or it might even be considered an education franchise school, that prides itself in the fact that it teaches its students without the use of any technology whatsoever. I guess that school franchise really holds 19th and 20th century methodology in very high esteem. Many of us are products of that methodology, so I guess there is a comfort level for some. I do often wonder why an educator’s comfort level should supersede the real world needs of his or her students.

      Looking to the past in education and creating my own mental time capsule, I remember when calculators were not allowed in schools. The slide rule was okay. I remember the blue spirits ditto machine with a hand crank. I remember real Blackboards. I remember fountain pens, the Osmiroid Pen in particular. I remember desks with inkwell holes in the upper right corner. Again I am an old guy and this was my past.

      What would go into an education time capsule today? Maybe a “Cellphones Banned” sign. Possibly, Oregon Trail would go in. Certainly those four computers, covered with dust at the back of the room. Definitely we would include the overhead projector that is now 75 year-old technology. Maybe we should also consider putting “sit and get” methodology in the time capsule. Let’s include the idea of teaching in silos as a concept. What about adding the concept of desks in rows. Why not add the idea of a content expert at the front of the room filling the empty vessels of student minds? This might also be the right place for standardized tests.

      If we were to put all of these things into a capsule to be opened two decades from now, would we ever want to bring any of them back into the class? Maybe, Oregon Trail.

      We need to reach out to those who are still teaching kids from the 20th Century perspective. We need them to commit to being learners again. Learning is ongoing and it must be a way of life for an educator. A relevant educator must continually learn to stay relevant. We can’t have time-capsule teaching in an ever-developing culture. At what point will we stop and look at what we are doing and say, “what the hell were we thinking”?

    • Blog post
    • 2 weeks ago
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  • 14 ways to think about good te 14 ways to think about good teaching: A useful PD exercise

    • From: Elliott_Seif
    • Description:

      Much of my educational career has been spent in teaching or observing teachers. I also had the incredible opportunity of attending many wonderful professional development sessions with outstanding presenters, and working with some amazing educators over many years.

       

      As a result, I have compiled a synthesis of some of the most important things that I have learned about effective teaching along the way. Here are fourteen ways of thinking about teaching that, when part of true self-reflection, can change much of what is being done in the classroom for the better.

       

      These fourteen ways of thinking can be explored with individuals or groups of teachers to raise issues about teaching and learning, focus professional development around some important issues and challenges, and help provide a framework for professional growth over time. They may also be useful as a framework for thinking about teacher evaluation.

       

      Read the descriptions below of my fourteen “ways of thinking” about teaching and learning. Get familiar with them. When you are done, consider doing the exercises at the end of this commentary, or sharing them in PD sessions, in order to better apply them to teaching and learning.

       

      1.     Get to know your students, especially how they learn and think.

      Teaching is about relationships. Getting to know students helps with planning, motivation, interest, discipline, and effective communication. It is about knowing how students learn, how they think, what blocks their learning, what’s on their minds.

       

      As much as possible, get to know students as individuals, with all their variety of thoughts, passions, ideas, backgrounds, humor, unique qualities. This is especially hard for middle and high school teachers, who have so many students to teach. But it is important that all teachers, whatever their level of teaching, whatever their situation,  take some time during the school year to do activities that build relationships and help to learn about students. There are many ways to both formally and informally do this, such as get-to know-me activities, written self-reflections, observing how students go about solving problems, observing groupwork discussions, making sure students know to ask for help when they are having problems, meeting with students informally after school, or talking with other teachers about specific students (not always problem students).

       

      2.     Plan goals for both the long term and the short term.

      Long term planning should be the force behind short term planning. In other words, plan for what you want your students to accomplish in the long run, and then plan each day so that your students can get closer to your goal. For example, a long-term goal might be to help students become better writers, while the short-term goal is to improve their grammar and vocabulary. A long- term goal might be a unit goal, and each daily lesson plan contributes to the goals of the unit. A long-term goal might be a yearly understanding-based goal, and a unit goal might contribute to the year-long goal.

       

      As most teachers know, this is not easy. There are many obstacles, changes, and detours along the way, depending on what happens each day. The variables are tremendous. But it is always important to consider what you want your students to accomplish over a long period of time (the big goals), and figure out how each day helps them get there.

       

      3.     Include social-emotional learning goals as well as academic goals.

      With the emphasis today on standardized test score success, learning academic content and skills become the most important focus for achievement and success. But much recent research suggests that “social-emotional” learning qualities are critical for long term success. Students who don’t see a connection between their effort and learning, are unable to be persistent, lack curiosity and resilience in the face of challenges, cannot work well with others, lack self-responsibility, are unorganized or unable to plan their time well, or lack the ability and willingness to ask for help and support when needed will have a great deal of trouble both in learning and in life. So it is important for teachers to assess these “soft” skills as well as academic and cognitive learning to help students achieve long-term success.

       

      4.     Translate learning goals into meaningful, interesting questions and challenges.

      According to several sources, Richard Feynman, a world-renowned physicist, was “heavily influenced by his father, who encouraged him to ask questions to challenge orthodox thinking”… “[His father] never taught facts so much as questions. He encouraged young Richard to identify not what he knew, but rather what he did not know… What's most important for knowledge is the well asked question”.

       

      Today, in my view, too many teachers have lost the art of helping students focus their learning around meaningful questions. My observations indicate that teachers still most often focus learning around imparting specific subject matter or stating goals in terms of “behavioral” objectives. But what if we thought about our teaching in terms of exploring open-ended questions that are interesting and meaningful to our students? What if we put “essential” questions on the board at the beginning of units and lessons, discussed with our students why they are important and meaningful, and then referred to them throughout the unit? Designed core questions that extended throughout the year? Created meaningful open-ended challenges as starting points for learning? Asked our students to develop essential questions?

       

      One of my favorite questions, used by Kathy Davis, a first grade teacher, is the following:

      What writing is worth reading? Imagine studying different kinds of writing over a long period of time with that question in mind? Another set of questions, worth studying in an American History course, is the following: “What is the American Dream? Where did it come from? Does it still exist?

       

      So here’s something to think about: How can you translate your learning goals and objectives into important, interesting, meaningful questions? How can you use these questions as starting points for learning? For skill development? For making content relevant? How can these questions repeat and recur over time? Become the focus for many learning activities over time?

       

      Much, if not most, important learning and growth starts with curiosity around questions, or perplexities around challenges. Teachers need to reinforce that type of learning, and begin student learning with questions and challenges that stimulate curiosity and interest, and motivate students to learn.

       

      5.     Teach reading (and other forms of literacy) as inquiry, exploration, and research.

      Textbook activities often are treated solely as reading assignments (e.g. Read chapter seven and answer the questions at the end of the chapter). But what if teachers thought of textbooks and other reading materials, especially non-fiction reading, as sources of information designed to help answer questions, build understanding, explore interesting topics, and help find answers to challenges. What if the reading of literature was built around some interesting, significant questions, conflicts and issues? What if students had a chance to choose some of the literature they are asked to read based on their own curiosity? Treating textbooks, literature and other reading resources as a form of inquiry, exploration, curiosity, or research to answer questions helps put reading in an important context, not as a chore.

       

      One simple textbook-non-fiction reading strategy that helps support this approach is the simple SQ3R strategy and its variations. First, students survey the material to be read, looking at headings, key words, difficult passages, pictures and other ancillary materials, and the like.  Next, students turn headings into questions or bring into play previously developed questions to begin to find answers in the materials. Finally, they read and highlight key points, recite learning from the text that answers key questions, and then review and summarize the information that relates to the answers to each question.

       

      6.     Frequently use writing as a key instructional tool.

      Asking students of all ages to continually write in many formats helps them formulate their ideas, organize their thoughts, think clearly and cogently, draw conclusions, self-reflect, and learn how to write position papers, among other things.

       

      Most teachers don’t provide students with enough opportunities to write and reflect on their learning. Opportunities include writing at the beginning of a unit to determine what students know and how they think, daily short written reflections summarizing what they have learned at the end of a class, position papers around an issue discussed in class, research and project reports, analyses and interpretations from reading, frequent self-reflections, and end of unit essays in place of or complementary to traditional tests. Not all writing has to be graded, but carefully choosing writing to provide feedback provides students with significant opportunities for improvement.

       

      7.     Develop “deeper learning”.

      I have always felt that many teachers try to teach much too much content and therefore do not have enough time for getting deeper into subject matter and skill development. Teachers need to think about priorities so that content is most likely to be limited and remembered. For example, the period of history in which the Constitution was developed is a very good time to concentrate on a few key points about the Constitution: the Bill of Rights, the Organization of Government, and the Constitutional “compromise” on slavery. While there are many other issues and facts that might be learned, these are key.

       

      “Deeper learning” also results from analysis, interpretation, or doing something with (applying) the information learned. What if students ended this American history unit by developing their own Constitution for their classroom or school? Or created a new and better Constitution for America? Or simulated the Constitutional Convention and developed a Constitution based on the interests of each of the thirteen states?

       

      8.     Involve and engage ALL students in learning.

      It is surprising how often teachers, especially in middle and secondary teachers, spend little time thinking about how to engage and involve every student on a daily basis. All too frequently, I have observed teachers who ask questions and involve very few students in giving answers; allow students to put their heads down on their desks during a lesson; stand in front of the class instead of walking around to engage students. Many students learn that it is OK to “tune out” of the lesson, and that they will be rewarded just for coming to school that day. Beginning teachers are especially likely to make the mistake of letting students “tune out” of their lessons. Here are some ways to avoid student passivity:

       

      Don’t just stand in front of a group of students. Walk around the room. Catch the eye of students. Watch what they are doing. Gently shake a student who has his or her head on the desk. Call on students who you think are not paying attention.

       

      Begin each class or new learning experience with an engaging “To Do” Activity that students must respond to as they enter your classroom. For example, a “To Do” Activity might begin with writing a short summary of what they were asked to read the night before or finding the answer to a math problem based on the work they did the previous day.

       

      Use “think-pair-share” strategies to involve everyone in exploring significant questions. Here’s how it works. Ask an open-ended question. Then ask each student to write down an answer. Then students pair up with another student to discuss their answer. Finally, teachers call on individual students to share their answer and hopefully begin a discussion.

       

      9.     Bring the outside world into the school and classroom, and the school and classroom into the outside world, and help students apply learning.

      Here’s how I think about schools and the surrounding world: The school world is for learning - the outside world is for living. People don’t live in a school. They go to school to learn. They live in their homes, in their offices, in the environment around them, in the world outside of school. Too often, school becomes an isolated entity unto itself, with little or no connection to the way people live in the outside world. As teachers, we need to remember this and, as often as we can, bring the outside world into the school and the school into the outside world.

       

      How do we do this?

       

      I remember watching Ms Tolliver, an excellent elementary math teacher who made some wonderful professional development tapes, take her fifth grade urban students on a walk through the school neighborhood looking for mathematics concepts and creating mathematics problems (Math Trail). They developed problems and found mathematics around park benches, playgrounds, subway trains, parking meters, building blocks and shapes, maps of the neighborhood, and seven step staircases in Central Park. The math that they were learning in school became real and relevant. Another example: in a local comprehensive urban high school I recently visited, a counselor organized talks in the school by local community members to help students see the variety of careers and lives led by those with similar ethnic backgrounds. Finally, new technologies provide new tools for bring the outside community into the school and the school to the outside community. There are currently many examples on the Internet and on websites of how teachers use Skype and other Internet options to bring in the outside community and world into the school and classroom.

       

      10.  Know when to maintain a strong structure for students and when to “let go”.

      Good teachers know when to provide students with significant learning structure and when to give students greater freedom and self-direction. For example, when students are first learning how to do research, they need more structure – a step-by-step process, good explanations of how to conduct research and use research skills, models of good research products, and guided practice opportunities. Once they have learned and practiced the basic components of research, then they can be given more freedom to work on their own independently. In other words, sometimes students need strong structures, especially when they are first learning how to do something. But, eventually, we need to “let go” and give them freedom to work on their own and make their own mistakes in order to keep getting better at what they are doing. One of the most difficult decisions about teaching is knowing when students need significant structure and when to let go and give them more self-direction.

       

      “Letting go” may also mean giving students greater choice and more options. Giving students the right to select their own books to read should be an important part of a good comprehensive reading program. Allowing students to select their own research question, sometimes within the parameters of a subject area, also gives students greater interest in and responsibility for their research.

       

      11.  Help students to improve, make progress, and get better.

      What does it mean for students to get better at doing something? Understand in a deeper way? What are the most critical changes you would like to see in your students over time? What does it look like when they improve? How will you know when your students have a better understanding of core content? How can you build a student culture of “craftsmanship and understanding” that supports and encourages gradual improvement over time?

       

      Unfortunately, traditional tests and quizzes don’t easily lend themselves to demonstrating improvement and progress in understanding and skill development. Seeking gradual progress and improvement is more likely to occur when students frequently do tasks related to what needs improvement, such as writing, making presentations, conducting research, performing experiments, and organizing learning for understanding. Specific feedback that provides students with specific guidance on what they need to do better is important. Showing models of good work to strive for is very helpful. An approach to teaching and learning that savors and supports gradual progress and improvement can lead to the development of a culture and way of thinking that promotes craftsmanship, deeper understanding, and improvement over time.

       

      12.  Check for understanding - often.

      When I taught many years ago, I was unaware that I needed to frequently check for understanding. This was not good for student learning. This way of thinking has been getting much more play lately, and rightly so. Teachers need to check in frequently with students to see if they are “getting it” – really understanding what they are learning. Many strategies are available for this purpose, such as application oriented math problems, end of lesson summary strategies, such as 3-2-1 (three things I learned from this lesson, two things that were the most interesting, one question I still have); and 10-2 lectures (10 minutes of lecture, 2 minutes of reflection and questions).

       

      13.  Create strong culminating experiences and assessments.

      Unfortunately, end of unit culminating experiences are often multiple choice-short answer tests. What could be less interesting for a student? What could be less relevant? Should the traditional test be the culminating experience of student work and learning?

       

      Consider developing alternatives to traditional tests, even for just some units. How about a field trip to an art museum at the end of a unit so that students can analyze and write about a specific artistic period in greater depth? Perhaps students should write a position paper about a controversial topic in American History or design an experiment as the culmination of a science unit? How about giving students two or three (or more) essay questions several days in advance of a test time to give students time to prepare outlines of answers, from which one or two are selected to be written during a two hour class period? How about giving students interesting open-book (or even open-research) essay questions? Or what about completing an authentic performance task that demonstrates the ability of students to apply their learning to a new situation? These are much more interesting, relevant, and meaningful culminating assessments.

       

      14.  Appropriately use technology as a learning tool.

      There is a tendency to talk about using technology today as if it were something to be automatically incorporated into the learning process. The reality is that technology is often hard to use or apply easily to teaching situations. Technology usage often requires a good deal of staff development, and is costly to implement and maintain.

       

      However, technology, when used appropriately, can be an extremely valuable tool that enables teachers and students to learn more efficiently and effectively. For example, simple technologies, such as Microsoft word and powerpoint are useful for encouraging and editing writing and making presentations. The Internet is a wonderful tool to support research, but students have to learn how to use it carefully, skillfully, and wisely for this purpose. Some of the more complex technologies are useful to promote “gaming” and simulations. “Flipping” uses technology to help students learn basic information outside of school so that teachers can focus on “deeper learning” when students are in class. Some technologies that promote individualized learning through highly structured, engaging learning situations are very helpful to students.

       

      Any of these technology tools, and others, should be used when appropriate to the teacher’s goals and to the learning situation. Technology tools should be used for specific goals when they make learning more efficient, but not when they might deter students from using their minds, thinking through a problem, or reading texts carefully.

       

      Teaching is very complex, much more complex than it is made out to be in the press, in government initiatives, and even in State Departments of Educational directives.  Good teaching is a moving target – goals, children, cultures, teachers,  and conditions vary from state to state, school to school, and even classroom to classroom.

       

      These fourteen ways of thinking about teaching suggest both the complexity of good teaching and the potential common core components that measure good teaching and help teachers improve on what they do. Learning about students, creating a positive learning environment, focusing on both academic and social-emotional goals, building curiosity by focusing on questions, focusing on less content and deeper learning, figuring out ways to engage and involve students, planning both long and short term goals – all of these and more are important elements of an effective teaching-learning process. I hope that an exploration of these components will help teachers and school leaders understand what they must do to improve schools and suggest a way to build a framework for evaluating teaching and improving teaching and learning in the classroom.

       

      An Exercise to Share and Learn from These Fourteen Ways of Thinking

       

      Now that you have read and learned about the fourteen ways of thinking, here is an exercise you can do to help you examine these in greater detail and apply them to your own teaching situation.

       

      Here are the fourteen ways of thinking listed without commentary:

       

      1.     Get to know your students, especially how they learn and think.

       

      2.     Plan goals for both the long-term and the short term.

       

      3.     Include social-emotional learning goals as well as academic goals.

       

      4.     Translate learning goals into meaningful, interesting questions and challenges.

       

      5.     Teach reading (and other forms of literacy) as inquiry, exploration, and research.

       

      6.     Frequently use writing as a key instructional tool.

       

      7.     Develop “deeper learning”.

       

      8.     Involve and engage ALL students in learning.

       

      9.     Bring the outside world into the school and classroom, and the school and classroom into the outside world, and help students apply learning.

       

      10.  Know when to maintain a strong structure for students and when to “let go”.

       

      11.  Help students to improve, make progress and get better.

       

      12.  Check for understanding - often.

       

      13.  Create strong culminating experiences and assessments.

       

      14.  Appropriately use technology as a learning tool.

       

      Some questions to consider: 

      • Do these all make sense to you? What would you add or subtract and why? How would you change the wording to increase clarity and meaning? 
      • Which to you are most important for effective teaching? Least important? 
      • Consider how you apply these to your own teaching situation? Which areas are your strengths? Which are challenges?  
      • If you could pick one or two areas that you currently do really well, what would they be? Which one or two do you need to work on the most? 
      • Can you share what you do well? What do you specifically do that makes one or more of these “ways of thinking” work well for you? 
      • Can you take some time to think about which areas do you most need to work on? Find out what other teachers do who are strong in those areas? Do some research on effectiveness in these areas? Consider one or two changes to your routines that might improve them?

       

       

    • Blog post
    • 2 weeks ago
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  • Drumming Up Excitement for Boo Drumming Up Excitement for Books: 10 Tips for Reading Teachers

    • From: Ryan_Thomas1
    • Description:

      reading_teacher
      Why don’t our students love to read? Well, use your imagination and pretend you’re a student. You’ve only been reading for seven to twelve years—and most of what you’ve read has been assigned and tested. In addition to this, you’ve been asked to “discuss” and “close read” texts, create book reports, and answer comprehension questions based upon what you read. Sounds like a blast, huh?

      These are only a few reasons why our students dislike reading, but rather than fixate on all the reasons our reluctant readers are reluctant, we’d like to suggest 10 simple ways reading teachers can drum up excitement for books!

      Drumming Up Excitement for Books: 10 Tips for Reading Teachers

      • Niche book clubs are popular amongst adults, but why not start one (or two, or three) for students? How about a club that only reads scary and disgusting books? Or one that reads only sci-fi books with leading female characters? If each group only meets monthly (or bi-monthly), reading teachers should have plenty of time to keep up.


      • Instead of talking about good books, reading teachers might have more luck if they showed students good books. Stop by Scholastic’s site where you’ll find a nice collection of book trailers for K-8 students.


      • If you are reading a work of historical fiction, contact local re-enactor groups at historical sites in your area and invite them to visit your classroom.


      • The Internet may list every book that was ever written, but how do reading teachers help students sort through the clutter and find books they love? Answer: They teach them how to use book recommendation websites.


      • At our school, students can sign up for a half hour research consultation with a librarian. This is a one-on-one session in which students collaborate with librarians to flesh out their topics and find useful books and articles that relate to their topics.

        Students and teachers both found this service to be beneficial—which got us thinking: What if we took the “research consultation” model and used it to create a “good book” consultation service where students pair up with a librarian to find books they’ll enjoy? Many students take advantage of this service and continue to be enthusiastic about it.

      • Show foreign films or watch movies with closed-captioning turned on. As many of us know, finding creative ways to focus reluctant readers on books, the very thing that evokes feelings of frustration, inadequacy and failure, is challenging. But films can capture students’ interest and stimulate their imagination in ways that books can’t.


      • One of our favorite things about visiting book stores is stopping by the “recommended reading” station. Every month, the bookstore employees select their favorite books and write up a short paragraph explaining why they made their selections. Try doing this with your students.


      • Invite the librarian to visit the classroom every month to talk about new arrivals and seasonal favorites.


      • Use Skype in the Classroom to connect with a real published author for free! Currently, you can Skype with Nancy Krulik, author of George Brown; Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay and Where She Went; Jane Kohuth, author of Duck Sock Hop!; C. Alexander London, author of An Accidental Adventure!; and many, many more published authors.


      • Subscribe to Children’s Books, a podcast series featured on The Guardian’s website.Every month features a new leading children's book author.


      Photo credit: Vladimir Morozov / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


      download click and clunk 

    • Blog post
    • 2 weeks ago
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  • The First Letter: A Simple and The First Letter: A Simple and Effective Parent Engagement Strategy

    • From: Ryan_Thomas1
    • Description:

      parent_engagementImagine being a parent and opening your mailbox sometime in early August and finding a letter from your son or daughter’s new teacher. In the letter, the teacher tells you all about herself, who she is, what she likes to do, how long she has been teaching, what she wants for your child and how you can contact her if you have any questions. You’d feel pretty good about this new teacher, wouldn’t you?

      Parents want to believe that their child is being left in capable and compassionate hands. Students want to believe that their teachers care about them and are happy to have them in class. A brief (and thoroughly unexpected) letter to each student is one of the easiest ways to welcome and reassure parents and students. Below you’ll find a quick guide to help you draft your own letter to parents and students:

      Format for the first letter to parents and students before school starts
      Greeting

      • Personalize the greeting
        Mention the student’s name within the body of the letter

      Content

      • Introduce yourself as the student’s grade level teacher
      • Share a little about your background and education
      • Include the essence of your philosophy of teaching
      • Ask parents to complete an attached questionnaire about their child

      Contact information

      • School email address
      • School phone and extension
      • Best times to contact you
      • If you have a classroom blog or Twitter account, share this with parents
      • Invite parents to visit you in the classroom before school starts

      Letter closing

      • Sign the letter with first and last name


      Example of a before-school-starts letter to parents

      August 1, 2014
      Acme Elementary School
      2220 Yellow Brick Road
      Detroit, MI 48221

      Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith:

      As Jerry’s teacher for the upcoming school year, I am looking forward to getting to know you and working with you.

      I started teaching at Acme Elementary in 2006 and have been here ever since! Prior to this, I studied at University of Michigan where I earned my degree in Elementary Education. After completing my B.A. in 2004, I moved to Tokyo, Japan where I taught English Language Learners, while at the same time pursing my Master in the Art of Teaching from Marygrove College’s online program. Living and working abroad was an invaluable experience—not only did it allow me to work with students and hone my craft, it also gave me the opportunity to travel, learn about different cultures, and pursue two of my biggest passions: Japanese art and English Language Learners.

      Just to give you a sense of what both you and Jerry can expect from me this year, I’d like to tell you a bit about our classroom and, very briefly, explain my philosophy of teaching.

      During the first few weeks of school, I plan on setting aside a significant amount of time so that I can get to know Jerry and his classmates better. Every student is unique and has different interests and learning styles. I want to ensure that I spend an adequate amount of time learning about all of my students and having them learn about me. My goal is for our classroom to be a community of learners based on mutual respect for all individual differences. I want both you and Jerry to know that our (not my) classroom is a safe environment where students are encouraged to share, learn from one another, and learn from me—just as I will learn from them.

      If you would, please share information with me about Jerry by completing the enclosed questionnaire so that I may begin to plan to meet his needs and expectations.

      I also want to let you know that you are both welcome to visit our classroom before school begins or at any time during the year. To arrange a meeting, all you have to do is contact me and we’ll set something up!

      Lastly, please subscribe to our classroom blog and Twitter feed. There you will find information about volunteer opportunities, and different ways you can support our classroom. Even if you do not wish to volunteer in the classroom, I would encourage you to follow our class online. I like to post photos and updates about students and all of our classroom activities!

      Enjoy the last few weeks of summer. If you have questions, please contact me in one of the following ways:

      Sincerely,

      Ryan Thomas

      Below you’ll find a series of questions to include in your student questionnaire:

      • What are your child’s interests?
      • What would you like me to know about your child?
      • What are your concerns, if any?
      • What is your child’s attitude towards school?
      • What has been helpful for your child in the past?
      • Think of your child’s favorite teacher. What distinguished him or her from some of your child’s other teachers?
      • How does your child learn best?
      • What additional help might your child need this year? How might I best offer this additional support?
      • What is your child passionate about?
      • What are some of his/her favorite things to do outside of school?
      • Would you like to schedule an informal conference to meet and/or discuss your child? If so, please indicate times that are best for you.

      Photo credit: gbaku / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)


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    • Blog post
    • 3 weeks ago
    • Views: 9049
  • The Best of the Week: Volume 1 The Best of the Week: Volume 12

  • 5 Ways to Help Students Motiva 5 Ways to Help Students Motivate Themselves

    • From: Ryan_Thomas1
    • Description:

      Student Motivation“I just wish my students cared more.” Most teachers—first-year and veterans alike—have said or at least felt like this at some point. We work hard to motivate our students, but how do we help them motivate themselves? We’ve been reading Larry Ferlazzo’s book, Helping Students Motivate Themselves: Practical Answers to Classroom Challenges, and thought we’d share five tips to help your students develop their intrinsic motivation.

      Encourage students to take risks
      Most of us don’t particularly enjoy making mistakes—especially in a public setting. As a result, we often avoid taking on new challenges. So how do we encourage students to stretch themselves and take risks?

      According to Ferlazzo, we can start by skipping general praise. Statements like “Jane, you’re so smart” seem innocuous, even helpful, but in reality, they focus our students’ attention on maintaining their image, not on pushing new boundaries. In lieu of general praise, praise specific actions. Saying things like, “You worked really hard today” or “Your topic sentence communicates the main idea of your paragraph very nicely” can, as Ferlazzo suggests, “make students feel that they are more in control of their success, and that their doing well is less dependent on their ‘natural intelligence.’"

      Build Relationships
      Research continues to find a link between positive teacher-student relationships and academic success. There are many ways we can nurture more meaningful relationships with students, but perhaps the best place to start is with ourselves. Ferlazzo suggests that we take a step back and consider how we think about and speak to our students.

      Using negative language to describe challenging behavior often distorts the way we see it. If we label students who seem unmotivated or disengaged as “stubborn” or “lazy,” then our reaction to these students will be, more often than not, negative. However, if we view that same student as “determined” or “persistent,” we will be more likely to convey respect.

      Use Cooperative Learning
      Lectures are, by their very nature, passive activities. Sure, students may jot down notes or pose occasional questions, but lectures do very little to develop our students’ intrinsic motivation. While Ferlazzo is not suggesting that we ditch lectures altogether, he would encourage us to keep them to a minimum. Instead of delivering lectures, find ways to incorporate cooperative learning into lessons. These can be as basic as "think-pair-share" or as ambitious as problem and project-based learning.

      Set Specific Expectations
      Here's a tip from Robyn Jackson. Very often what looks like student resistance is actually confusion about our vague requests. Consider the difference between the following:

      • “Will you try harder to pay attention in class?”
      • “During class, I want you to keep your head off the desk, keep your eyes open and on me, and have all of your materials out on the desk.”

      You’ll notice how the former not only lacks specific instructions, but does not give the student a clear picture of what you expect from him or her. Always give your students concrete steps for making the investment.

      Creating Opportunities for Students to Help Make Decisions
      Most of us are motivated when we feel we have control over our environment. Inviting students to have a voice in classroom decisions—where they sit, what day a test takes place, in what order units are studied, or even where a plant should be placed in the classroom—can help them develop that greater sense of control.

                                                  A Teacher's Guide to Summer Travel

    • Blog post
    • 4 weeks ago
    • Views: 7308
  • What if we took Google's "Geni What if we took Google's "Genius Hour" into our classrooms?

    • From: Ryan_Thomas1
    • Description:

      genius_hour
      I’ve been aware of the phrase “genius hour” for a while now, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I finally took some initiative and Googled it.

      Funny enough, “genius hour” is actually an experiment that began with Google, which allows engineers to spend 20 percent of their time working on any sort of pet project that they want to. The theory behind “genius hour” was this: Allow people to pursue their passions and they will be more productive at work.

      The results of this little experiment speak for themselves: Google found that employees were not only more productive during the 80 percent of the time that they were not working on pet projects, 50% of Google’s innovations—things like Gmail and Google News—were created during this period of free time!  

      What if we took Google’s idea into our classrooms? What if we set aside one hour every week where students could work on anything they wanted?

      It turns out that teachers all over the country are doing this. In my Internet perusal, I came across a number of ways teachers are starting to use “genius hour” in their own classrooms:

      • Joy, a seventh grade teacher, for example, dedicates an entire 80 minute block of time every Monday to “genius hour.” Some students read. Some research. Then, at a designated time, each student presents his or her findings to the rest of the class. Some give oral presentations, others give book talks or post blogs online for their peers to read. Every week, each student creates a goal and then either fills out a self-evaluation or discusses his or her performance during a one-on-one conference with the teacher.
      • Another teacher, Gallit, started by giving his students one hour a week to pursue a project of their choice. After roughly three hours of individualized learning, students are expected to present what they learned to the class. This year, Gallit has tweaked his approach:


      Now, students work on their “genius hour” projects every Friday afternoon and present when they are ready. For some students that will be after one session and for some it will be after six—it all depends on what they are learning and how they want to present. To ensure that students stay on task, Gallit regularly meets with students and has them blog about their progress as well.

      If you’re interested in implementing a “genius hour” in your own classroom, check out this video by teacher and “genius-hour” advocate, Chris Kesler.

       

                                                  



                                              A Teacher's Guide to Summer Travel 

    • Blog post
    • 4 weeks ago
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  • 7 Tips to Deal with Difficult 7 Tips to Deal with Difficult Student Dialogue

    • From: Jennifer_Davis_Bowman
    • Description:

      Difficult conversations are inevitable.  It hurts my heart when students try and try and yet they do not get the recognition (or score) they feel their effort warrants.  Further, it stinks, when you are required to have an awkward conversation with a parent-you have to pull the sheet from over their eyes and discuss how their baby (who technically is not a baby and who physically is bigger than me) has flaws and daily struggles in the classroom. 

       

      As we face these challenging conversations, the outcome only adds more stress.  In thinking about my talks with students over the years, the conversations rarely end as I would have liked.  Unfortunately, students have stormed out of the room.  There has been name calling-recently, a student nonchalantly noted, “You are just a teacher, you can’t do anything,” Of course, tears have been shed (many times by me-but in my defense, at least I was able to avoid the “ugly cry” that Oprah jokes about ). 

       

      So, can we learn to successfully navigate difficult talks with students?  Below are a few tips to help start the conversation-no pun intended:

       

      A communication strategy that is a personal favorite for me is incorporating story books when having a tough talk with a child.  If you match the child’s concern with a character or situation from a book, you may use the story as a starting point for the conversation.  If you want to take a look at my research in this area you can find it here

       

      A strong teacher-student relationship makes all the difference.  Unsurprisingly, research on improving conversations between physicians and patients confirms that when you maintain a relationship with a foundation of trust, you are “better positioned” to have tough conversations. 

       

      Similarly, feelings about your relationship are influential as well.  We hear of the ill effects of words during interpersonal conflicts-remember the chant to downplay the damage of words-“sticks and stones will break your bones…”, but research suggests that relationship satisfaction plays a bigger part than communication style in managing a verbal conflicts.  Specifically, how you perceive your relationship is more powerful than what is said during a heated conversation.  The take away for me is that if you have built a strong relationship with your students, it is ok if you do not know exactly what to say during a difficult conversation.  In the end, you will be able to reach a resolution that everyone is comfortable with. 

       

      In addition to strengthening the teacher-student bond, avoidance may be a strategy worth considering.  Keep in mind that avoiding the conversation has drawbacks, but in one conflict management study with couples, it was determined that avoidance is ok when there is time to go back to visit the issue later.  So it sounds like if a conversation is needed, but it is more convenient to speak with the student after school, or during a scheduled conference, delaying the talk may be effective.  Also, the study revealed that age and duration play a part in increased avoidance.  So, it seems that the avoidance strategy may be useful for older students, veteran teachers, and schools that utilize looping (same teacher stays with same group of students each year).

       

      If the idea of avoidance makes you uncomfortable, a more well-known strategy is trying to better engage the student in the conversation.  Although, we as teachers often divulge or own flaws to help the student see us as real people, research reveals that this may be a mistake.  One classroom study determined that teacher negative self-disclosure made students think less of the teacher.  My take away is that having a “pity party” with students may not be as effective as utilizing genuine empathy to facilitate teacher-student conversations. 

       

      Also, I found a body of research that links touching behavior with positive child outcomes.  For instance, touch helps with the growth of premature babies, sleep problems, and colic.  Further, cultures where more physical expression is shown to children, these places had lower incidences of adult physical violence.  A study with Greek preschool teachers (Stamatis & Stonkatas, 2009) revealed that the teacher’s touching habits resulted in the children feeling more comfortable and less insecure.  So, if you are having a difficult conversation with a small child, consider the benefits of tactile behavior.

       

      In my search for discussion strategies, I found Oprah Winfrey’s Life Class very resourceful.  Specifically, the episode with Life Coach Iyanla Vanzant offers a series of rules for managing hard conversations.  Some of these guidelines include setting ground rules, speaking from your own experience (using “I feel” vs. “You are”), and checking for understanding (differentiating between what was said and what was heard).  A video clip of those guidelines can be viewed here.

       

      These ideas are just a start.  What strategies seem to truly make a difference for you when having a sensitive conversation with a student?  What is your go-to method?  If you have tried any of the suggestions listed, how useful were they for you?  Also, can you share how effective or ineffective the strategy was for your students?  If you feel that my list is missing something, or you have insight on another approach, please leave a comment below.

    • Blog post
    • 4 weeks ago
    • Views: 1147
  • 5 Simple and Effective Time-Sa 5 Simple and Effective Time-Savers for Teachers

    • From: Ryan_Thomas1
    • Description:

      time_savers_for_teachers

      Always start on time
      Some of us have a habit of starting late because we’re busy putting final touches on the lesson, writing on the board, or simply waiting around for the rest of the students to show up after the bell rings.

      Always start class on time and do not wait for tardy students. Those who show up on time shouldn’t have to wait for those that don’t. As an incentive to get your students to class on time, begin your lessons with something they won’t want to miss.

      Be more efficient about taking attendance
      There are a couple ways to streamline your attendance-taking procedures.

      One way is to have a sign-in sheet ready every day. Instead of taking attendance yourself, have students sign themselves in. Another idea: Stand outside the door and check off names as students trickle into the room. We like doing this not only because it saves us time, but also because it gives us the opportunity to greet each student as s/he enters the room.

      Use technology to get organized
      There are lots of useful apps for teachers out there, but Teacher Kit has, by far, saved us the most time. This app helps us create seating charts, take attendance, track student behavior, record grades, and import all of our data to our computer.

      Set up a system for makeup work
      With increasing class sizes, chances are that one or two students will be absent every week. Unless you have some sort of system in place, you’re probably spending valuable class time explaining what these students missed once they return. There are a couple reasons you should stop doing this! First, it’s unfair to those students who came to class. Second, it keeps students from taking responsibility for their own learning experience.

      Instead of spending class time explaining what these students missed, have them email or call you on the day they are absent to receive updates. While you won’t be able to recreate the classroom experience over the phone or computer, you can ensure that they have all of the materials to successfully complete the work.

      Make the most of classroom interruptions
      Although we have yet to find a way to eliminate interruptions (special deliveries of forgotten lunches, notes from the office, or incoming calls on the classroom phone), we do make the most of them.

      Some interruptions take ten seconds, others may take ten minutes, but one thing is for sure: If you add those seconds and minutes up over the course of the week, you get a lot of wasted time.

      One way to take advantage of these interruptions is by teaching your students to get out their books as soon as an interruption occurs. Teach your students that a knock on the door or a ring from the classroom telephone isn’t a signal for them to chat; it’s a signal for them to reach into their desks, grab their book and start reading. If you start this procedure right away, your students will quickly internalize it.

      Photo credit: H is for Home / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

       

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    • Blog post
    • 1 month ago
    • Views: 3094
  • Skype School Visit with Thaila Skype School Visit with Thailand's Ministry of Education

    • From: Michael_Fisher
    • Description:
      I had the incredible privilege this past week of working with Thailand’s Ministry of Education in Washington, D.C. at ASCD’s headquarters.  Our time was spent discussing modern classrooms and 21st Century Skills and the impact that teaching in this century will have on student learning.

       

      Our time was to include a visit to a local school but due to an array of circumstances, including the fact that most local schools were preparing for end of year exams and the busyness that comes with wrapping up a school year, we were not able to make that happen.

       

      Enter Clarence Middle School in Clarence, New York.

       

      I put out a message on Twitter asking my network if there was anyone willing to let us Skype into their school on short notice, so that the education officials from Thailand would be able to at least virtually visit a school and observe some of the issues we were discussing.

       

      John Mikulski, the assistant principal of the school, tweeted back that he could help us make it happen. With a couple of emails and phone call (and a plea deal with his wife who is due to go into labor at any moment) we were able to quickly set up a virtual visit.



      The delegation from Thailand was able to see a math class and a foreign language class, get a tour of the school, and ask questions of the administrators at the school, including another assistant principal, Rob Michel. John facilitated all of this on his iPad using the Skype app.

       

      The significance of this, and thus the reason that I am sharing it, is multi-faceted. For one thing, we were able to do something better than what we were planning by utilizing available technology. We engaged in a new form of observation and interaction that minimized interruptions. Nineteen people crowded into a classroom to observe a teacher would be a huge disruption. One person with a recordable device isn’t disruptive at all.

       

      Another aspect of significance is what this virtual visit did to underscore the modern learning practices we were exploring. It gave us a window into a classroom where we could observe student engagement, fluency practice, communication, problem solving, critical thinking, critiquing the reasoning of others, and teachers as guides on the side. The delegation got to ask questions about curriculum, assessment, who is designing what, etc., interviewing both John and Rob about this slice of life in an American school.

       

      Using technology allowed us to do something that we’ve never done before, modifying and redefining traditional actions into more modern and efficient ones. This helps to flatten our world and bring us all closer together using technology and meaningful conversations.

       

      Thanks to the Ministry, to Clarence Middle School, and to John for all the legwork. And a special thanks to his wife for staving off labor for at least an hour so we could make this happen.



      Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000

      Digital Learning Strategies now available from ASCD
    • Blog post
    • 1 month ago
    • Views: 457
  • Who's Talking? Who's Talking?

    • From: Mark_Patton
    • Description:

      As I begin my first day of summer vacation, memories of this past school year are fresh in mind, and I cannot help but evaluate the larger picture of my pedagogy:  What did I do effectively this year?  Where did I go wrong?  What should I do differently next year?


      The school year ended, summer has started, and projections about day 1 of next year are already formulating in my mind.  I can’t think of a better way to indulge in such reflection than by referring to such a reputable source like Peter Smagorinsky (2008).  In reference to in-class discussions, he states:


       “I have found that students appreciate approaching literature through a variety of astructures, tasks, and activities, which alleviates the tedium that they haveunfortunately come to expect in school.  More important, however, by engaging in these activity-oriented, student-centered means of discussion, students become more active agents of their learning and rise to a higher level of expectation for their engagement with literature,” (Smagorinsky, pg. 44).

       

      Most educators would probably say that they strive for an  “activity-oriented, student-centered” classroom, but perfecting what this actually means and looks like is a task that most teachers—at some point in their career—fall short of.  One aspect of my teaching I am proud of from this past year was my effort to promote authentic discussions: engaging dialogues in which students respond to each other and use evidence to support substantial claims about meaningful topics.

       

      Undoubtedly, students prefer hearing their own voices rather than listening to their teachers talk for the entire period, butas Johannessen & Kahn (2007) note,“Unfortunately, studies of classrooms reveal that students are seldom engaged in authentic discussion.  Christoph and Nystrand (2001) and Nystrand (1997) report that, in the classrooms they observed, authentic discussion occurred on average for only fifty seconds per class in eighth grade and fifteen seconds per class in ninth grade classes,” (Johannessen & Kahn, pg. 101).  A classroom that lacks in authentic dialogue will fall short in other critical aspects of learning such as engagement and formative assessment.  Students must be able to voice their understandings to test understandings and receive feedback on misunderstandings.

       

      One of the difficult aspects of an authentic discussion is to motivate students to respond to others.  Many teachers will fall into a IRE (teacher initiates-student responds-teacher evaluates) pattern of questioning.  This form of questioning--two teacher contributions for every one student contribution--minimizes the amount of time students get a chance to talk and heightens the amount of teacher talk in class.  But how should a teacher go about getting students to respond to others?  Ask them to!  Step out of the conversation and establish some key policies and procedures:

       

      • Focus the discussion on open-ended questions or questions that will elicit many different responses.  Ideally, these questions relate to a specific inquiry question and/or questions related to that inquiry.
      •   Give students time to prepare contributions and require that they use evidence to support their responses.
      •  Set up the classroom so that students are facing each other, and the teacher is on the outside.  Yes, the teacher should not be the center of attention.  Take notes publicly so students can track how the dialogue is constructing knowledge.
      •  After a student is done talking, he or she should call on the next volunteer to talk.  What if there are no volunteers?  The first time a teacher does this, there might be very awkward silence, but like the Depeche Mode song, enjoy the silence!  Inevitably a student will break the unbearable pause.  Once the policy is established, the awkward pauses will diminish.  Don’t doubt students have to learn how to engage in substantial and meaningful conversations.
      • Students should demonstrate uptake—the ability to incorporate a previous speaker’s point or language in one’s own contribution to show the connection between responses.  “I agree with you about X, but I don’t agree about Y.”
      •  Try to hear from all students and in a balanced manner (not a few students dominating conversation).  “Okay, if you have talked twice or more, give others an opportunity to talk for the next 5 minutes” or “Let’s shift gears.  Can someone that hasn’t talked yet start us off on a new topic?” and even motivating students to ask the question, “Does anyone want to talk that hasn’t?”
      • When students are not talking, they should be taking notes, annotating, or having an online discussion.
      •  Check in with students 2-3 times during or after the discussion and ask, “What are we doing effectively?  How can we improve?   You can refer back to your notes to highlight strong contributions, clarify misunderstandings, and provide feedback.

       

      Take a look at a transcript from a final discussion on A Tale of Two Cities that occurred last weekThe question students were discussing was, “How does Charles Dickens use minor and major characters to comment on human nature?”  At first I didn’t like this question.  I thought it was too broad and that it should be focused more directly on our inquiry.  Nonetheless, many of my colleagues were using the same question, so I thought, “My colleagues are pretty smart, so why not see what students come up with?”  Given that there were three other focus questions for discussion, I decided to give it a shot.  Students had 20 minutes to work with a partner to formulate responses and supporting examples.  This is a selection from a small portion of the dialogue that ensued the next day:

       

      STUDENT 1:  I think Dickens wants us to understand the evilness of human nature.  Ordinary people can be evil and contribute to the world in a negative way.  Like when it says, “I call it my Little Guillotine.  La, la, la; La, La la!  And off his head comes!” (Dickens, pg. 275).  He [the wood-sawyer] thinks it’s funny.  He doesn’t have much value for life.  He’s [Dickens is] using this minor character to demonstrate there is an evilness to human nature.

       

      STUDENT 2:  Yet to go off your claim—I agree that all people are innately evil.   Gaspard was so upset that the Marquis killed his son, and on page 130 it says, “Driven home into the heart of the stone figure attached to it, was a knife…. ‘Drive him fast to his tomb.  This, from Jacques,’” (Dickens, pg. 130).  This just shows that people are driven by revenge.  Gaspard goes to kill Marquis because of revenge.

       

      STUDENT 3:  I can see your point that human nature is innately evil but I cannot say that it is for certain.  Human nature is easy to follow with Sydney Carton, “I see the lives for which I lay down my life,” (Dickens, pg. 372).  He had no will to live but found a purpose to live, to die for his friends.   He doesn’t seem that evil to me.

       

      STUDENT 4:  Human nature is innately evil, but that doesn’t mean that they are always evil.  They can demonstrate good, but they are motivated mostly by wants and needs.  The marquis was driven by his selfishness, “It is extraordinary to me… that you cannot take care of yourselves and your children,” (Dickens, pg. 111). He doesn’t care about killing a boy and just kills someone because he’s selfish.

       

      This discussion is not perfect.  Each student could be more articulate; there are a few points that need to be clarified; the connection between each idea could be more explicitly stated.  Next year, I will make intentional efforts to close those gaps depicted in the transcript with future students.

       

      However, there are a few things I like about that exchange: students are responding to each other, using evidence to support their ideas, and are offering different viewpoints on the ethical nature of individuals—pretty substantial material for 9th graders.  Jeffrey Conant Markham (2007) notes that “education is essentially an ethical endeavor…. my own career has become increasingly focused on ethics—almost everything we read and discuss has an ethical dimension, and allowing our students to avoid this dimension, for me, represents real failure,” (Markham, pg. 19).  Thus, to put students in a position where they can explore the ethical dimensions of a complex text is a worthwhile undertaking.

       

      Furthermore, in the dialogue the teacher’s voice was minimized, and the students’ voices were heightened.  The more opportunities a student has to engage in critical issues, the more they will understand those issues.  Don’t fool yourself in thinking that it’s the other way around—that the more a teacher talks, the more students will understand.  To be clear, I am not saying to let students leave with misinformation or let students completely run class.  The idea is that a teacher should do everything he or she can to motivate students to construct knowledge on their own and engage with each other about critical issues.

       

      The dynamics of teacher talk vs. student talk begs more fundamental pedagogical issues such as, “How should teachers engage students in learning?  Who holds the knowledge in the classroom?  What is the correlation between discussions and literacy comprehension?”  These questions are difficult to answer, but have serious implications on our students’ lives; therefore, these issues must be examined.

        

      How we talk not only matters in school but also outside of the classroom.  We live in a rapidly changing society in which communication is being transformed by technology.   I often hear people say, “Young kids just don’t know how to talk to each other anymore.”  Given the transcript above, I’m not sure that is true, but one only needs to look around to see that people often communicate more with their phones rather than the person next to them.   Students must be taught and put in the position to communicate in meaningful ways.  When it comes to the classroom, I will err on hearing more from the students rather than hearing more of my own voice.   Students will enjoy their educational experience more, and they will get more out of it.  I will end here with a quote from John Dewey on the power of communication:

       

      Not only is social life identical with communication, but all communication (and hence all genuine social life) is educative. To be a recipient of a communication is to have an enlarged and changed experience. One shares in what another has thought and felt and in so far, meagerly or amply, has his own attitude modified. Nor is the one who communicates left unaffected. Try the experiment of communicating, with fullness and accuracy, some experience to another, especially if it be somewhat complicated, and you will find your own attitude toward your experience changing; otherwise you resort to expletives and ejaculations. The experience has to be formulated in order to be communicated. (Democracy and Education, pgs. 5-6).

       

       

      Works Cited

       

      Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2004. Print.

       

       Dickens, Charles, and Gillen D'Arcy. Wood. A Tale of Two Cities. New York: Barnes & Noble            Classics, 2004. Print.

       

      Johannessen, L. and E. Kahn "Engaging Students in Authentic Discussions of Literature." Talking in Class: Using Discussion to Enhance Teaching and Learning. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. N. pag. Print.

       

      Markham, Jeffrey C. "Inquiry Versus Naïve Relativism: James, Dewey, and Teaching the Ethics  of Pragmatism." Talking in Class: Using Discussion to Enhance Teaching and Learning.   Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. N. pag. Print.

       

      Smagorinsky, Peter. Teaching English by Design: How to Create and Carry out Instructional Units.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2008. Print.

       

      1. 

    • Blog post
    • 1 month ago
    • Views: 509
  • A Simple Idea That May Revolut A Simple Idea That May Revolutionize Education

    • From: Mark_Barnes
    • Description:

      photo credit: ciro@tokyo via photopin cc photo credit: ciro@tokyo via photopin cc 

      Despite his relative anonymity, James Pillans dramatically changed teaching and learning. Pillans, you see, invented the blackboard and colored chalk in 1801.

       

      More than 210 years later, teachers continue to use Pillans' tools. Sure, most have gravitated away from chalk and slate to Interactive Whiteboards and tablet computers, but Pillans' centuries-old invention is holding steady in classes worldwide.

       

      What made Pillans' idea so revolutionary was that it solved a huge problem in a remarkably simple way. Nineteenth century teachers needed a way to share information with students visually (some actually wrote on kids' hands), and the blackboard gave birth to a new visual world for students.

       

      If James Pillans could impact education for hundreds of years with a blackboard, isn't it possible that another ridiculously simple idea can revolutionize education for the next two centuries? Following the Pillans model for change in the classroom, modern education needs a simple solution to a gigantic problem. How about assessment?

       

      For as long as education has existed, teachers have assessed students by placing numbers, percentages and letters on their work. This system has been the norm for so long that it isn't often questioned, but it continues to leave gaping holes in achievement and independent learning. Ask students what they've learned, or tell them to assess themselves, and most will respond with blank stares.

       

      If students can't assess their own learning and understand what they have or have not mastered, this is a powerful problem that must be fixed. The good news is this monumental issue can be rectified with James-Pillans-type simplicity.

       

      Assessment 3.0 is today's blackboard, and it can revolutionize teaching and learning. Best of all, it doesn't require any inventions or manufacturing costs. Assessment 3.0 involves replacing traditional grades with conversation, self-evaluation and narrative feedback using SE2R or a similar model.

       

      SE2R is James Pillans simple

      Image from Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom (ASCD, 2013)

      Image from Role Reversal (ASCD, 2013)


      After many years of using traditional grading practices, I realized that my students needed more. "A" students were just good at manipulating an outdated system, and "F" students didn't try, because they were convinced they couldn't learn. What if we just talk about learning, I wondered. So, I threw out numbers, percentages and letters and stopped grading anything and everything my students ever did. Instead, I provided SE2R feedback:

      • A one- or two-sentence Summary of what had been done.
      • An Explanation of what I observed that students had mastered, based on lessons and guidelines and what still needed to be accomplished.
      • When more learning needed to be demonstrated, I Redirected students to prior lessons and models.
      • I asked for reworked items to be Resubmitted for further assessment.

      This is SE2R. It's simple and can be used with any age in any class and delivered in a variety of ways, including through digital tools and social media. Best of all, SE2R creates conversation about learning.

       

      It's time for a revolution

      James Pillans' blackboard and chalk changed how teachers shared information. Isn't it time for us to change how we assess what students learn? Numbers and letters are ineffective. Assessment 3.0, featuring SE2R narrative feedback, stimulates the kind of conversation that inspires independent learning and promotes better understanding of achievement.

      Best of all, it's ridiculously simple.

       

      Cross posted at Brilliant or Insane

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  • Change Requires Moving From a Change Requires Moving From a Fixed to a Growth Mindset

    • From: Eric_Sheninger
    • Description:

      For many years New Milford High School was just like virtually every other public school in this country defined solely by traditional indicators of success such as standardized test scores, graduation rates, and acceptances to four year colleges. These indicators have become so embedded in the minds of those judging our schools and work that we, like everyone else, worked hard to focus only on initiatives that would hopefully produce favorable outcomes in those areas. If we were doing well we continued down the same path allowing the status quo to reign supreme.  The mentality of if it isn't broke than why fix it resonated so profoundly with us that we would not have even considered changing our ways.  If results were not what our stakeholders wanted this would then trigger meetings leading to the development of action plans to get us back on course. 

       

      For so long schools have resembled a hamster running on a wheel doing the same things over and over to improve sets of numbers.  We were no different and had succumbed to a fixed mindset. Every excuse in the book was at our disposal not to change and continue down the same path year after year. Heck, our education system has become so good at maintaining the status quo and enforcing compliance throughout that we and many others have been brainwashed into thinking any other course of action would be foolish.  If education is good for one thing it is making excuses not to move forward. There is still an innate desire to sustain a school structure and function that has remained relatively unchanged for well over a hundred years. This is a problem. It was a huge problem for us. We were in a rut and didn't even know it. Luckily change came in the form of a little blue bird that gave me the kick in the butt that I desperately needed back in 2009.  Being blessed with an amazing staff, student body, administrative team, and community provided the necessary support needed to move us forward.

       

      As another school year comes to a close I can't but help reflect on the many successful initiatives that have been implemented this past year.  It is even more gratifying to see numerous other initiatives that were implemented over the past couple of years flourish.  Moving from a fixed to a growth mindset and feeding of the daily inspiration that connected learning provides gave me with the fuel to create a shared vision that eventually became a reality as a result of action. For change to be successful it must be sustained. As leaders we must not only be willing to see the process through, but we must also create conditions that promote a change mentality. It really is about moving from a fixed to a growth mindset, something that many educators and schools are either unwilling or afraid to do. The essential elements that work as catalysts for the change process include the following:

      • Empowerment
      • Autonomy
      • Ownership
      • Removing the fear of failure
      •  Risk-taking
      •  Support
      • Modeling
      • Flexibility
      • Collaboration
      • Communication

      What I have learned is that if someone understands why change is needed and the elements above become an embedded component of school culture he/she or the system ultimately experience the value for themselves.  The change process then gets a boost from an intrinsic motivational force that not only jump starts the initiative, but allows for the embracement of change as opposed to looking for buy-in.  We should never have to "sell" people on better ways to do our noble work nor rely on mandates and directives. These traditional pathways used to drive change typically result in resentment, undermining, and failure.

       

      This gets me back to the main point of my post and that is reflecting on the many changes that have been implemented and sustained at NMHS.  Even in the face of adversity in the form of education reform mandates, Common Core alignment, impending PARCC exams, new educator evaluation systems, loss of funding, and an aging infrastructure we have not only persevered, but proven that positive change can happen with the right mindset.  If we can overcome these challenges and experience success others can as well. Throughout the past couple of years we have also seen improvements in the "traditional" indicators of success by mainly focusing on creating a school that works better for our students as opposed to one that has always worked well for us.  Here is a short list of some of the changes that have been implemented and sustained:

       

      ·        Social media use as a communications, public relations, branding, professional growth, and student learning tool implemented in 2009. So many of my teachers are making the choice to integrate social media as a learning tool that I just can't list all of the examples:

      • Online courses through the Virtual High School implemented in 2010. Students now have access to over 250 unique courses that cater to their interests. 
      • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) implemented in 2011.  The success of this initiative has hinged on our ability to ensure equity, give up control, trust our students, and provide educator support in the form of professional growth opportunities. Charging stations for the students were purchased this year and placed in all common areas.  The three guiding tenets of our BYOD initiative are to enhance learning, increase productivity, and conduct better research. See what CBS New York had to say.
      • The Academies @ NMHS implemented in 2011 as part of my superintendent's vision. These are a means to allow students to follow their passions in a cohort model of learning based on constructivist theory. The Academies are open to any and all students regardless of GPA who what to pursue more rigorous and authentic coursework and learning opportunities. This initiative compelled us to add over 20 new courses to our offerings to better meet the learning needs and interests of our students.
      • Independent OpenCourseware Study (IOCS) implemented in 2012. Students elect to take OpenCourseware and receive honors credit once they demonstrate what they have learned through a non-traditional presentation.
      • Google Apps For Education (GAFE) implemented in 2012 empowering students and staff to learn collaboratively in the cloud.
      • Flipped classroom and instructional model implemented in 2012. A variety of teachers have moved to this model consistently to take advantage of instructional time. The best part is that NMHS teachers themselves are creating the interactive content as opposed to relying on Khan Academy. See what CBS New York had to say.
      • Grading reform implemented in 2012.  A committee was formed to improve our grading practices that resulted in a failure floor and seven steps that had to be met before student can receive a failing grade. All student failures are now reviewed by me to ensure that the seven steps have been met. This was probably the most difficult change initiative I have ever been a part of. If you want a copy of this just add your email in the comments section at the bottom of this post. 
      • The Professional Growth Period (PGP) implemented in 2013.  By cutting all non-instructional duties teachers now have two or three 48 minute periods during the week to follow their learning passions based on the Google 80/20 model.  The rise in many innovative practices have resulted by creating this job embedded model for growth.  I love reviewing the learning portfolios my teachers develop each year to showcase how this time was used to improve professional practice.
      • Makerspace added to the library in 2013. I have written extensively about this space, which has transformed learning thanks to the leadership of Laura Fleming. See what CBS New York had to say.
      • Creation of a digital badge platform to acknowledge the informal learning of teachers implemented in 2013 by Laura Fleming.
      • 3D virtual learning implemented in 2013 using Protosphere. See what CBS New York had to say.
      • McREL Teacher Evaluation Tool implemented in 2013.  This required a huge shift from how we have observed and evaluated teachers for a very long time.  Google Forms were utilized to solicit anonymous feedback from staff members about the rollout, process, and value of the new tool.  This feedback was then used by the administrative team to improve the use of the tool.   

      I need to stop here, but I think you get the point.  We have transformed the teaching and learning culture at NMHS that begins and ends with a growth mindset.  The time for excuses, talk, opinions, and fear needs to end if our goal is really about improving teaching, learning, and leadership outcomes. Leadership is about action, not position or ideas that just get pushed around. We continue to push ourselves to create a better school.  So what's stopping you?

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  • Summer Break: 5 Ways to Test Summer Break: 5 Ways to Test if Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

    • From: Jennifer_Davis_Bowman
    • Description:

      

      We always hear that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Does that apply to kids and their attitude towards returning to school after summer break?  Is it possible that the very opposite occurs-the time away makes children more reluctant to return to school?  Once a question pops into my mind, I kick it around a while in order to develop an answer.  So here we go.  This is what I have found so far:

       

       

      A report about the impact of culture and absenteeism suggests that our attitude towards absence depends on society norms and what people around you perceive as normal.  In trying to determine if the summer facilitates a longing to return to school (or anxiety to return), may depend a great deal on how society views the time away from instruction.  Does society view it as a well-deserved break or a prison break?  So, how do you view summer break-as an educator, parent, and learner?  No pressure, but keep in mind that your view impacts those around you...

       

       

      In other research, the views of students that regularly attend school as well as those classified as “non-attenders” reveal that school roles influence attendance beliefs.  Children believe that they share an implicit contract with teachers that outlines responsibilities and consequences (Davies & Lee, 2006). Further, when students feel that the terms of the contract are upheld during the school year, student involvement increases. On the other hand, if the student perceives that there is a break down in the contract, self-withdrawal results. The big take-away here is that the student’s perception of school depends on non-spoken rules.  The attitude towards going to school changes based on how well the student and staff meet their responsibilities in respect to each other, not the amount of time that has lapsed between instructional periods.

       

       

      In looking at how time away impacts children, we can also borrow from past research (follow the link to read how research explains popular proverbs and folk wisdom) on children’s response to time away from different things.  First, can you guess how a young child responds when a toy is taken away-out of their sight?  Yep, they cry and behave as if the toy has vanished.  Further, based on attachment research, we understand that when young children are away from their main caregiver-problems arise.  So it seems that for young children, time away can lead to the “out of mind, out of sight” thought process.  When looking further though, there is research that shows that factors such as the child’s age and the amount of time away from someone or something contributes to the child’s response.  In terms of students and time away from school, maybe we should consider the same factors.

       

       

      I found an interesting article in USA Today that may also prove useful.  The piece examines the concept of “psychological closeness”.  According to this social phenomenon, it is possible to have a connection with someone or something without physically being close to that person or thing.  I’m thinking that if student interaction relies on seeing teachers and classmates, then socially, summer will be a struggle and they will desire to return to school.  If students have mastered the “psychological closeness”, time away during the summer break would not negatively impact their attitude of returning to school.  As the article explains “technology has made it seem more doable”, thus time and distance are no longer disadvantages in school attendance motivation.

       

       

      In stark contrast to developing “psychological closeness”, a marketing article describes the existence of emotional fatigue when there is too much exposure to someone or something.  The article reveals that almost 50% of Americans report that after excessive access, they are no longer affectionate about or do not deem these product brands as authentic.  In terms of students, I am thinking that for those that are over-involved in school, summer time may provide a bit of a breather, and the absence helps decrease the emotional fatigue.

       

       

      So, what do you think?  What do you feel most influences a student's attitude towards returning to school after a break?  What can we do to help facilitate a more positive post summer positive outlook in our future students? Do you find any specific classroom practices useful in instilling a craving for learning in your students-one that last from the last day of school to the start of the new school year?

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  • 5 Activities for the Last Day 5 Activities for the Last Day of Class

    • From: Ryan_Thomas1
    • Description:

      last day of schoolThe end of the school year is always a strange and exciting time. Like my students, I look forward to a break, but I always have mixed emotions about parting ways after spending the better part of a year with them. On the last day of school, I like to keep things light, but I also think it is important to have them reflect on their classroom experience. Below you’ll find a few of the activities I plan on using this year. 

      Conduct interviews
      This is an idea I’m borrowing from Dr. Richard Curwin. Here’s how it works:

      Divide the class into small groups and ask each group to think of four questions they want to ask you about the past year. There’s no need to place any restrictions on the questions; if you feel a question is inappropriate, simply pass. Students may ask you questions like, “Why did you give us so much homework?” or “Why couldn’t we keep our smartphones in class?”

      Once you’ve answered each group’s questions, it’s your turn to ask them questions. You may, for example, ask them about their favorite classroom activity, their least favorite activity, and so on.

      Crack open those time capsules
      This activity requires some planning. At the beginning of the year, I have students fill out a questionnaire in which they answer a variety of questions about their hobbies, their current favorite song, their favorite school experience, what they hope to learn this year, and so on. Once they complete the form, I have students roll it up and slide it into a paper towel tube that they’ve decorated and written their names on.

      On the last day of school, I hand out the time capsules. It’s both funny and insightful to see how much students have changed over the course of a year.

      Have students evaluate themselves
      Every classroom is different, but a decent portion of my students’ grades has to do with the level of engagement and preparedness they’ve shown during our seminar discussions. I have my own system for tracking each student’s progress, but I also like to have students reflect on their own performance.

      Below is the handout I give to students:


      As you know, a significant portion of your grade not only has to do with the quality of the work you have submitted over the course of the semester, but the level of preparedness you demonstrated in our weekly seminars. As we close out the semester, I would like for you to reflect on your own performance and level of commitment in our course by proposing the letter grade you believe you earned in this area. Please keep in mind that you are not proposing your final grade—I simply wish to know the grade you believe you earned for class preparation and participation. Although I will not accept your proposition without some consideration, I will carefully consider and weigh it before calculating your grade. Before you begin though, I want to remind you of what class preparation and participation refer to:

      1. Reading all assigned texts attentively and being prepared to discuss them in class
      2. Actively contributing/vocalizing your thoughts during class discussions and group activities
      3. Coming to all class meetings—and coming on time
      4. Turning in all of your assignments in (and on time)
      5. Not using your cell phone in class
      6. Bringing your essays to all of our in-class peer reviews
      7. Fully and willingly participating (that means not just sitting back and allowing your peers to do all of the work) in group activities

      Proposed grade and explanation:

      Role Play
      This is another activity recommended by Dr. Curwin. Here’s how it works:

      Using small groups, ask the students to role-play you teaching a class. Be prepared for the role-play to be funny, yet highly accurate. Then you get to turn the tables and role-play any of the students' behavior in class. Try for humor, not sarcasm.

      Sample situations from students:

      • Teacher giving a lecture.
      • Teacher trying to quiet the class.

      Sample situations from teacher:

      • Students asking silly questions.
      • Student explaining a complicated concept.


      Set summer goals
      I’ve shared this activity before, but I think it’s worthwhile to add it to the list.

      Start by having students read an excerpt from Michael Jordan’s book, I Can’t Accept Not Trying. After students finish reading, ask them to pair up with another student and write a one-sentence summary of the information.

      Next, students get together with another pair of students to compare their summaries and work together to develop the best one-sentence thesis/summary they possibly can. Once groups finish, I like to have each group write their sentence on the white board. Then, as a class, we review the strengths and weaknesses of each summary and work together as a class to create the most accurate and concise one-sentence summary that we can.

      Following this, each student completes a goal-setting worksheet, or writes out a one-page reflection in which they set summer goals and reflect on how they will achieve them. After completing the worksheet, give students the opportunity to share their goals with the class.

      Photo credit: Richard Elzey / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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