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Before I started teaching, I spent five years as a writing tutor in the Marygrove College writing center. While each student had a unique set of needs, most struggled to commit their initial ideas to paper.
Like most of us, students want to get it right on the first shot. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Writing is chaotic. It’s messy. Why? Because most of us (that includes professionals) don’t really know what and how we’re going to say what we want to say until we actually start writing.
To help students move beyond the “scary white screen,” I came to rely on a writing strategy called clustering. If you’re not familiar with this invention strategy, the student starts by jotting down a nucleus word; this should be a word or phrase that is related to the assigned topic. The nucleus word should trigger a series of other word associations that students continue to jot down quickly and without censorship.
It’s a chaotic process, but even after five minutes of clustering, most of my students were astounded by how much they knew and how many questions they had about topics they, not even five minutes before, vehemently claimed were “boring.”
While I started teaching students to cluster by having them write on a scrap sheet of paper, I eventually turned to a free web application called bubbl.us.
During our session, the student and I would read through the clustering handout (you’ll find this below). Then I would pull up bubbl.us on my laptop and turn it over to the student.
bubbl.us. is convenient for a few reasons: First, there’s no learning curve. Second, it allowed me to save a digital version of the cluster and email it to the student. When we picked up the following week, all I had to do was pull up the file and I would know exactly what we discussed in our previous session.
In my experience, this exercise is helpful with students of all ages and abilities. I even use it myself. To help you teach clustering to your students, I’ve included the handout I used with my own students below.
What is Clustering? And How Can It Help Me Develop My ideas?
Most serious and experienced writers incorporate some sort of writing strategy into their habits, so you should feel no shame in using them. In the following exercise, you’ll learn how to use clustering as a way of developing your ideas.
First, you must think of a word or phrase. You can do this with any random word or phrase, but it is far more effective to choose something that is related to the assigned topic. Say you are writing an essay about your experience with the American Dream….well, “American Dream” might be the best phrase to begin with. Here’s what to do next:
As an aspiring educator, I knew exactly what kind of teacher I would be: I would facilitate dynamic discussions; the students would not only read all of the assigned texts, they would devour them. Sure, teaching would be work, but I mostly saw myself as a facilitator—someone who would ask all the right questions and look on as my students marched towards intellectual victory.
You can probably see where this is going. Once I was handed the keys to the classroom, I was surprised when things didn’t magically fall into place like they were supposed to. (Does this sound familiar?)
It wasn’t that things were disastrous, but they just weren’t the way I imagined. Why weren’t students talking? Why weren’t they as excited as I was about what we were reading? Why weren’t they making connections and thinking critically about what they read?
It wasn’t until later that I discovered that I (not the students) was the reason our discussions fell flat. To spark discussions and critical inquiry, I asked my students a lot of questions. Questions are good, but most of the questions I asked students were what we would call nonessential questions.
To give you a clearer sense of what I mean by essential and nonessential questions consider the following examples from Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins’ book, Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding.
Essential question: “How do the arts shape, as well as reflect, culture?
Nonessential question: “What common artistic symbols were used by the Incas and the Mayans?”
Essential question: “Is there ever a ‘just’ war?
Nonessential question: What key event sparked World War I?”
Essential question: “What does it mean to be a ‘true’ friend?”
Nonessential question: “Who is Maggie’s best friend in the story?”
As you may have noticed, unlike nonessential questions, essential ones are timeless. Some can even be grappled with indefinitely; they are neither immediately apparent nor can they be answered with a fact or a simple yes or no response. Essential questions force us to interrogate our presuppositions, dig in, explain, defend, question and—hopefully—grow.
If you still sketchy on the difference between essential and nonessential questions, here are seven of McTighe and Wiggins’ defining characteristics of a good essential question.
A good essential question:
When Collins-Maxwell began a 1:1 iPad initiative for all students in grades 6-12 in the fall of 2012, one of the largest concerns among teachers, parents, and board members was the management of the device. Teachers were worried that students would be off-task in class, refusing to do the assigned work. Parents felt that students would bring the devices home and fill them full of games, songs, and inappropriate pictures. Board members felt that teachers would not know how to manage the new technology in classes AND that parents would be frustrated that taxpayer dollars were spent on devices so kids could listen to Pandora while playing Angry Birds.
Yes, it all happened. Everything we feared would come true did to some degree. We had students that got off task in class and missed the assignments or the lecture or the project. We had students download music in the hallways between classes so they could listen to it in the next period. We had students at home not doing the work they didn’t do in class because they were playing games, or on Facebook, or tweeting, or listening. Yes, it all happened.
But not for every student. And not for every teacher.
We had our students who followed the rules to the letter. They never downloaded anything that was not teacher approved. They never got on the iPad in class unless there was a reason explained by the teacher. And they certainly did not use the iPad at home inappropriately. It was only used for schoolwork, and then charged for the next day.
And we had teachers that had no problems with students off task. Here is the success of the management of iPads. We had teachers treat the iPad like any other tool in the classroom. For the past few years, we have allowed cell phones in school for student use. Many students have used them to take photos of problems on the board, use calculator functions, or text answers to an online poll. The teachers who have used cell phones in this manner in the class were the same ones who had little problems with the iPads. They realized the iPads were tools to help students learn, so they worked to see the iPads as supports for learning. Now, those teachers did not feel the need to use the iPads every day, just to use them. They used the iPads only when it suited the learning. When the iPads were not in use, they were turned off and put under the desks or set aside in the classroom. Those teachers who saw the iPads as possible improvements to learning also knew when they would be impediments to learning, so they created clear rules for engagement in using the iPads.
Other teachers who were not as comfortable with iPads struggled to see how to use them in their classrooms. Therefore, they used them for artificial purposes thinking the administration wanted the iPads to be used a lot in classes. The truth was the administration never gave a clear expectation for how often the iPad was to be used in a class. We wanted it to be a natural extension of support for learning. For some teachers, that was a good idea. For others, they felt like they were not using it enough and that would be a disappointment to the administration. When those teachers tried to integrate the iPad into a learning activity that did not suit it, problems occurred. Or if the teachers tried to ignore how to use the iPads in class, then the students had them out and engaged in off-task behaviors. Interestingly, by not addressing the iPad as a tool that may or may not support learning in specific instances, the teachers inadvertently allowed the iPad to become a bigger obstacle to learning in every instance.
From the various viewpoints of the teachers implementing iPads in their classrooms, the administration began to notice a unique paradigm: there were some that were truly trying to manage the iPad while others were trying to lead learning with the iPad. It became clear to the administration that those teachers who used the iPads to lead – or support – learning were more successful in using the iPads. Those that tried to manage the devices seemed to have more struggles with students. The administration also noticed that learning tasks began to change. Many teachers found that using iPads to do the same type of work before their introduction caused more problems and off-task behavior. When teachers changed the learning target or asked students for their input in how to use the iPads, there was greater student engagement, higher quality learning, and greater teacher satisfaction.
In all, we also worked to tighten our security of the iPads to limit downloads, added some consequences for how to use the devices, and supported parents to better understand how to use the iPads at home. But our greatest discovery in managing iPads was learning to not manage them, and instead lead learning – where appropriate – with them. Now, teachers and students are making better decisions about how iPads support student learning. Our philosophy to technology – and not the iPads themselves – are helping our students be better prepared for the 21st century of learning, earning, and living!
I am current working with quite a prestigious school to transform their Year 8 curriculum and teaching practice such that the learning is not only more engaging but it begins to embed a structure to develop performance oriented independent learners.
As part of the process we were discussing formative assessment and the qualities or attributes of effective formative assessment. At one point I had quite a vigorous discussion with some teachers about the purpose of grading students.
One of the habitual practices I see in high schools is the grading of pieces of work, assignments, tests, etc and they are essentially summative. In other words, a student does a test, assignment, whatever and they are given a mark and that goes towards the result the student achieves for the term or year.
I asked them, “Why is this the habit you use? What is the purpose of this?” I really want you, as a reader, to think about this too. Why do you grade?
Now I am not against grading as a tool. What I think needs to shift is the context in how we use grades as a tool.
If you look behaviorally at students over time when grades are given they become used as a tool of reward. They are an artificial indication of that the student is doing well (or not), that they can provide what the teacher wants of them (or not). Self-belief and self-confidence rise and fall on the grades. Students adapt so as to get good grades (or give up). Students compare themselves to each other and mindsets are made and embedded. In many high schools I find that one of the clear and constant complaints is that students don’t want to show their working, or demonstrate the process of thinking, they just want the answer and get the grade.
Is this the purpose of schools and learning?
If our job as educators is to be partners to the students to learn then shouldn’t our structures match this desire? Having structures that are supposedly used to measure student understanding yet hinder it seems a bit silly to me.
Wouldn’t it be a good idea if all students could achieve a high grade (90% and above)? Why not let them resubmit an assignment and correct the mistakes they made? Why not have them re-sit the test or exam until they get a good mark? Give the students a choice to keep working until their grade is high and what you start to reward with grades is effort and you build a growth mindset. This is the fundamental thinking of how games work on develop skills and competency (thus the gamification and competency learning movements occurring in learning)
For those students who achieve a high grade quickly, why not have them tutor the other students on their thinking (not the answers) such that everyone can succeed. Not only does this build a community-oriented culture of learning (all for one and one for all), not only does this provide a feedback and coaching structure within the classroom, it addresses the higher competency students to develop their executive functions and be able to explain their thinking to others in such a way that the other students succeed.
And what does Hattie’s meta-analysis say about feedback, micro-teaching, formative evaluation, etc? They are amongst the top approaches to improving student learning.
Shifting one’s context can make a profound difference with little effort or hard work!
I follow a wonderful Facebook page called Humans of New York. It’s a page that photographer Brandon Stanton put together to curate the images of the incredible cross section of humanity that resides in New York City. He talks to these people and photographs them and shares their stories on his Facebook page. You can access his page HERE. As you scroll through his page, you’ll notice that on October 1st, he featured our own Heidi Hayes Jacobs, who shared the following:
"There's three things you can do when life sends a wave at you. You can run from it, but then it's going to catch up and knock you down. You can also fall back on your ego and try to stand your ground, but then it's still going to clobber you. Or you can use it as an opportunity to go deep, and transform yourself to match the circumstances. And that's how you get through the wave."
I’m so impressed with what Brandon does. He is visually cataloguing the people of the melting pot in New York City, but he’s also collecting their stories--sharing a positive side of humanity that is so desperately needed in our world today.
Today’s entry involved this young man:
Brandon had the following conversation with this boy:
"Why are you wearing a pilot's outfit?"
"I wear it every day."
"Do you want to be a pilot when you grow up?"
"No, I want to be a teacher."
"Why aren't you wearing a teacher's outfit?"
"I don't have one."
I thought this was a huge message for today’s teacher. We are still inspiring the next generation. We are still solidly having an effect on the future.
In this day and age of educational nitpickery, I think it’s extremely important to look for the bright spots and use them for both furthering our cause and believing that we are doing what’s best for our children.
I was going to write this week about standards based education and how we swim through the hoopla to get to the root of why we do what we do. This picture and conversation changed my whole mindset this week.
This child values our profession. What better validation do we need?
If you’d like to know more about Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton has just released a book about the portraits and stories he’s collected. You can access the link HERE. You can also follow him on Facebook using the link above or ACCESS HIS WEBSITE.
I thought it was important today to remind teachers how much of a difference they really make. I thought it was important to remind you that you are shaping the future outside of the bureaucracy and national fluff movements. You are needed, you are important, and you are incredible. Every President, every engineer, every scientist, every pilot--needs a teacher. It’s just really cool that this little pilot wants to be a teacher too.
Our value has not diminished. Your value has not diminished.
Pat yourselves on the back, teachers. You are still inspiring the next generation.
Follow Mike on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fisher1000
Upgrade Your Curriculum, now available from ASCD
Digital Learning Strategies: How Do I Assign and Assess Digital Work? coming this Winter from ASCD
Picture and conversation copyright Brandon Stanton and used with permission.
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Shutdown 101 for Educators
The first federal government shutdown in 17 years did not lead to immediate consequences for most schools and districts, but as each day goes by it becomes more problematic for the nation’s educators and students. See the ASCD policy team’s key takeaways and behind-the-scenes details on what the shutdown means for schools by reading our special edition of Capitol Connection and our ASCD Inservice blog post. They cover everything from how health and nutrition services for children and families are being affected to the long-term repercussions of the shutdown. And, for ongoing coverage, read your weekly issues of Capitol Connection!
ASCD to Host 23 Common Core Implementation Institutes November 2013 to February 2014
Starting in November, ASCD is holding institutes across the United States to help guide educators in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The one- and two-day institutes will be held in nine U.S. cities and are focused on Mathematics; English Language Arts and Literacy; Formative Assessment; Leading the Change to CCSS; and Common Core and the Understanding by Design Framework. View the full institute schedule on ascd.org.
New Whole Child Publication
The Korean Educational Development Institute’s KEDI Journal of Educational Policy publishes scholarly articles and reports on research that makes significantcontributions to the understanding and practice of educational policy on an international level. This month's special issue, “Promoting Students’ Social-Emotional and Character Development and Prevent Bullying,” includes an article written by ASCD’s Sean Slade, director of whole child programs, and David Griffith, director of public policy. The article, titled “A Whole Child Approach to Student Success” (pp. 21–35), describes the whole child approach to education and its global education policy recommendations.
Integrating Health and Social Programs Within Education Systems
In August 2013, ASCD and the International School Health Network began work on a new draft statement, titled “Integrating Health and Social Programs Within Education Systems,” at a global school health symposium held in Pattaya, Thailand. The two organizations would like to encourage readers to review and comment on the draft, which was developed to explain how health and social programs can be integrated more effectively within education systems.
Leaders in Action:News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Welcomes the Competency-Based Education Professional Interest Community
ASCD invites you to join our newest Professional Interest Community, facilitated by ASCD Emerging Leader Jason Ellingson. The Competency-Based Education group is a place to share your ideas and connect with one another.
2012 Emerging Leaders Will Use Pilot Grant Funds to Benefit Students through 2013–14 School Year
This year for the first time, ASCD accepted grant applications from 2012 emerging leaders. The grant program, now in its pilot phase, is designed to give emerging leaders the opportunity explore new and innovative ways to support the success of each learner.
This year’s grant fund recipients are Jessica Bohn, Krista Rundell, Fred Ende, and Amy Murphy. Jessica and Krista are working independently; Fred and Amy are working as a team.
ASCD would like to thank all the emerging leaders who participated in the grant application process as we continue to learn and improve the program over time.
ASCD Leader Voices
Common Core Myths & Facts
Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and are preparing to fully implement them—including administering tests based on the standards—in the 2014–15 school year. But rumors and myths about the standards have run rampant, causing confusion among educators, policymakers, and the public. The latest ASCD Policy Points (PDF)clarifies what the CCSS are and are not and tackles these myths head-on.
Read the issue for straightforward facts and explanations that help combat common misperceptions about the federal government’s involvement in the standards, the cost of their implementation, the role of local schools and districts, concerns about student privacy, and more. We hope this Policy Points provides you with useful information about the CCSS that you can share with your local communities to help dispel confusion, counter opposition, and establish yourself as a trusted resource on the standards. If you have any questions, contact the ASCD policy team at email@example.com.
Throughout October at wholechildeducation.org: Early Childhood Education
What does “education” mean for our youngest learners? The first years of school are as important for an educated population as any other period, perhaps more. Research shows that implementation of high-quality preschool programs can be beneficial for the lifelong development of children in low-income families and that an upfront commitment to early education provides returns to society that are many times more valuable than the original investment.
With the current focus on standards and academic achievement, is learning and testing coming too early? Curriculum and assessment should be based on the best knowledge of theory and research about how children develop and learn with attention given to individual children’s needs and interests in a group in relation to program goals. Young children have different social, cognitive, and emotional needs than older children and early childhood is where they begin to build skills and behaviors such as persistence, empathy, collaboration, and problem solving.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on the importance of early childhood education with ASCD’s Walter McKenzie, authors Thomas Armstrong and Wendy Ostroff, the New America Foundation’s Laura Bornfreund, and ASCD Emerging Leader Jennifer Orr. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blogand tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.
Something to Talk About
In the Fall of 2007, a close friend, Nancy Cook, and I wrote a piece for the New York State Middle School Association’s Journal, In Transition. The article, titled “Notice, Think, and Wonder: New Pathways to Engage Critical Thinking” asked the reader to consider using a discussion rubric that Nancy developed to increase the rigor of questions and answers around text. The link is to the entire journal, but the article and embedded rubric starts on page 15.
I still share the Notice, Think, and Wonder rubric that’s in the article while engaging in professional development with teachers. It’s become particularly useful in this age of Common Core standards and increased rigor in instructional activities, particularly around the close reading of text.
I’ve been teaching different versions of “Close Reading” to teachers, evolving over time as I strengthen my relationship with Common Core Reading for Literacy/Informational Text Standard 1: “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and make inferences from it.” What started out as teaching teachers to write text dependent questions evolved into setting strong purposes for reading, understanding text complexity, relating the close reading to personal experiences and world events, and now, coming full circle back to Notice, Think, and Wonder.
The impetus for this blog post began with another blog post around Close Reading, written by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts, authors of the popular blog, indent. You can read their blog post, The Five Corners of the Text, by clicking this sentence. In the post, they stress the importance of engagement and inviting students’ experiences into the way they think critically about the words they read. What they wrote invited a warmth back into this instructional strategy that was missing from my initial interpretation of the standard.
As I read their blog post and reflected on my current and previous work, it dawned on me that a merger of ideas and an additional instructional strategy around close reading was in order. Hence, I’m revisiting “Notice, Think, and Wonder.” The original Notice, Think, and Wonder strategy asked students to collect details around what they notice in text; what jumped off the page at them. It asks students to think about those details and make connections. Finally, it asks them to wonder about the “what if’s,” the “what next’s,” or the potential additional meaning-making that comes from deep engagement with text.
To use Notice, Think, and Wonder in a way that reflects the close reading of text, one simply needs to tweak the intentions of these areas of interaction. In this upgrade, students should be invited to do the following:
What are some of the big ideas in the text that’s being read?
What are some of the main points that an author wants the reader to know as a result of reading this?
What’s the major message or point of reading what we are reading?
Where in the text did we see support for what we noticed?
What in our experiences, as related to what we read, make us think of connections to the big ideas?
How do parts of the texts explicitly lead us to the major message?
What might the evidence we found in the text, as related to what we noticed, mean?
What potential conclusions can we draw from the evidence related to what we noticed?
Is there evidence in the text or in our connections to the text to support anything we might potentially wonder?
I like believing that students would be engaged by deep conversation about text--particularly texts that they are interested in reading, not just texts that the teacher thinks they should read. I’m reminded of high school, when my teachers were adept at drawing me into a text by both relating to my personal experiences while guiding me through metacognitions that created mental velcro for me. Everything stuck, from the prologue to The Canterbury Tales to my empathy for Benji, a central character in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I want students to live inside texts the way that I was allowed to. I want them to have rich literary experiences that feed their souls for the rest of their lives but also teach them to be evaluative thinkers and questioners of the status quo.
I want students to read voluminously and develop a love of reading that goes beyond the cold and analytical “close reading” and explores what I guess I would call “Close Reading Plus.” Evidence plus experience equals Deep Learning, versus just evidence alone. If we look at the standard and the key words: “close reading,” “what the text says explicitly,” and “make inferences,” then we are doing all those things with this upgrade of Notice, Think, and Wonder. We are also inviting a deeper analysis, a raise in the rigor beyond the standard, which represents the zone to which we should aspire with our modern learners.
Contemporary Perspectives on Literacy, coming this Fall.
Mike on Twitter: @fisher1000
I thought about this a little more and decided to add some additional information to this blog post in terms of extending Notice, Think, and Wonder to writing about evidence and connections.
For one thing, the “Wonder” could include a question about claims, such as, “What claims can you make about what you read? or “What do you wonder about any bold statements that the author made in the text?”
The answers to those questions would be an excellent jumping off point for writing about claims and evidence, engaging both the Reading standards around Key Ideas and Details as well as the Instructional Shifts around Writing from Sources and Text-Dependent questions.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) lately, but from what we gather, a good chunk of Americans are still fuzzy on how the new healthcare law will impact them. To help our students understand the implications of the ACA, we’ve combed the Internet for a few useful resources. Here’s what we came up with.
USA Today’s site is certainly comprehensive, but it’s also easy to digest. Here you’ll not only find an overview of what the ACA is, you’ll also be able to find out how it impacts folks who are already insured, those who are uninsured, small business owners, college students, retirees and Americans who fall into the low-income bracket. There is a brief explanation and short video relevant to each demographic.
If you've asked yourself, "How much will Obamacare cost me?" you should stop by National Public Radio’s site and try their subsidy calculator. Enter different incomes, ages, and family sizes to get an estimate of your eligibility for subsidies and how much you could spend on health insurance.
We know that healthcare is a hot topic, and one that sparks heated discussions, so we’ve done our best to select apolitical resources that will simply give your students an overview of the ACA. We see these resources as simply a jumping off point for further in-class discussions.
In this seven-minute cartoon, the Kaiser Foundation will walk you through the basic changes in the way Americans will get health coverage and what it will cost when major parts of the ACA go into effect.
This morning I was on the phone with a principal colleague from Boston when I realized what I would write about this week for my blog. It’s funny how an ordinary conversation can take a turn and help bring clarity and focus to a situation.
Both of us were talking about our hours at work and what it takes to be an elementary school principal. I was sharing how for the past couple of weeks at least, I’ve been working almost 12 hour days at school and then coming home and trying to work at night, in addition to working on weekends as well. My colleague shared that she, too, had been working long hours at school and that she often went in for several hours on the weekend.
People who know me understand how much I love my job and how dedicated to children I am. For me, personally, that is one of the best things about my job: It never feels like work and I find that the enjoyment I get from what I do professionally fuels me and naturally renews me...most of the time.
Despite my loving my work, I have also felt slightly “off” lately and this morning’s conversation reminded me why. In addition to being passionate about education and my work, I am also deeply passionate about the things I do outside of work as well. I am an avid gardener, I golf and snowboard, I’m an extreme genealogist, and I dabble in other things such as cooking, photography, travel, and the arts. Long story short, is that I realized today that lately, I haven’t taken the time to “play” in some of the other arenas I so deeply love! The end result is that I throw myself into my job and then go through periods of feeling “off” and not feeling like my best self.
I thought this morning about the “tightrope” I’ve been walking lately and it seems that I haven’t done the best job balancing things in my world. Having said that, it doesn’t mean what I have done, I’ve done poorly either. It just means that in regards to the activities that bring me great pleasure, I’ve not given them the time they deserve and in turn, I haven’t given myself the time I deserve.
Administrators must be sure to find the balance that helps keep them grounded in their work and their personal lives, so that they can go to work each day and be wholly present for their students, their staff, and their colleagues. Each one of us is only as good as what we bring to the job each day and I feel that when any one of us ignores other parts of our self, we aren’t able to truly do the work we need to do and be in the right mindset.
It is crucial that school administrators regularly find time, even if not every day, to participate in preferred activities that keep them grounded to their world outside of work no matter how much they love their job, their schools, and their students. I know for myself, that balance not only helps me walk the tightrope of work, it also helps me stay in the right frame of mind so that I continue to be fueled by my work and the enjoyment I get from it.
As a note, I did play nine holes of golf today. My game was as bad as the last time I played, however, it was good to take the time, laugh, and enjoy some great fall weather! My school work will be waiting for me tomorrow, however, I’ll be all the better for having taken the time today!
Next week is going to be a tough one at my school. My staff know it, my parents know it, and my returning students know it.
It's going to be tough because coming into the building will be a new cohort, representing about 25% of the school population, who are not happy with school. Don't get me wrong, they are great kids, with wonderful potential. It's just that they are hurting.
They are hurting because, for a myriad of reasons, they have become convinced that they can' t learn; that they are not as capable as their friends; and, that school is a negative place for them. It doesn't have to be that way. I am a big fan of Carol Dweck. My wife Rheanne (who is the most reflective educator that I have ever known) reminded me today that Dweck poses a framework to refocus students on their potential for self-fulfillment. Her thesis on nurturing a "growth mindset" in students is a powerful argument for directed, positive reinforcement of executive functioning skills and work ethic in students. She contrasts a growth mindset with that of a "fixed mindset", a difference which she defines this way:
In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that's that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don't necessarily think everyone's the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.
Many of my new students have a fixed mindset. They are totally convinced that they can't learn, that they are "dumb" (to use Carol's term) and that school is a place that is filled with frustration and failure. They have suffered under the misapprehension that they are "dumb" because they have done their best and have come up short. They are often articulate, creative and highly interested and motivated students, and when they "fail" it is interpreted by teachers (and even sometimes by their own parents) as being a product of their own lack of persistence, effort and grit. How many report cards have you read that say "Work harder and you will succeed"; or, "Not working up to ability"; or, "Needs to make a greater effort" ? Now I am a big believer in true "grit". They even made a movie about it - twice! But I watch these kids, who have more grit than any I have ever known, beat themselves up because they believe that they just can't do it.
For these students, repeated failure has cemented a fixed mindset in place. Unlike the student who is so highly praised for mediocre work, (a common occurrence given the inflation of marks and the deflation of evaluative language - does anyone get less than a SUPER!!!! written on their work anymore?), these students get firmly convinced that they are incapable of completing what appear the simplest tasks for their peers to do. Their self-esteem plummets, and they become convinced that no matter how much they persevere, they will surely fail.
So where is the balance? Years ago I had the privilege of teaching alongside William Watson Purkey Jr.(Self Concept and School Achievement, 1970) at the University of Connecticut. Bill Purkey (University of North Carolina) and my friend John Novak (Brock University) wrote Inviting School Success in 1984. Their work in invitational education struck the right note between empty praise, and potentially limiting criticism. They saw invitational education as a general framework for thinking and acting about what is believed to be worthwhile in schools. It centred on five basic principles: (1) students are able, valuable, and responsible, and should be treated accordingly; (2) educating should be a collaborative, cooperative activity; (3) the process is the product in the making; (4) people possess untapped potential in all areas of worthwhile human endeavor; and (5) this potential can best be realized by places, policies, programs, and processes specifically designed to invite development, and by people who are intentionally inviting with themselves and others personally and professionally.
Purkey once told me "anything worth doing is worth doing poorly - the first time". The secret is to see learning as a continuum rather than a series of isolated successful or unsuccessfully completed tasks.Learning is a work in progress. It is a developmental process that can easily be derailed as soon as we adults put a value judgement on it (e.g. "good work", A+, C-, etc.). Finite assessments, no matter how well intentioned or justified, stop the learning process and lead to not only fixed mindsets in our students about their ability and potential, but also in our own professional judgements about them as learners.
So the real question is: "Who is the architect of the fixed mindset"? Is is the parent who thinks that her or his struggling child can do nothing right? Is it the student who receives so much discouragement at school that she or he is convinced that every test will be a disaster; every assignment an F-; every speech a clunker; and, every team tryout, an early cut? Or is it us educators who are quick and easy with both our praise and our critical judgements? It is easy to avoid inflating an ego, and encouraging a work ethic; but, it is even easier to crush the spirit of a learner and prejudge their perseverance based upon our vague perception of how well they "should" do. Unfortunately, in the final analysis, all too often it is us, as teachers and administrators, who place these limits on growth.
So what should we do? To begin with, we have to undo the damage that years of failure have caused. We have to create new pathways to achievement; celebrate each small success; open students' eyes to the fact that no-one is perfect and that everyone has her or his own individual path to follow. We are lucky in our school. We have a dedicated faculty and staff who are so numerous that is almost impossible for a student to fall between the cracks. For most students, we are a way station between a frustrating beginning to their school careers, and a much more balanced and satisfying end.
I could speak to you about differentiation and IEPs and one on one tutoring but the reality is exactly as Carol Dweck says. We try to instil in our students a flexible mindset. Our goal is to make them understand that their journey is a personal one and that the route that they follow will be uniquely theirs.
Will every one of our students reach their full potential? Who knows! Our job, as with every great teacher in thousands of schools across this continent, is to open their minds to the possibilities. To have that flexible mindset that says: "if I have the will, and the perseverance, there is definitely a way".
None of our students, nor us, should ever accept that there are limits on growth.
L2L News: August 2013
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-mail newsletter for ASCD constituent group leaders that builds capacity to better serve members, provides opportunities to promote and advocate for ASCD’s Whole Child Initiative, and engages groups through sharing and learning about best practices. To submit a news item for the L2L newsletter, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in a Position on the Board of Directors?
ASCD’s 2013–2014 Nominations Committee will be seeking qualified individuals interested in running for a position on the Board of Directors in 2014. The application process opens on September 1 and closes November 30. Beginning September 1, you can visit www.ascd.org/nominations to access the application form and information about qualifications for office and the time commitment involved (Board members serve a four-year term). If you have any questions, you can contact Governance Director Becky DeRigge at email@example.com.
ASCD Kicks Off August Recess Campaign!
Don’t let your senators go on vacation. Take advantage of Congress’s August recess by asking your senators to become cosponsors of S.1063, the Effective Teaching and Leading Act. This important bill supports induction and mentoring programs and enhances ongoing professional development for teachers and school leaders. The more cosponsors and support the bill has, the more likely it will be added to the Senate’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization bill when it’s considered on the Senate floor.
The ASCD Public Policy Team has created an easy-to-use checklist of activities to help guide your involvement, social media instructions with tips and sample messages, and a one-page resource with background information and talking points about the bill. Start by sending your senators an automated e-mail that asks them to cosponsor the bill. Then, share these resources with your colleagues, and encourage them to get involved. Questions? E-mail the policy team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vote on proposed changes to the ASCD Constitution: Coming Late Fall
ASCD members will be asked to vote on a set of proposed changes to the ASCD Constitution in the fall of 2013. Please visit www.ascd.org/governance to view the changes. If you have any questions, you can contact Governance Director Becky DeRigge at email@example.com.
U.S. House Passes the Student Success Act
The U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) rewrite for the first time since the law expired six years ago. The Student Success Act (PDF), which passed on a party-line vote, dramatically reduces the federal role in education, particularly in the areas of school accountability and improvement. The bill also eliminates 71 programs that support individual subjects and disciplines that comprise a well-rounded education. ASCD sent a letter to the House as it prepared to debate the bill, which emphasized the importance of a comprehensive education and the need to base student, educator, and school accountability on multiple measures of performance. ASCD’s Capitol Connection e-newsletter covered the bill’s progress and will keep you updated on the NCLB rewrite process throughout the coming weeks.
Over 200 Leaders Gather for the 2013 Leader to Leader Conference
Last month, ASCD leaders met at the Hyatt Dulles hotel for the 2013 Leader to Leader (L2L) Conference. ASCD staff would like to thank attendees for a great conference and for their dedication and renewed commitment. Attendees have already provided extremely helpful feedback in the conference evaluation that will help inform future improvements to the conference. A follow-up activity to the Idea Marketplace will be coming soon!
Resources – We used several resources during L2L that we invite you to check out.
Connecting – Check out some of the action from L2L!
Reflections from L2L:
ASCD Emerging Leaders Sound Off on ASCD EDge and How to Learn
Check out these great posts from ASCD Emerging Leaders Kevin Goddard and Dawn Chan. Feel free to comment and share!
Please Welcome New Affiliate Executive Directors
Please join ASCD in welcoming the following individuals as they begin their new roles as ASCD affiliate executive directors:
Thank You to Outgoing Affiliate Executive Directors
Several affiliate executive directors have recently transitioned out of their leadership roles. ASCD would like to take a moment to thank these leaders for their years of work and dedication in the affiliate executive director role, striving to ensure that each child in each community is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. You will be missed!
Cindy Marchand, Massachusetts ASCD
Deborah Baker, Maine ASCD
Pat McNeil, Michigan ASCD
Pete Ziegler, Minnesota ASCD
Thanks and Farewell to Plymouth State University ASCD Student Chapter Advisors
ASCD and New Hampshire ASCD Executive Director Sue Copley wish to thank Marianne True and Gerard Buteau for their leadership as faculty advisors for the Plymouth State University ASCD Student Chapter. Together, True and Buteau have energized and mentored pre-service teachers to initiate a wide variety of educational and service-oriented projects. True and Buteau have helped raise funds that allowed many Plymouth State University chapter members to attend the ASCD Annual Conference. Marianne True also initiated the Student Chapter Service Project that precedes the start of the ASCD Annual Conference and draws student chapters members from across the country and Canada. Thank you both for your years of service!
Policy Priorities Focuses on Principal Growth
ASCD’s newest issue of Policy Priorities chronicles the importance of principal evaluation and growth. Recognizing that principals fill a wider variety of roles than ever before, states and districts are increasingly turning their attention towards quality and fair principal evaluation; as of 2009, 33 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation requiring the adoption of new evaluation systems for principals. The issue highlights the importance of continuous principal training for their growing role as evaluators and the burgeoning trend of including student performance and growth as a component of principal evaluations.
Learning from L2L
At the recent ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) conference, attendees had a series of passionate unconference conversations. Several groups refined their thoughts into a series of presentations to share with other attendees in an “idea marketplace.” During the idea marketplace, unconference groups presented for four rounds of 10-minute sessions, giving their peers the opportunity to learn from several groups in one session. Groups are invited to share their experiences and thoughts with the wider ASCD audience on the Whole Child Blog. The following are a few of the most recent entries:
Check back for more entries from other participants. Join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #ASCDL2L.
Something to Talk About
Ratiu Diana Linda
Secondary School ,,Virgil Iovanas“ Sofronea – Arad
Great teachers have certain traits and attributes that leave gratitude and endearing moments in their students. They have many essential virtues, the most important one being creativity. An English language teacher should possess the ability of creative teaching which brings joy in the classroom. Creativity is transforming one thing into another or making something new or a new version of something. ‘Something’ might be how you respond to a situation in class or how you manage to do many things at the same time or when you see the funny side of something and tell someone else. Of course, it is also when you devise activities and make materials. Everybody is creative but the concept is often used to divide people into those that are creative and those that are not. This is plain wrong. Education must cultivate not stifle the creativity which lies within all of us. A creative teacher will not be afraid to take risks. He / she will be willing to experiment and will try to be innovative by attempting new things. A creative teacher “thinks out of the box”. The creative teacher uses numerous activities which include experiments, role-plays, simulations, cooperative learning activities, group projects, technology (Internet Research and PowerPoint presentations). This type of teacher would consider himself /herself as a facilitator who facilitates and makes English fun to learn. Rather than sticking to the black board and chalk, the teacher can use modern technology in the class. He/she can prepare Power Point presentations for the lecture session. The teacher can introduce the e-learning method in the class. The use of multimedia, Internet and digital technologies will have a greater effect on the students. This will enrich the learning environment of the language classroom. In my experience, people hold very different views of creativity. Some think they aren’t creative at all and it is only the privileged and artistically talented who can be considered creative. Others think that to cook a good dinner is already a clear sign of creativity. Why is creativity important in language classrooms?
Have you ever found that you wanted to do something but you did not have the right tool / material to do it, and then you found some way of using another object / material and managed somehow? E.g. You opened a bottle or a tin without a bottle or tin opener or substituted an ingredient in a recipe with another ingredient. Have you every changed an activity in your course book or a resource book to match the needs of a particular group you teach? YES? There you go, you are creative! Are my students creative in my lessons? Do you ever get your students to speak about, write about, draw about or mime what they think? Do your students say things in the foreign language they never heard or read? Do you ever get them to think about rules, problems and how things and language work instead of just telling them? Do you sometimes give them tasks where there is no one possible answer and the answers will vary from one learner to another? YES? There you go, your students have opportunities to think creatively in your classes already! Deviating from the coursebook can be a challenge for teachers working with a strict syllabus, but applying a little imagination can be highly effective and fun. Creativity is not an optional extra for a language teacher, something off the wall to do on a Friday afternoon perhaps. Rather, creativity should be the teacher's best friend. For too long English language teachers have worried about finding the best method, the quickest, most efficient way to teach languages. But this quest for a pedagogic holy grail, however noble, is destined to fail, and for many reasons, not least because there are far too many variables flying around. There's simply no best method. There can't be any top-down, one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach that does justice to the complexity of learning a language. I would like to suggest that far from being panacea, principled, creative methodology can go a long way towards making the practice of teaching a second language more effective, and certainly much more enjoyable for both learners and teachers. So what do we mean by "creativity"? It is best defined as a cluster of skills to fashion a product or product to be considered "creative" it should be new and useful. Why is creativity a necessity in the classroom? First off, because creativity is valued and appreciated by our students. Some years ago a very interesting survey was carried out in the UK: some 700 secondary school students were asked to think about the characteristics of a great teacher. What they said was that a great teacher is someone who's original, caring and fair (in that order). It would seem students clearly appreciate imaginative teachers who know how to stretch beyond the tried and tested, and keep looking for new ways to make lessons more stimulating. But creativity matters to teachers as well. As part of a study on teacher motivation, over 150 teachers have been asked to comment on the reasons why they chose teaching English as a career. The result was that for many, having an opportunity to use imaginative approaches to teaching and design activities from scratch was a driving force. There are a number of possible reasons for this. For some teachers, a lesson is similar to a work of art, or their own motivation to teach is fuelled by the creative process. For others this creative approach helps them stave off the routine. Some have said that, ultimately, they owe it to themselves and to their students to be creative. Others just want to have a little bit of fun. There's another reason why teachers should use (more) creativity in their classes. Just close your eyes for a few seconds, bring your students nearer: what do you see? They have very different backgrounds, different learning styles, different learning experiences, different degrees of motivation, different language levels and different intelligences and cognitive styles. Unless we bring imaginative approaches to teaching we will have failed to reach out to the very diverse cognitive and emotional needs of our students.
Think about this too: a creative teacher knows how to get her students' attention, and also knows how to keep it. A creative teacher knows how to teach and test in ways that are meaningful to the students. A creative teacher will always find ways to make her lessons stick. There's more: teachers operate in a very unpredictable context, and lesson planning and expertise can only help navigate the uncertainties to some extent. In addition, teachers need the willingness to improvise and create lesson plans on the spot that respond to students' needs as they arise. Having said that, being creative in class is often easier said than done. There isn't an algorithm to make us creative, and what is certain is that creativity needs to be cajoled and nurtured. Probably the best way to invite creativity is to take stock and reflect for a minute on the obstacles and challenges we have to face. First of all, it may be seen as hard for colleagues who teach to a test or work with an extremely regimented syllabus to do things differently. This is undeniably true most of the time, but experience tells me that this is often something some colleagues say to justify their unwillingness to change. There is also always a way to do things differently in class without upsetting the establishment. By far the biggest hurdle is working in an environment that doesn't value creative methodology.
My advice in this case is to start small, and be extremely patient. Keep telling yourself that all creative individuals have had to face hard challenges, and that sticking to one's gun is a true mark of creative people. Fear of failure is another problem: what if my students won't like this exercise? This happens quite a lot. Being creative implies getting out of a comfortable cocoon; it's a little like how children learn to ride a bicycle. They'll fall off but they'll get there in the end. Don't try to do too much too soon. If it is true that students appreciated surprises, it is also true that they don't like to be shocked. So, if you've always used a coursebook, for example, continue to do so, but try to come up with your own ideas to personalise it, see how the students react and think about how to do things better next time. Also, don't forget to have fun. Perhaps the great French surrealist writer André Breton said it best: "Teacher, enjoy yourself or you'll bore us!" Creative activities for language learning energize students to think and to use language in new ways. By injecting humor whenever possible, motivation grows and develops. Used regularly, the group, pair, and single-person activities allows students to communicate on a vast array of subjects and try on an endless series of linguistic strategies. They combine the serious tasks with fanciful and creative thinking, self-disclosure and out-right silliness. The activities are also highly teacher-friendly. The groups are chosen, the topic explained, and the students converse until obliged to stop. Students talk, write and think creatively, all at the same time. Thus all teachers have the potential to become creative. Whether you are experienced or new to the classroom, being creative allows your teaching to take flight. It shows that: - creativity, so often overlooked, is crucial to successful teaching; - the creative potential of teachers can be developed; - creativity will almost always bring changes for the better.
Here are some useful ideas for teachers:
1. The Stick: Invite Ls to use a stick to mean another thing. As Ls mime, other students guess the object. You may want to set the activity by demonstrating what to do. Transition: An object into another object.
2. The Envelope Game
1. Put students into small groups. Give each group an envelope. Tell them to think of a general outline for a story they would like to hear. They draw a picture to illustrate the story on the front of the envelope (about 5 minutes).
2. They pass their envelope to the group on their right. The group upon receiving an envelop looks at the picture and write the story and place it inside the envelope. Give about 10 minutes for writing the story.
3. Ask the groups once again to pass their envelope to the group on their right. Remind the groups that they should not read what is in someone else's envelope. They write their version of the story to go with the picture. Give about 7 minutes of writing.
4. Repeat the process one more time. This time give them 5 minutes writing time.
5. Envelopes now return to their "owners". Stories are taken out and read. Groups decide which story they like best and/or which story corresponds the closest to the story they were looking for.
6. Each group reads the selected story out loud.
3. Blind ignorance Ss get a word card on their backs or forehead. They mingle and get information from their peers and guess the word.
4.Oral gap fill A group of Ss get a word/phrase. They jump up when they hear their word in a story the teacher reads out. Next, the teacher pauses before the word comes in the text. Ss need to jump up and shout their words when it fits the context.
5. Transforming an object into another object Using an object to stand for another object in mime, drama or role play e.g. using a stick as a baton, a fishing rod or an oar, etc. Inventing unusual uses for an object, e.g. brainstorm ideas what you could use a chair for and how you would need to change it. E.g. a wheel chair, a throne, a flower stand, a table, etc.
6. Transforming problems into solutions Problem solving, puzzles, dilemmas, clashing-interests role plays, simulations, negotiations
7. The mystery word:
1.Pick one student to come and sit in a chair facing the class.
2. Put a word (appropriate level) on board. Tell students not to say word out loud.
3. Explain to class the person in chair will call on them to give him/her a ONE-WORD clue in order to guess the word (for example: Mystery word is SUN: yellow, sky, hot, etc.) The student who gives the last clue that helps the person guess the Mystery Word is "it."
8. Chinese Whispers: Teacher asks students to write a word on a piece of paper. Tell somebody your word; he goes on and tells the other person; the last one writes it on the board. Students work in 2 teams. They get points for each correct word.
9. Follow-up activity to Chinese Whispers: Students are asked to use all the words on the board and make a story in 5 minutes. Change partners and tell each other the story. Most teachers accept that learning is most effective when it is enjoyable, but they are given little direct advice about how to achieve the creative and motivating classrooms that educationalists appeal for.
Since many students are bored by the monotony of the school day, how can teachers stimulate them so that they are more engaged in their schoolwork and learning in general? How many of the students are paying attention? How can I reach the others? How can I engage them in their learning? How can I empower them to take responsibility for their learning? It is becoming increasingly important and necessary for teachers to justify their classroom procedures to administrators, parents and their students. When I started having my students play games, it was mostly for taking a break from the monotony of teaching from a book, filling extra class time or reviewing for a test. Now, having researched and learned about the deep, critical learning that takes place while game playing, I realize that games have more purpose than creating fun in the classroom. It is becoming increasingly important and necessary for teachers to justify their classroom procedures to administrators, parents and their students. What do I like about teaching? It’s by far the emotional energy and that feeling of membership you get when you share a teaching/learning experience with a group. If you can stimulate your students, you have a better chance at keeping them interested in learning more. But being creative offers more benefits than just holding a kid's attention. If you are able to present material in many different ways, your students have a better chance of understanding it. Being a creative teacher encourages students to be creative learners too. To sum up, teaching creatively and thus meeting the needs of the new generation of learners ultimately has to do with inspiring and allowing them to be imaginative, creative and involved in their English language learning. Integrating language learning and drawing can turn into a motivating tool even at university level. Preparing power point presentations can challenge students’ creativity even further. Using a variety of methods and approaches caters for the students’ multiple intelligences and their different styles of learning and hopefully each learner finds something positive and stimulating that boosts her motivation to learn English.
1. Carter Ronald, ‘Language and creativity: the art of common talk’, London, Routledge,2004.
2. Cszikszentmihalyi. M., ‘Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention’, New York, Harper Perennial, 1997.
3. Ur P. & Wright A., ‘Five Minute Activities Cambridge’, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
4. Davis P. & Rinvolucri M., ‘Dictation’ Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990.
August 11, 2013
An Open Letter to the NC GOP:
You have failed the children of your state.
This is not meant to be just a dramatic sentiment that pulls the heartstrings of the reader. It is meant to remind the people who put you into office that you are incapable of doing what is best for children.
With your new budget, you have effectively dismantled the education system in your state and sent a clear message to all of your teachers. That message is: get out while you can.
Who among you in the legislature wants to feel devalued in their profession? Who among you would like to better themselves professionally at your own expense without seeing the rewards of doing so? Who among you would like the rug pulled out from under you every time you turn around? Who among you would like to lose their job when a poorly constructed performance evaluation indicates that you are terrible at what you do though the parameters of the evaluation are, in large part, beyond your control? Who among you qualifies for public assistance as an educated and employed professional?
A decade ago, there were projections being made about the number of teachers that North Carolina would need in the coming years. At the time, back in 2003, it was tens of thousands. Because of the populations of students in some of your neediest areas, teacher turnover was already excessively high, and that’s before factoring in class sizes, high-stakes testing, and low pay. Exclusive of teacher assistants, NC has approximately 90,000 teachers teaching approximately 1.5 million students. That’s a ratio of about 1 teacher for every 17 students, a generalization that doesn’t factor in geography, population concentrations, content area numbers or grade level numbers. That generalization also doesn’t factor in which of those 90,000 teachers are Special Ed or intervention level support. We do know that class sizes are already too large in many cases and they are about to get larger.
The legislature has paved a road of inequity upon which a mass exodus of teachers in your state will walk.
When you planned for the gutting of education in NC, did you also plan for the consequences; the ramifications of your actions? What will this mean a year from now? 5 years from now? 10 years from now? Is public education blatantly being sidelined in preparation for the privatization of learning, a step that will reward the haves and punish the have nots? Did you plan for who will ultimately clean up the mess you’ve created, which, in the long run will be potentially more expensive than justly funding education in the first place?
I’m ashamed of your willingness to make your constituents feel abandoned and hopeless. I’m sad that the pervasive mood going into the next school year is one of defeat, anguish, and despair. I’m deeply troubled that students will ultimately be the ones affected when the quality teachers move on to greener pastures.
The only hope I have is that those NC Teachers going back into their classrooms this Fall will teach civic responsibility, community values, and critical thinking like they’ve never taught them before, so that this generation doesn’t grow up believing that public education is an undeserving budgetary castaway. I hope that NC Teachers will teach how deeply we must know our elected officials and what they stand for and what they won’t stand for.
I also hope that your children, especially those in public schools, have what they need to be prepared for college or careers in light of the extraordinary obstacles you have placed in front of your state’s teachers.
I stand in solidarity today with my educator brothers and sisters in North Carolina.
Former NC Teacher
In inquiry learning, students learn through investigating. Students might read primary sources, interview, read newspaper articles and web sites, conduct experiments, or collect data from surveys. Various approaches fall within the umbrella of inquiry learning and these approaches have overlapping elements. In problem-based learning students work to solve a real-life, relevant challenge. In expeditionary learning students present their findings to an audience that includes experts on the topic. In service learning, students might first investigate the situation they are trying to help remedy through their service.
In project-based learning students produce authentic products. As in the other approaches, small group work often is used.
In inquiry learning, elements of problem-based learning, expeditionary learning, service learning and project-based learning can be incorporated.
The phrase student-centered inquiry learning connotes that the topic of the investigation is relevant to students or, through hooks, their interest has been peaked; and that they have choices.
The reality of learning in 2013 is a matter of perspective, but it’s clear that most K-20 learning environments are teacher-led and academic (as opposed to self-directed and authentic).
While we often write about new ways to learn using new thinking, new models, and new technology, there is absolutely a role for teacher-led, academic learning in the 21st century; being “led by the teacher” isn’t always a bad thing.
In fact, the role of the human being is likely to becoming increasingly important in education no matter how deeply technology is infused in the learning process. While content-area expertise may seem to be less important with modern access to information, no matter how intelligent adaptive learning models become in the next ten years, nothing will surpass the intimacy of a human being—a person that can view and adjust the persistent interaction between a student and content.
It is in this “teacher important” and highly-academic context that we’re going to take a look at common disruptors of academic performance.
The pedagogical approach of curriculum–>teacher–>student rewards efficiency, data extraction, and meaningful responsiveness to that data. This naturally makes some things (assessment and feedback) more important than others (grading).
In terms of student performance in the classroom (which is different than how deeply they understand content), there are a variety of potential disruptors. Two of the most powerful of these are basic literacy skills and socioeconomic status, facts that have spawned dozens of programs over the years—including Title I—in response.
It is likely clear to most educators then that reading levels and poverty impact academic progress, as do peer pressure, self-confidence, personal events in students’ life, the “luck of the draw” in terms of what peers and teachers a student gets assigned to, and dozens of other factors.
It’s not all on you.
Only it kind of is, because these all are “excuses” in this modern—and dangerous—game of accountability in education.
No matter the circumstances, every student deserves the best education possible—a fact both swelling with rhetoric and absolutely true.
Which means as educators we have to understand many of the potential barriers to both understanding and classroom performance. So below we look at 10 of the less common, “silent” disruptors of student academic performance—factors that move beyond literacy, poverty, lack of technology access, and other admittedly powerful but already widely disseminated ideas.
Note, This post is not meant to be critical of teachers. (Every TeachThought staff writer is a certified teacher!) Rather, these are simply 10 admittedly subjective theories that are meant to help identify the most common barriers to student achievement.
Image attribution flickr user isafmedia
10 Silent Disruptors Of Student Academic Performance
10. Student Disorganization
Every teacher has that student—the one that comes into the classroom with a pile of papers stacked high enough to hide their face as they waddle in.
Middle school teachers especially have seen the way disorganization can impact note-taking (unlikely), note-keeping (ha!), and careful study of notes and other learning materials that can result in understanding of content, and thus academic success.
9. Student Work Not Within ZPD
Without differentiation or personalized learning, for the majority of the class any work given will likely fall outside of their Zone of Proximal Development.
In the same way it wouldn’t stress a marathon runner to run three times around the block, nor would it makes sense to have them run a thousand miles, choosing the right work at the right time in just the right amount can be a huge boon not only to student understanding, but long-term classroom success.
8. Weak Response to Data
We’ll talk more about data below, but suffice to say that while teachers are getting better at extracting, analyzing, and sharing data, meaningfully responding to that data in a timely manner every single day is another matter entirely.
Timely, meaningful, and consistent responses to data are crucial to student learning.
7. Lack of Teacher Clarity
Whether it’s a lack of clarity in learning goals, muddy procedures, difficult-to-follow teacher questioning, a confusing instructional sequence, or a disconnect between a literacy strategy and the content to be learned, it very well may be that you make sense to most of the class while still leaving 1/3 or more behind—a large portion that learns to smile, give eye-contact, and ask cursory questions, then seek out peers to fill in the gaps the best they can.
6. Teacher Lack of Content or Pedagogical Knowledge
Or a disconnect between the learning goal and the planned lesson.
Many teachers are experts—or near experts—in their content areas, passionate life-long learners that eat up every science essay, literary magazine, or war monument they can find.
Others are “master teachers,” engrossed in the planning of authentic learning experiences for students.
Very, very few teachers are both. At some point, one or another takes hold in a teacher’s professional pathway, making it easy to lose sight of the other. When that happens, some area of student learning will suffer: dry, irrelevant expertly delivered content, or interesting, critical poorly-packaged learning activities.
And both are killers.
5. Mapping Mistakes (no iteration, practice, awkward sequencing, etc.)
Curriculum maps aren’t staid and static documents for you to adhere to and “be compliant with district expectations”—or rather they shouldn’t be. A well designed—and responsive and flexible—curriculum map is your friend. Mistakes at the curriculum planning level can take years for teachers and students to overcome.
4. Unmanageable Data
You may have data, but it’s incredibly time-consuming to extract. Planning, designing, and producing the assessment, then administering it (with make-up assessments), evaluating student performance (i.e., grading it), organizing learning feedback in a way that makes sense and it helpful to students, then reporting said progress (i.e., entering grades), then taking that data, repackaging it in a way that can be visualized and comprehended, then performing item analyses, making inferences about missed questions and distractors, etc., then taking all of that data and modifying and personalizing planned instruction for each student—and doing all of this consistently—is a significant burden even with technology.
The first step in mitigating this elephant-in-the-classroom of problematic data is to make it more manageable on a consistent basis, and simply organizing teachers into “data teams” is a decent but ultimately insufficient response.
3. Assessment Design
The test results may show weak academic performance, but it could be because the test isn't assessing what you think it is.
Or you’ve chosen an assessment form that only obscures what students understand rather than letting them show it.
If you suspect students know more than they show, this could be a big reason why.
Assessment design is one of least well-understood areas of pedagogy.
2. Lack of Transitions Between Macro and Micro Views of Content
You may have done well explaining what a thesis statement is and is not, where they do and do not belong, and why every argument essay needs one, but students may have no idea why having a position on a given issue is important, much less how to communicate it and what on earth that has to do with a column on a rubric you just handed them.
Moving from big picture—the why and when—to the little picture—exactly how—can help those students that struggle to make that kind of transition themselves. Some students are detailed, micro-thinkers, while others are design-level, big picture surveyors. This means you need to move back and forth as often as you want them to.
1. Minimal Depth to Knowledge
Whether you use Bloom’s Taxonomy, Depth of Knowledge, Understanding by Design’s 6 Facets of Understanding, TeachThought’s Simple Learning Taxonomy, or something else entirely, it is likely clear to you that not all understanding is created equal.
While a student may be able to define tone, or perimeter, or immigration, or mitosis, or any number of other content strands, being able to transfer that understanding—to use that knowledge in new and unfamiliar situations without prompting—is another matter entirely.
Simply put, students that deeply understand content—and the context of that content—rarely will bomb an assessment, struggle to complete assignments, or perform poorly in school.
After meeting with various teachers, administrators, “resume pros,” interviewers, fellow students, mentors, and so on, I felt that I was able to finally condense everything I learned into a creative and effective resume. I was able to successfully attain a job as a social science teacher at a Chicago land high school and believe much of my success began with my resume. Below is a list of tips and advice that I believe should be helpful to teachers, especially new ones, as they search for jobs. Feel free to comment, add on, and especially criticize what I have to say (I do not believe that this list is the end all be all of resume tips, it is simply what I felt was the most effective during my interview process):
1. 1. 1 page resumes (especially new teachers)
- I found many educators pushed me to have a 2 page resume. Condensing to 1 page is important because new teachers tend to fall short on significant meaningful experience, which make a resume 2 or more pages long.
- These jobs are extremely competitive. Think 250 applicants for a single opening. When I see a couple paragraph news article, sure I’ll read it. If the same article is 5 pages long, most times I will take a pass (As I think to myself, I cannot even follow my own advice writing this blog)
2. 2. GET INVOLVED
- Get involved with your school and in your community and anything that has to do with working with kids (camps, babysitting, volunteer work)
- Everyone will tell you, join groups that have to do with your major (NCSS for me). Just by paying that $35 student rate fee for joining groups means very little on your resume. Try and get involved in these groups however you can so you have something meaningful to write in your resume or say in an interview. If you are young this shows you are a go getter.
3. 3. FORMAT CORRECTLY
- No white spaces or areas. Do not use just a simple line as a space. Using the page layout tools to put different spaces like 6 pt and 3 pt. between lines. I used 6 pt. for section spaces and 3 pt. for lists under the sections
- Have clearly defined sections of your resume. For this everyone’s may be different depending on their experience and skills. I played with the margins also so that it fit on a single page and go rid of the standard 1” margins.
4. 4. DO NOT STATE THE OBVIOUS
- Do not write that you are CPR certified, Suicide Prevention Suicide Certified (for my Indiana peeps), or you followed students IEPs during student teaching. It is a given that you are certified and followed IEPS otherwise it would be illegal for you to teach
- If you are a basketball coach, do not write you helped players with their jump shots. It sounds childish and pretty obvious, if you organized activities or did something significant put that down, otherwise leave it as Coach Basketball at _____ (I made this mistake on my resume and it made it look a bit unprofessional)
5. 5. BE MYSTERIOUS
- In other words your resume should give a brief but descriptive outline of yourself, but leave it open for a conversation where it leaves the reader wanting to know more about YOU
- I ALWAYS say this to my friends when I look at their resumes. You do not need a ton of bullet points under each activity you did. While you should highlight the important aspects of your job or activity, leave some things open for discussion during interviews.
- For example, I did UVA’s Semester at Sea and I left my description sounding exciting but leaving out details. It has come up in almost every interview I have had. When talking about things that are truly impressive you have done, your words spoken will excite an administrator much more than your words written.
6. 6. OBJETIVE
- Make sure that you have an objective- “To obtain a challenging and rewarding position……”
7. 7. CLEAR AND CONCISE IS THE NAME OF THE GAME
- When you are writing do not fluff up your resume with long drawn out impressive sentences. Be clear and concise with what you want to say. Remember there are 250 other resumes fighting for that same job
As a final note I want everyone reading this to know that this is simply my take on a solid resume. I am in still in search of answers, information and guidance. With that said, feel free to give me feedback, whether it’s something positive like, “Trevor you are a genius” (which I know is doubtful) or if you want to take a huge dump on my post and say something like, “How the hell did you get job?” Either way, give me your opinion and comments because my hope is to get some discussion going to further my development along with others in the teaching community.
You can contact Trevor at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on twitter MrFritz8.
Have you ever heard the story of crabs in a barrel? Basically, it goes something like this. If you have a bunch of crabs in a barrel they will work to pull each other down as they attempt to climb out of the barrel. Furthermore, it is said, that if they were to work together, then they could all get out of the barrel.
In education, are we much different than crabs in a barrel? Think about your classroom, hallway, grade level, school, or district for a minute. Ponder on those who consistently go above and beyond the call of duty, those that transcend the status quo. Now think about how they are treated by others, even yourself. Are most people saying positive things about them? Or do they develop conspiracy theories on “how they got to where they are?” Others may say that another’s success can be attributed to the clothes they wear, their age, their race, if they play a particular sport, or maybe are involved in a particular social media endeavor. You have heard it before. There are so many adages at work to pull us farther down into the barrel such as, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Or so and so always gets the opportunity because s/he is in the right crowd.”
Ironically, we often find ourselves telling our students to not “pull each other down into the barrel,” but are we setting the proper example? Kids often fall prey to the crab mentality. Students who make the honor roll, excel at an instrument, or are advanced proficient on a state assessment are often looked at in a negative light. Think about it, kids aren’t much different than we are, are they?
Here are some things to ponder about being a crab in a barrel:
- Why do we have trouble celebrating others successes?
- Why do we make up excuses when someone else has a success, as opposed to attributing it to hard work?
- What will it take to change the crabs in a barrel paradigm?
- When was the last time you helped to celebrate someone else’s success?
- Are you building up, rather than tearing down?
- Do we think another person’s successes will cause you to have to do more work?
Here are some things that are said, with maybe the best intentions, but still work to pull down, rather than build up:
- You are working too hard, you are going to burn out!
- You know, you won’t get paid any extra for all of this extra stuff
- You are starting to make us look bad!
- Why do you ask so many questions? I want to get out of this meeting!
- Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
- I didn’t do ______________(insert project) because, well, what are they going to do?
- No matter what, we are protected by the union.
- So, how well do you know the ___________(insert leader position) outside of work?
As we strive for world class education for all students, we do not have time to pull each other down into the barrel. We need to change the paradigm, and turn that story into a fable, not a documentary.
The first day of school is still a ways off, but many teachers—especially those of us who just received our fall assignments—are already beginning to think about it. The day usually begins the same way: Our new students trickle in and find a desk where they can carefully guard their tongues for the next week. We feel for our students not only because we’ve been there before, but also because we always have some nervous energy ourselves. To ease the first-day jitters, we started using icebreakers. Below you will find five of our favorites.
Preparing for Opening Day: 5 of the best icebreakers for teachers
The only thing you’ll need for this activity is a big ball of string. Here’s how it works: The teacher stands at the door with two handfuls of string ends. As you welcome your new students give each student an end. Alternate hands as you pass them out: The first student gets a string-end from your right hand; the second from your left; the third from your right and so on.
Once everyone has arrived and has a string-end, they must start to follow the course of the string they hold (you got to class early and created a trail for each piece of string). Some pieces wrap around chairs, run through the coat closet, under and over desks and around your podium, or become tangled with other pieces of string. Your students will have to follow this trail—wherever it may lead them.
Eventually your students will be startled to discover that they are face-to-face with another student who is holding the other end of the same piece of string! Once each student has found his or her partner, it’s time for them to make their introductions.
Put on a new jacket
The covers of our most-popular books often become torn and dirty. Direct your students to the classroom library and have them select books with damaged jackets or book covers. If you don’t have enough damaged books, allow them to choose a book with their favorite cover they’d like to protect.
Offer a variety of craft materials (paint, pens, random ephemera and fabric) so that students can create their own covers and book jackets. If you’d like instruction books or kits for slipcases, stop by Hollanders.
This idea comes courtesy of Bonnie Kunzel’s and Constance Hardesty’s book, The Teen-Centered Book Club: Readers into Leaders.
Start a time capsule
Type up a handout that includes questions like:
Feel free to get as crazy and creative as you like with these questions. Once your students are finished, collect the handouts and put them in a secure place.
When I was in third grade, my teacher received permission from the principal to dig a hole and bury our class time capsule (which also included an item belonging to each student) in the playground! At the end of the year, we dug up our time capsule and discussed how much our interest, tastes and height had changed over the course of a year.
Know your orange
We got this idea from Christopher Willard’s book, Child’s Mind: Mindfulness Practices to Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm and Relaxed.
If you’d like to take this activity a few steps further, you might have your students journal about mindful tasting. Try giving them the following prompts:
Spill the Skittles, not the beans
Pass out five or ten Skittles (M&Ms work too) to each student and explain that for each piece of candy the student has, s/he must tell the class something about him/herself. Here’s the tricky part: each color corresponds to a category. An orange Skittle represents a scary memory; green ones represent a favorite outdoor place; blue ones represent their favorite place to swim and so on. This is an easy way to get students talking—and when was the last time kids turned down free sweets?
There are a number of variations on this activity. For a slightly different spin, check out Katie’s idea on her blog, live.craft.eat