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The more students there are in a classroom, the more time teachers are going to spend on classroom management. So it makes sense that teachers need to have as many classroom management tips - and tricks - at their disposal as possible in order to get the focus away from problem students and back to the lesson at hand. Thankfully, increased numbers of students in the classroom can be tempered with increased classroom technology; classroom management apps provide a way for teachers to work on keeping their students engaged and their classrooms under control.
5 Classroom Management Apps Every Teacher Needs to Know About
These five Classroom Management Apps have just made your world a whole lot easier. Try to use them all and see which works best for you. Your students will enjoy your technologically hip take on classroom control and you will enjoy a computer taking care of it for you.
I’ve been talking to teachers lately about creating an environment in their classrooms where students are free to make mistakes and supported in learning from their mistakes. I argue that learning from mistakes can be a powerful way of helping students learn. But the value in learning mistakes isn’t just limited to our students. As professionals, we need to learn from our mistakes as well. I realize that the environment in our profession isn’t exactly friendly to making and learning from mistakes right now, but I would encourage you to not let that stop you. Don’t be afraid to make the inevitable mistake or two in the classroom as you teach. Instead, be open to learning from your mistakes and using them to make your teaching stronger.
To get the ball rolling, I thought I’d share five mistakes I made early in my career and what I learned from them. Please share your mistakes as well in the comments section and let’s learn from each other.
What mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them?
(Elliott Seif is a member of the Understanding by Design cadre and a contributor to Educational Leadership. You can find this blog and others, along with numerous resources, that promote a forward looking educational approach at: www.era3learning.org)
Due to the impact of K-12 education budget cuts across the country, it is expected that school arts programs (e.g. music, visual arts, dance, theater) in many schools and districts will be reduced or eliminated next year. The arts are often the most vulnerable because they are not considered as important as other subjects and are not evaluated through a high stakes, standardized testing process.
But the reality is that the arts have a powerful impact on learning and are important in their own right. Here are ten reasons why, in a 21st century world, we should STRENGTHEN and EXPAND arts education, not reduce or eliminate it:
Reason 1: Many children come to school and stay in school because of the arts.
Let’s face it – for the most part, children like arts education!!! It is “hands on”, has immediate rewards, focuses on positive achievements, develops concrete products, and fosters collaboration. There are many opportunities to “show off” and demonstrate skills through authentic performance. The arts enable children to grow in confidence and think positively about themselves and learning.
Reason 2: Children learn positive habits, behaviors and attitudes through the arts.
Learning a musical instrument, creating a painting, learning to dance, or singing in a chorus teaches that taking small steps, practicing to get better at something, being persistent, and being patient, even in the face of adversity, are important for growth and improvement. In other words, the arts teach habits, behaviors and attitudes that are necessary for success in any field of endeavor.
Reason 3: The arts enhance creativity
Imagine an art class in which students create an original canvas filled with color and creative use of space; a music class where they develop their own rhythms; a theater class where they create and produce their own plays. The arts are a wonderful arena for fostering creativity, an important skill to have in a rapidly changing world.
Reason 4: The arts help students develop critical intellectual skills.
The arts foster critical higher levels of thinking that carry over to learning other subjects and in life. Through the arts, children learn to observe (What do you see in a painting?), interpret (How should we play this music?); see different perspectives (What is the artist’s perspective? What is your perspective?), analyze (Let’s take apart this play and study each part separately.) and synthesize (How do all the parts of the dance fit together to create a “whole”?).
Reason 5: The arts teach students methods for learning language skills.
As students learn to read notes, compose music, play an instrument, learn dance steps, create a painting, act in a drama, they are also learning how to develop new concepts, build vocabulary, and learn a new language.
Reason 6: The arts help students learn mathematics.
The arts require measurement, number manipulation, and proportional thinking, all of which foster mathematical thinking. Students also learn patterns (e.g. musical rhythms and dance patterns); spatial and geometric relationships (visual art patterns); and three-dimensional skills (making models of clay).
Reason 7: The arts expand on and enrich learning in other subjects.
Artworks provide a visual context for learning about historical periods. Music, painting, drama, and dance help literature come alive. Graphic designs and drawings, such as those made by inventors and engineers, complement learning about scientific and technological principles and innovations.
Reason 8: Aesthetic learning is its own reward.
The arts teach about beauty, proportion, and grace. They help to examine conflict, power, emotion, and life itself. The power of the arts is in its wondrous ability to give us joy, to help us understand tragedy, to promote empathy, and to make the written word come alive.
Reason 9: Children’s arts talents and interests are developed.
The arts provide an important avenue for developing a passion to learn, grow, improve, and do something productive with one’s life. Many children discover their talents and interests through the arts: they develop talents in acting, drama, painting, music, dance, sculpture, or creative writing.
Reason 10: The arts teach teamwork!! Children learn tolerance and understanding of others.
Through the arts, children learn how to work together to achieve great things. As they work together, they learn to understand differences and diversity. They learn how teamwork contributes to great performance. By teaching students how to live and work together, the arts contribute to making schools safer and more peaceful learning environments.
These are ten powerful reasons for keeping and strengthening school arts programs. By reducing or eliminating the arts from our educational programs, we are reducing the likelihood of student success. We are likely to lose more children and create a system that “fails” more students. We lose a significant part of the educational experience that enriches lives and helps our children to examine what it means to be human.
Write a letter of introduction and send it before school begins
This is something you should do before the first day of school, but we're throwing it on the list anyway.
Imagine opening your mailbox sometime in early August and finding a letter from your son or daughter’s prospective teacher. In the letter—addressed to both you and your child—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.
Make a big deal out of greeting students on the first day—and every day thereafter
Call us vain, but whenever we fly, we always appreciate the fact that the pilot and flight attendants stand in a row at the entrance, smile and say hello in a tone that suggests we are all long-lost friends. When we exit, we also appreciate the fact that they thank us for flying with them and wait to exit until the passengers have made their exit first. Sure, it’s their job to do this, but we appreciate the gesture: it shows class and makes us feel like we’re in good hands and appreciated.
Think of yourselves as pilots. It’s your job to help students reach their destination and keep them safe through the turbulence. But it’s also your job to make them feel appreciated. Greet your students every day—show them that you’re ready to and eager to explore a day of learning with them. Help them to feel that they are in a safe, fun environment.
For example, say “hello, how are you?” to every student. If someone was absent the day before, say, “Hi, Johnny. I’m glad to have you back. We missed having you yesterday. I like that tie, I like that new haircut…” It won’t take long for you to notice how this simple gesture impacts your relationship with students.
Ask your students to write a letter of introduction
One of our favorite first assignments is to have students submit a letter of introduction. We don’t evaluate the letter for spelling or punctuation and we make that clear when we assign it. If you teach a specific course, English for example, you might want your students to tell you about their experience with writing. Do they like it, loathe it? Why? Who was their favorite writing teacher and why? Where would they like to improve this year? How can you (the teacher) help them accomplish their goals?
Not only is this a useful way for students to assess their own goals for the year, it’s also an easy way to earn their first A+ of the year.
Dare to ask your students what they expect of you
On the first day of class, we spend a lot of time telling students what we expect of them and very little asking them what they expect of us. What if that changed this year?
Instead of creating a set of rules on your own, why not make it a collaborative activity between you and your students? We’ve done this using a poster board which we divide down the middle with a line. The left column is where we list our expectations of the students; the right is where the students list their expectations of us. Before writing anything down, make sure that there is dialogue and consensus between students. Of course, you have the right to intervene or refocus students when their expectations won’t do.
Join in on the fun
When it's your turn for recess duty, consider participating in a game rather than standing on the sidelines. If you're teaching at the secondary level, try running to grab a ball that has been thrown out of bounds on the lunchtime basketball courts, or visit a colleague's P.E. class during your prep. Playing with students is a great way to honor them and nurture relationships with them.
The playground is also a perfect location to have a conversation with students you’re worried about. Don’t take recess away from students who have misbehaved; use the change of scenery to your advantage. It’s much easier to talk to a student about what was going on inside the classroom when you are outside of it.
If you’re looking for a few more first day of school activities, check out one of our recent blogs, Preparing for Opening Day: 5 of the best icebreakers for teachers.
by Heidi Hayes Jacobs
So, it came down to one day, one test, at the Acropolis as the young men of Athens took out their #2 chisels to answer 30 questions on stone tablets. It is the annual timed test to prove the students’ knowledge and competence as they seek to become philosopher-kings. This valued test is the ultimate prize demonstrating not only the achievement of students, but also serves as the one key evaluation of the teacher.
Credit should be given to the test making company for developing multiple choice items with one correct answer given the challenging subject matter: philosophy and governance. Short answer constructed responses are a bit easier in those fields.
The results were posted in the Agora for all to see the quality and performance of their teacher. Socrates failed. He simply spent too much time asking them to think. A walk- through evaluation by his supervisor (undisclosed), determined that “ sometimes Socrates’s students meander through endless dialogues examining challenging questions that do not have one right answer.” Hopefully, he will be replaced or perhaps go through an intensive summer professional development program in Sparta.
The homework debate is one that has permeated education for many decades, and it shows no signs of slowing. Homework proponents perplex me, because the research is so overwhelmingly against homework's effectiveness.
After much consideration and my own exhaustive research, I stopped assigning homework a few years ago. Homework simply doesn't fit into a Results Only Learning Environment.
Although I could speak endlessly on the negatives of homework, I'll get right to the top five reasons I don't assign homework, in reverse order.
5 -- Virtually all homework involves rote memory practice, which is always a waste of time. In the age of the Smartphone, who needs to remember by rote?
4 -- Homework has nothing to do with teaching responsibility (HW advocates love this claim). Not only is there not one reliable study to prove that homework builds responsible children, based purely on what we know about responsibility, the assertion is illogical. Responsibility implies autonomy, and homework offers none of this. Students are told what to do, when to do it, and when it must be returned. Where does responsibility come into play?
3 -- Homework impinges upon a student's time with family and on other, more valuable, activities -- like play. As Alfie Kohn states in The Homework Myth, why should children be asked to work a second shift? It's unconscionable to send children to work for nearly eight hours a day, then have them go home and work for 2-5 more hours; we don't live in 19th century London.
2 -- I can teach the material in the time I'm with my students in the classroom. The endless cry of "I can't teach all of the standards without assigning homework" is a tired excuse used to hide ineffective methods. Creating engaging activities in place of lecture and worksheets, along with less testing allows teachers to cover more material in class and eliminates the need for homework.
1 -- Students hate homework. I want to help my students develop a thirst for learning. I want them to read for enjoyment and exploration. I want them to extend their learning when they choose, because they are interested in what we do in class. If I force them to do activities that they don't choose, they will hate them. If I penalize them for not completing something they see as valueless, they not only don't learn, they get a bad grade and hate learning even more.
My colleagues often attempt to persuade me that homework is an integral part of teaching and learning. I'm simply not buying. So, what's your take on the debate?
Mark's new book, Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom is available in the ASCD bookstore here.
Follow me on Twitter, where we can continue the conversation.
I have observed many, many teachers in elementary and early childhood classrooms and the ones that have the smoothest-running classrooms all do the same thing: they teach procedures. Now only do they teach the procedures they need the children to follow, but they also have the children practice and they give them positive feedback until they become automatic routines. They make learning procedures the most important teaching priority in the first few weeks of school, even if it takes time away from other subjects. They more than make up for this time because their classrooms run so effectively.
So the first step in getting ready is to plan what procedures to focus on. It’s helpful to think about them in three groups based on when you will teach them: The first day of school, the first week of school, and the first six weeks. Here are some suggestions:
Arrival: putting things away and getting started on “do now” work
Walking in the Hallway
Using the Bathroom
Dismissal: cleaning up desk and getting materials ready to go home
Fire Drill or Other Emergency Procedures
Moving from group meeting area to centers and other transitions
How to sit during group meeting or circle time
Sharpening pencils, getting a drink
Cleaning up after work time or center time
What to do when you’re finished early
How to say nice things to each other
How to push in chairs
How to hang up coats (this might have to wait for cold weather)
Working with a partner
Turn-and-Talk or Think-Pair-Share
Getting help when the teacher is working with a group
What to do when the teacher has a phone call or must leave the room
What to do when a visitor enters the classroom
What to do when someone is hurt
What to do when you need to calm down
How to take care of materials
How to take appropriate breaks
The Responsive Classroom has a wonderful strategy for teaching procedures called “Interactive Modeling.” This has four distintive elements:
Here is a video that shows the process of Interactive Modeling in action:
You can also try the “I do, We do, You do” demonstrated in this video:
Remember that children at all ages – from preschool to high school – need to be taught or reminded of how you want them to behave. Don’t be afraid to teach very minor procedures. It is better to err on the side of teaching too many than too few.
Please share with us in the comments what procedures you think are most important in your classroom and how you teach them.
This is the second posting in a four-part series on getting ready for the start of school. See Part I here.
5 Top Resources for Aligning Your Social Studies Curricula to the Common Core
Social studies supervisors and teachers across the country are revising their unit plans to meet their state’s content standards, as well as, the Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History and Social Studies. Simultaneously, many states are implementing new evaluation and observation frameworks. The performance ratings employed by the most popular evaluation models encourage a shift away from teacher-led direct instruction to more student-centered activities incorporating inquiry and synthesis. In social studies, primary source document analysis goes hand in hand with the 9-12 Common Core reading and writing standards. Here are five top resources to align your curricula to the Common Core with student driven lessons.
1) The Choices Program - http://www.choices.edu/
The Choices Program curriculum was developed at Brown University and has been the subject of studies by the University of Wisconsin Center for Educational Research. The curriculum units draw upon multiple primary source documents and culminate in a rigorous student-centered role-playing activity. The Choices activities require students to apply their authentic knowledge to a public policy decision. The complete Choices Program can be purchased in PDF on a CD for $885. The Choices units are applicable to United States and global history classes.
2) DBQ Project - http://www.dbqproject.com/
The DBQ project is a series of long (DBQs) and short (Mini-Qs) primary source document activities that focus on close reading and evidence-based writing. Many of the DBQ Project’s activities require students to compare differing historical accounts and share their analysis via jigsaw activities. The DBQ Project’s “buckets” system is useful for preparing students to answer DBQs on AP exams. The DBQ Project comes in United States and global history editions.
3) Read Like a Historian - http://sheg.stanford.edu/?q=node/45
Developed by Stanford University’s History Education Group, the Read Like a Historian program (RLH) consists of 75 primary source-based lessons that encompass the traditional United States history curriculum. New teachers and departments undergoing curriculum overhauls will feel like kids in a candy shop when exploring RLH’s units that are complete with plans, PowerPoints, and graphic organizers. RLH’s lessons are easy to access and are free!
4) Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History - http://www.gilderlehrman.org/
The Gilder Lehrman Institute (GLI) of American History is a nonprofit organization devoted to the improvement of history education. The Institute has developed an array of programs for schools that focus on teaching with primary source documents. The GLI site provides access to the GLI Collection (featuring more than 60,000 unique historical documents), teacher resources, and lesson plans. The History Now newsletter is organized by period and links lessons by grade level. The multimedia section includes lectures by eminent historians, online exhibits, and podcasts. New additions include a set of Common Core aligned lesson plans and a list of UBD-compatible essential questions. GLI materials are free. Some of the site’s resources are limited to registered users. Schools that apply and are accepted to be GLI Affiliates gain access to all of GLI’s resources. GLI Affiliate school teachers have the opportunity to participate in GLI summer professional development seminars.
5) SPICE - http://spice.stanford.edu/
The Stanford Program on International and Cross Cultural Education is a non-profit educational program and receives funding from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. SPICE consists of over 100 global studies units that explore contemporary issues via historical and cultural analysis. SPICE lessons are attentive to spatial analysis and economic decision making. SPICE activities engage students with an array of multiple perspectives to engender critical thinking skills. The SPICE units vary in price and can be purchased in bundles.
Few artifacts of formal learning are as iconic as the letter grade.
What can I do to get an A?
She’s a C student.
He’s always gotten As and Bs in all of his classes.
Then we turn the letters into numbers–letter grades become averages of letter grades, which, when calculated, determined whether or not a learner qualifies to play sports, get into college, or thinks of him or herself as “smart.”
She has a 4.0 GPA.
You’re not getting into Stanford with that GPA.
It is an incredibly powerful symbol that isn’t going to be erased by long-winded rhetoric. Learners and families–far and away the most vested stakeholders in education–understand them. They “get” what a B means, and what an F means.
The issue is, in all honesty they probably don’t.
The Failure of the Letter Grade
The letter grade fails because its job–to communicate learning results to learners and families—cannot possibly be performed a single symbol.
Further, the letter grade “pauses” learning–basically says that at this point, if I had to average all of your understanding, progress, success, and performance into a single alphanumeric character, it’d be this, but really this is over-simplifying things because learning is messy and understanding is highly dynamic.
But parents don’t want to hear about understanding because it’s grey area that doesn’t make sense. It sound like spin. It’s subjective. Complex. They want it to be distilled for them–and rightfully so, but that reduction dissolves the honesty of the learning process. Conversations with parents turn most frequently on missing work, learner temperament and/or attendance, and the letter grade, but rarely on knowledge, curiosity, or the ability to evaluate information.
So that leaves education in a tight spot. Parents need capacity as bad as the education system itself.
While standards-based grading is one attempt to reduce how subjective letter grades are–measure and report proficiency based on standards as “grades.” This is a step in the right direction–at least parents know what a grade is based on, but they still don’t know any more about their son or daughter.
The ideal “response” here isn’t a single change, but a total merging of schools and communities. But until that happens, there are options.
12 Alternatives to Letter Grades
A comprehensive systems of badges, trophies, points, XP, achievements. This uncovers nuance and is capable of far more resolution and precision than a letter.
2. Live Feedback
Here, students are given verbal and written feedback immediately–as work is being completed. Live scoring without the scoring and iteration. No letters or numbers, just feedback.
In this process, work is graded as it traditionally has been, then, through revision and iteration, is gradually improved and curated. Eventually “lesser” performance (as determined by students, peers, families, and teachers) is replaced by better work, but without the grades. Grades jump-start the revision process, and that’s it.
4. Always-on Proving Grounds (Continuous Climate of Assessment)
In this model, assessment never stops–the result of one assessment is another. Not tests, but demonstrations. It doesn’t stop, so rather than halting the process to assign a letter, the process continues on.
5. Standards-Based Reporting
This one replaces letters with numbers, so it’s really not much better, but it can reduce the subjectivity of grading.
6. “So? So What? What Now?”
Here, students are asked–and ask themselves–at the end of every assignment–So, So What? What Now? This is similar to #4 above, but leaves the next step up to the student. Okay, you’re “finished” with this work. Now:
So: What did you “do”? Summarize details and big picture
So What? Why was this work important?
What now? What is the logical next step with this assignment, idea, or topic?
7. Metacognitive Action/Reflection/Narrative/Anecdotal
This approach dovetails behind #6. Rather than halting the learning process with a letter-as-performance-indicator, instead learners are tasked with reflecting on their thinking process–not as a patronizing “tell the teacher what they want to hear” activity on an exit slip walking out the door, but as a measure of their understanding and intellectual growth. This can be based on metacognition, reflective on the progression through the content, or more anecdotal about the learning process itself.
8. Curating the Highlights
A variation of the reflective and anecdotal approach, curating the highlights amounts to the student and teach getting together to extract the highlights of an assignment, or the process of project-based learning.
No letter grade–you either pass or fail. Not a great solution to anything other than the shades of grey between an A and a D, but an alternative nonetheless.
10. P2P, S2S, or Mentor Celebration
Gather with peers within and across schools to celebrate academic and learning success. No grades necessary–just planned visibility from the start of the project with a diverse groups of peers. Peer response can also be embedded throughout a lesson or unit by design, rather than only at the end as a summative evaluation.
11. Non-points-based Rubrics
This is much like the current systems–student performance is still evaluated against a rubric, but not grade or points are ever assigned. It is up to the student and their family to determine “how they did.” The goal of the teacher is not to grade students, but rather to support learners. Students will wiggle and writhe trying to turn the rubric’s assessment into a letter grade, and that’s fine. As a teacher, you’ve moved on to taking data from that performance to plan the next steps.
Make all learning public. Publish it. It can by anonymous if necessary, but it’s visible to families, peers, and communities. Peers can collaborate on revisions, families can respond, communities can celebrate or scoff, but the process has been decentralized and, in a way, democratized.
This approach won’t work for every student every time, but the idea is sound–return the stakeholding to the stakeholders.
In today’s world, with its rich and overwhelming amount of accessible information, bewildering career options, uncertainty, and change, five skill areas stand out as important for lifelong learning – being able to:
It is the premise of this author that competency in all five skill areas, along with a fundamental knowledge base and knowledge of one’s own skills, talents and interests, will significantly increase the probably that a student will be successful in college, career, citizenship, and the ability to adapt to change.
In other blog posts, I have indicated that certain beliefs and principles about teaching and learning support and enhance the development of these skills, and that the project based learning model is naturally suited to help and support the development of all five skill areas. Other general strategies, such as Problem Based Learning and Creative Problem Solving, are also helpful in developing these skills.
In this blog post, I want to suggest eight types strategies that I believe are extremely useful for developing these skills. They also have the advantage of engaging students in the learning process.
•Activators and Summarizers
Activators and summarizers are what we do immediately before and after a formal learning experience. Activators are designed “to engage students’ thinking before instruction”. They focus students on a goal, problem, challenge or essential question, surface student misconceptions, help students to feel some ownership in what they are learning, and enable teachers gather data from students and adapt lessons and units to their prior knowledge. Summarizers are designed “to support integration and retention of new learning.” They help students to draw conclusions and summarize for themselves what was important, what they have learned, how it is important, and/or how it fits with what they already know.
Multiple types of activities can be used for both activators and summarizers, such as words that come to mind, human treasure hunt, interviews, learning logs, ticket out the door, and “the most important thing about…”. A “question-categorization brainstorm” activator also helps students build their question development skills and enables teachers to use student-developed questions to stimulate inquiry.
The above quotes and information (except for the question brainstorm) come from two books that overview and suggest strategies for both activators and summarizers:
Jon Saphier and Mary Ann Haley, Activators , and Jon Saphier and Mary Ann Haley, Summarizers. Acton, MA: Research for Better Teaching, 1993. Both of these books can be purchased from the Research for Teaching website or through Amazon.
An Internet search using the terms “activators” and “summarizers” suggests additional resources.
Information literacy is “the ability to identify what information is needed, understand how the information is organized, identify the best sources of information for a given need, locate those sources, evaluate the sources critically, and share that information. It is the knowledge of commonly used research techniques.” Although the term “information literacy” is most often used by librarians, the skills associated with it are critical for living in today’s information rich world. Information literacy activities help students to identify a topic for research, formulate questions and problems, search for and find information, evaluate, organize, analyze and synthesize information sources, and share results.
A search of information literacy websites highlight a number of web resources that can be used to help implement information literacy strategies, such as http://www.noodletools.com/debbie/literacies/; and http://www.webs.uidaho.edu/info_literacy/
•Reading for Understanding
Once a child learns basic reading skills, how can he or she be helped to build comprehension and understanding. In this respect, every teacher is a teacher of reading. Kelly Gallagher gives a good description of Reading for Understanding:
“…we can assign reading in our
classrooms, give students shallow
reading assignments, and have students
pass them. On the surface, everything looks
fine: the students read the text and are
able to answer the questions. But in reality
do they really understand what they have
read? They can answer surface level questions,
but once you ask them to evaluate, to analyze,
to synthesize, they can’t do it. Unfortunately, I
think a lot of…[this kind of surface level]…reading
is going on in our schools.”
Reading for Understanding strategies help students go below the surface and find the deeper meaning behind what is being read. They have been developed to improve reading comprehension and the understanding of what is being read for all students in all subject areas. They include Before-During-After reading strategies, SQ3R strategies (if you don’t know this, look it up), first and second draft reading, interpretive discussions of text, reflective logs, and many other similar strategies.
A number of resources can be helpful for learning reading for understanding strategies, including:
Ruth Schoelbach, Cynthia Greenleaf, and others. Reading for Understanding. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999
Kelly Gallagher. Deeper Reading. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2004.
The ASCD series of books on Reading in the Content Areas, especially Sue Beers and Lou Howell, Reading Strategies in the Content Areas. Alexandria, VA; An ASCD Action Tool, 2003.
•Visual Learning Tools
Visual learning tools, also called graphic organizers, “assist learners…[in how to visually]…organize and find patterns among the overwhelming amount of information available today, as well as to make sense out of it and evaluate it”.  Another definition states that visual learning tools “help students collect information, make interpretations, solve problems, devise plans, and become aware of how they think.” Multiple types of visual tools have been developed – mind maps, webs, decision trees, analysis charts, before and after reading charts, story maps, and many more.
These two books provide extensive information about visual tools and graphic organizers:
David Hylerle. Visual Tools for Constructing Knowledge. Alexandria, VA:Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), 1996;
Phyllis Green, editor. Graphic Organizer Collection. San Antonio, TX: Novel Units, 1999.
Other resources include software tools such as Inspiration, and “graphic organizers” searches provide a number of sources of information for finding and using visual tools.
•“Deep and Flexible Thinking”
Thinking Deeply and Flexibly goes beyond memorization and low level inference making, and involves numerous habits and strategies, among them open-mindedness to new thoughts and ideas, explanation, classifying, comparing and contrasting, argumentation and debate, interpretation, problem solving, creativity, decision making, planning, and the use of logic and reasoning. Strategies range from the types of questions asked of students to strategies that promote specific types of thinking, such as interpretive discussions. In general, teachers should be familiar with a broad array of thinking strategies that promote different types of thinking, and how to employ them in the classroom with their students. Many resources are available for helping teachers learn to teach thinking. Among what I consider the best, collected over the years, are the following:
Louis Raths, Selma Wasserman, et. al. Teaching for Thinking, New Edition. New York: Teacher’s College Press, 1986 (A classic book about how to teach for thinking).
Arthur Costa, editor. Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking, Third Edition. Alexandria, VA; ASCD, 2001 (another classic).
An Internet search using the words “teaching for thinking” yields many other valuable resources. Socratic discussion principles for classroom use can be found through Shared Inquiry discussion procedures at the Great Books Foundation, and the Touchstones Discussion Project.
With interactive notebooks, students are taught how to record, collect, and organize information in traditional formats from a teacher, text, or additional resources, and also are given creative, deep thinking assignments that help them to see connections, dig more deeply into learning, do analyses, synthesize data in interesting ways, and become independent, creative thinkers and writers. This approach is a terrific way for students to organize a notebook so that they collect, organize, synthesize, explore, and apply information in meaningful ways.
Practically, many teachers have students organize their interactive notebooks by using either the left or right side of the page for recording and collecting information in traditional ways, and the opposite side of the page for creative activities. Some teachers have students keep one section of a notebook for notes and another for creative, higher order thinking activities.
For more information, search “interactive notebook” on the web, and go to:
•Writing Process/Writer’s Workshop
Writing Process and Writer’s Workshop are two ways to significantly increase skills in communicating through all types of writing, and at the same time use writing to enhance the development of the five skill areas. Writing process encourages students to improve writing gradually, over time, like professional writers do, rather than writing all at once and just once. The writing process consists of five stages -- pre-writing activities, initial writing, revising, editing, and “publishing” (sharing writing with others). The writing process encourages students to ask good questions and formulate problems in the pre-write stage, process information in the initial writing phase, and so on.
In writer’s workshop, specific class time is dedicated solely to writing and students are treated as budding authors. “As in professional writing workshops, emphasis is placed on sharing work with the class, on peer conferencing and editing, and on the collection of a wide variety of work in a writing folder, and eventually in a portfolio. Teachers write with their students and share their own work as well. The workshop setting encourages students to think of themselves as writers, and to take their writing seriously.” 
Among the many sources of information about writing process is the website:
An overview of writer’s workshop by Steven Peha, Welcome to Writer’s Workshop, can be downloaded at:
•Think-Pair-Share and Wait Time
One of the dangers of traditional discussions and question-answer sessions in the classroom is that certain students who think quickly dominate. Think-Pair-Share and Wait Time strategies enable many more students to speak their thoughts out loud, develop answers to questions, participate in discussions, think at higher levels, and become much more involved and engaged in the learning process. Both Think-Pair-Share and Wait Time slow the discussion and question session down and give all students time to think through their answers, search for appropriate information, and in general become better learners.
Search for think-pair-share and wait time on the Internet for more information; or
http://olc.spsd.sk.ca/de/pd/instr/categ.html (there are also many other interesting strategies at this site)
Other strategies could be selected, but I believe every teacher should be familiar with these eight and decide on when and whether they are worth using in their classrooms.
What are your thoughts and comments about these eight? Would you add any to this list? Modify or subtract any? What key strategies do you believe significantly enhance learning in a 21st century world?
 From the following website: http://www.webs.uidaho.edu/info_literacy/
 Kelly Gallagher, Deeper Reading. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2004.
 David Hylerle. Visual Tools for Constructing Knowledge. Alexandria, VA:Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), 1996.
 Phyllis Green, editor. Graphic Organizer Collection. San Antonio, TX: Novel Units, 1999.
 Steven Peha, Welcome to Writer’s Workshop. This document can be found as a PDF file at the Teaching That Makes Sense website, www.ttms.org
I recently attended an educational assessment conference in which Ronald Ferguson from the Harvard Kennedy School was the keynote speaker. He is an educational researcher who presented his work on teacher effectiveness. This research shows that there are seven C’s that make a difference in the learning environment:
Caring about students (nurturing productive relationships);
Controlling behavior (promoting cooperation and peer support);
Clarifying ideas and lessons (making success seem feasible);
Challenging students to work hard and think hard (pressing for effort and rigor);
Captivating students (making learning interesting and relevant);
Conferring (eliciting students’ feedback and respecting their ideas);
Consolidating (connecting and integrating ideas to support learning).
The most interesting part of his presentation was his work on the Tripod project with Cambridge University in which they survey children about their teacher to assess whether or not students agree with a variety of statements designed to measure these seven teaching practices. Here are some examples of the questions. The children are asked whether or not these statements are true of their class:
Caring about students: “The teacher in this class encourages me to do my best.”
Captivating students: “This class keeps my attention – I don't get bored.”
Conferring with students: “My teacher gives us time to explain our ideas.”
Controlling behavior : “Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.”
Clarifying lessons: “When I am confused, my teacher knows how to help me understand.”
Challenging students: “My teacher wants us to use our thinking skills, not just memorize things.”
Consolidating knowledge: “My teacher takes the time to summarize what we learn each day.
The researchers have found that asking children about the effectiveness of their teacher is more reliable than observational ratings of teachers – primarily because the children see their teachers every single day, not just for an observational lesson. (In other words, the ratings of different classes of children with the same teacher are more similar than not, and student ratings from one year to the next are more similar than observational ratings). Here are some other interesting findings:
So this made me think about how helpful it would be to ask children for feedback to help us improve. Even young children participated in the surveys, which were adapted to be done face-to-face using a simpler rating scale (such as happy and sad face pictures). This could be a great week to listen to your children’s voices and get their perceptions of the learning environment in your class! Have you formally surveyed your students about how things are going in your classroom? Please share your experiences with us!
If we truly want to help ALL students meet or master the standards, we must provide effective differentiation for our students. However, over the years, several practices have crept into the way we differentiate lessons that actually make student success LESS likely. The following are four practices that actually interfere with effective differentiated instruction.
Creating multiple assignments rather than multiple pathways. Differentiation is not about the number of assignments you create; it's about giving students multiple pathways to success and then helping them choose the pathway that is best for them. Simply providing multiple assignments not only creates a lot of work for you, it can pigeonhole some students into lowered expectations and decreased opportunities to stretch and grow. Instead of creating different assignments, create ONE assignment and provide students several different pathways to success on that assignment (for more on planning differentiated lessons that rely on ONE assignment, check out The Differentiation Workbook for a lesson plan and process). By focusing on different supports rather than different assignments, you can better target students' needs and give them the scaffolding they need to reach success.
Differentiating by learning style versus learning needs. Not every lesson you give will accommodate students' preferred learning style - nor does every lesson need to. Our time is better spent examining students' particular learning needs for each assignment and using their learning needs to identify and provide the support and scaffolding they need to be successful. Learning styles are static while learning needs constantly change and shift depending on students' current content and procedural knowledge. Learning needs give you a much more accurate picture of where students are currently and what you must do to help them successfully master a range of standards and skills. From there you can create customized pathways and supports to help all students meet or exceed the standards.
Differentiating by achievement level rather than by students' current learning level. Some will tell you that there are three kinds of students - high, medium, and low. But this distinction is not very useful. There are times when a student you consider to be in your high group will struggle with the content. Other time, students in your low group will sail through an activity, outperforming the students in your high group. Because students bring a variety of skills and experiences to the classroom, classifying them as high, medium, and low doesn't really help you adjust your instruction effectively to meet their complex needs. These static groupings also limit students. Once you start thinking about students in these ways, it is difficult to see them any other way. Differentiating by achievement level often results in lowered expectations for struggling students and extra work for advanced students. Lowering the target for some students while raising the learning target for others is not differentiation - it's tracking. Real differentiation takes into account where students are at a particular point in time. It doesn't label kids "low", "average," and "advanced"; it groups students by their current understanding of the content and processes involved in a particular learning activity and then provides students with the targeted supports they need to successfully master that activity.
Differentiating down rather than up. When we differentiate down, we tend to look for ways to "dumb down" an assignment to students' current learning level and hope that over time, they will begin working at the level demanded by the standards. In most cases, our efforts fall short. Differentiating up means starting with the standard and figuring out what supports students will need to reach the standard. All assignments are written at or above grade-level. We can offer students varying degrees of support and different routes to success but the target itself should never change.
By avoiding these mistakes, you can make your efforts at differentiation much more successful -- and much less stressful. Take a look at your differentiation practice and make sure that you are not unintentionally making things harder for both you and your students.
Teachers: Here are ten questions to ask yourself, answer, and consider as part of a self-reflection about your teaching…
Administrators: Here are ten questions to suggest that your teachers answer and consider as part of a self-reflection and teacher renewal process…
Each question also has sub-questions to help refine thinking, ideas, and practices. These are also good questions for shared reflection and group discussion. They might lead to a rethinking of teaching and learning as well as suggest thoughtful ways to set new goals, teach in different ways, assess more effectively, customize learning, and make instructional improvements during the school year.
1. What am I trying to accomplish with my students? What’s the core?
What are my short-term goals versus long-term goals?
Why are these goals important? Essential? Core?
Where do these goals come from? Are they helpful to someone living in a 21st century world?
How do my goals connect and relate to the school’s goals? The district’s? Other teachers that I work with?
What critical skills am I trying to develop? Attitudes? Understandings? Behaviors?
Are these goals specific enough to suggest what they will look like in practice?
Do these goals suggest the ways that my students will differ at the end of my teaching them from when I began teaching them?
2. What are my beliefs about how students learn?
How “up-to-date” are my beliefs? How much are they based on research or on my own opinions and ideas? How do my beliefs influence the way I teach?
3. How do I create a positive climate for learning?
How do I build strong, positive relationships with my students? Engage and motivate all my students to learn? Inspire my students to learn and to continue their learning after they leave me?
4. What “essential” questions do I want my students to explore?
Instead of thinking about my teaching in terms of goals and objectives, how can I design core, essential questions to promote inquiry among my students? What questions should be the starting points for my teaching during the year?
5. What are the primary, core types of instructional strategies that I use regularly?
Are these effective? Are they “powerful”? Engaging? Why do I use these? Do they work? Why or why not?
6. How do I know when my students have accomplished my goals?
What are the best ways for me to determine whether my students have accomplished my goals? What types of student work will best demonstrate success? Student performances? Behaviors? Use and application of skills? Attitudes?
7. How do I get feedback from my students on how well they are doing? How do I use feedback to improve student learning?
What types of student work demonstrates progress on the part of my students? How can I provide constructive feedback so that students improve on what they do over time?
8. How do I customize and individualize learning for my students?
What can I do to help every student achieve my goals? What can I do better to make this happen?
9. What’s special and unique about my teaching?
What makes my individual style of teaching unique and special? What makes it work for me? Why do I do what I do?
10.How will I work on my teaching in order to improve what I do?
What opportunities are there for improvement? Who and what helps me to improve? What resources do I use? How do I collaborate with others?
Feel free to add additional questions, delete questions, or modify these if you so desire. And GOOD LUCK!!!
Principal: ”Okay, I think we’re ready to start. Who wants to get the ball rolling?”‘
School Psychologist: ”Well, I ran him through some tests, but his attention was all over the place. He kept looking at a part of the wall in my office where the plaster had fallen off and said he saw a battleship fighting a dragon. I’m wondering whether he needs a workup by a psychiatrist to rule out possible psychotic features.”
Learning Disability Specialist: “I’m concerned that he occasionally writes backwards. As you probably know, this is a soft sign for neurological dysfunction.”
Classroom Teacher: “Yes, I’ve seen those reversals in my classroom. He never seems to get any work done. He’ll start one thing and then lose interest. He’s always doodling in the margins of the worksheets I give him. And when he’s not doing that, he’s looking out the window daydreaming.”
Learning Disability Specialist: ”I’ve noticed the same thing in my remediation sessions with him. He appears to be a good candidate for psychostimulant medication.”
Classroom Teacher: ”Yes! That would help me SO MUCH! Last week, we found him in the boiler room with a screw driver. He said he had a great idea about how to improve the heating duct system in the school. We had to put him on detention.”
Learning Disability Specialist: ”He’s falling way behind in reading and most of his other academic subjects, although his math and science aren’t too bad. I recommend that we take him out of his art class for more one-on-one remediation to focus on his spelling, handwriting, and phonemic awareness skills.”
Principal: “That sounds like a great idea. And can you set up some workable instructional objectives? I’m concerned that with the Common Core Standards just around the corner he’s going to be lost. And then what’s going to happen to him? I mean, he can’t exactly make a living by doodling, now, can he?”
Teachers! Don’t let this happen to the little Leonardos in your classrooms! Find out as much as you can about their gifts and abilities. Read my book: Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life. And visit my website: www.institute4learning.com.
Unfortunately, over the years the term rigorous has accumulated a lot of baggage. The following are seven myths about Rigor.
Myth One: If you have rigorous standards, you have a rigorous course. Rigor isn’t as much about the standards as it is about how you ask students to reach the standards. There are times when students are asked to achieve highly rigorous standards in un-rigorous ways. And other times, teachers are able to take mediocre standards and help students achieve highly rigorous learning by designing rigorous learning experiences that correspond with those standards.
Myth Two: Rigor means more work. While rigorous instruction may require that students put forth more effort, it is not based on the volume of work students complete. Rigor is about the quality of the work students are asked to do, not the quantity. More assignments or more reading does not guarantee more rigor. In fact, rigorous classrooms often have less assignments and homework.
Myth Three: Rigor means harder. Rigorous classrooms do present more challenge to students but there is a difference between challenging and difficult. Challenging work asks students to stretch and reach for new understanding. Work can be difficult however for a variety of reasons including unclear instructions, a lack of necessary resources, a lack of adequate support, demands that are too great for the time allotted, etc. We can all think of assignments we endured that were difficult without being intellectually challenging. Thus, it is a mistake to think that just because students had difficulty completing their work, they have engaged in a rigorous assignment.
Myth Four: Rigor is a matter of content. Just because you select highly rigorous content does not guarantee a highly rigorous learning experience for students. How you ask students to engage in the content also determines the level of rigor for your course.
Myth Five: Younger students cannot engage in rigorous instruction
Even young children can think and interact with material in highly rigorous ways. In fact, left to their own devices, children naturally take what they are learning to solve unpredictable problems and deal with uncertainty. Doing so is at the very nature of learning. They key is to make sure that your rigorous instruction is developmentally appropriate.
Myth Six: In order to engage in rigor, students must first master the basics. Rigorous thinking is involved in learning even the most basic material. Students can learn the basics in highly rigorous ways. They can learn how to build adequate representations, organize those facts in some way, analyze and construct relationships among those facts, and make inferences beyond what is explicitly presented while they are mastering the basics.
Myth Seven: Rigor is for the elite. All students can and should have access to rigorous instruction and learning. To reserve rigorous learning opportunities for an elite group of students while relegating others to lives of memorizing disconnected facts and blindly participating in meaningless activities is to leave them unprepared to meet the demands of a 21st century and beyond.
Find out how to conquer these myths by ordering your copy of How to Plan Rigorous Instruction http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/110077.aspx
Whether you're an educational technology wonder, or a little slower on the draw, apps for your iPhone and/or iPad can make your job a lot easier. We’d like to share what we think are 10 of the best apps for educators. These will not only keep you organized, but place helpful resources at your fingertips.
Keeping You Organized
DropBox - A FREE resource for keeping your computer files organized and protected from lost flash drives and/or computer crashes. DropBox ensures your data is available from any computer with Internet access.
Harvest - Time/Expense Tracking - Hooray! Education expenses are tax-deductible. When tax time rolls around this app provides easy expenses totaling for your tax accountant or TurboTax.
QuickVoice Recorder - The late comedian Mitch Hedberg used to say, “I sit at my hotel at night; I think of something that's funny; then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen's too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain't funny.” Agreed. The best ideas always seem to come when there isn’t a pen within arm’s reach. Knowing this, QuickVoice allows you to record messages to yourself. Play them back later for transcription or to take action.
Docs Anywhere – Anywhere. Exactly! DocsAnywhere allows you to copy your documents to your “i-device” and take them wherever you go. Since documents are transferred through USB, you’re never a hostage to a vindictive wireless network.
Pages - Not a graphic designer? No problem. Pages lets you use graphs, pictures, artsy fonts and designs to make classroom handouts that are much more engaging.
LanSchool Teacher's Assistant - This app helps you monitor/censor student activity on classroom computers. Finally - you don't have to be at every computer all the time.
Freebooks - This app allows you access to 23,469 free books. Use an e-Reader and your classroom is connected to some of the best literature the world has to offer.
Today in History - Though it's the most helpful for history teachers, this app is organized by year so any teacher can browse and find cross-curricula factoids to help students connect the dots.
Molecules - Science students get 3-D images of the molecules they're studying with this engaging and interactive app. Even the non-science enthusiasts will be interested.
Mathematical Formulas - Sometimes our students can throw us for a loop. This app provides access to formulas from various disciplines to keep lectures moving forward.
Taking advantage of these apps can help you streamline your performance both inside and outside your classroom.
If you have an interest in instructional technology courses, or want to learn how to successfully integrate educational technology into your school or classroom, learn more about Marygrove College’s online Master of Education Technology degree.
And to ensure that a Marygrove education is an achievable, financially-sustainable investment, the college has reduced tuition rates for several of its online graduate programs—including our instructional technology degree program—by 19 percent.
As I work with aspiring administrators, I often am asked about potential interview questions that might be asked during the hiring process. I offer a list of typical—and not so typical—interview questions that might be asked by panels who are considering school leader candidates. Of course, a hiring decision often boils down to the right fit, so questions can vary wildly depending on the needs of a particular school or the district. While this is not by any means a complete list, it does encompass a few examples of what kind of questions might be asked. As they say, there is no “right answer,” so I have tried to include a bit of rationale of what the panel might be thinking as well as a possible approach one might take. “Fit” is also an important consideration for the candidate; remember, you are interviewing them as well (though it may not feel like it!) and need to be sure that you are prepared for—and aware of—the specific leadership role that is involved.
1.) Describe great instruction.
2.) How will you support a safe and effective schoolwide learning environment?
3.) How would you resolve a conflict between two upset adults in your school?
4.) How will you ensure that staff members continue to grow as professionals?
5.) How would you work with the School Improvement Team (or equivalent) to realize change?
6.) What is a recent professional development-related book you have read recently and what did you gain from reading it?
7.) Can you describe a mistake you have made before and how you addressed it?
8.) If your life was a movie, who would play the lead role?
9.) Do you have any questions for us?
Remember, be succinct and confident. Allow the hiring panel the opportunity to ask possible follow-up questions to probe deeper regarding issues that are on their mind. Again, my thoughts and recommendations are just that—my best guess of anticipating what you might experience. You know yourself better than anyone, and hopefully, you have a sense of the organization and the specific leadership position that you seek. The important thing is that you present the real you: a competent, prepared, and caring leader who is ready to lead a team of people toward success.
William Sterrett's ASCD book, Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works and related study guide can be found here: http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/Insights-into-Action.aspx A former principal and current member of the educational leadership faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Sterrett can be followed on Twitter @billsterrett
Update: Reviews and resources regarding Sterrett's 2013 ASCD Arias book Short on Time can be found here: http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/Short-on-Time.aspx
The establishment of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for students nationwide represents a particularly robust challenge for teachers of students with special needs. On the one hand, advocates for students with disabilities have made it clear that they want these students to be held to the same high level of achievement as typically developing students. On the other hand, the particular disabilities that these students possess may make it difficult for them to meet certain standards. This is especially true if the avenues for meeting those standards are defined too rigidly. What follows are seven ways to help educators provide flexible means through which students with special needs can master the Common Core State Standards while still maintaining high expectations for achievement.
The Common Core States Standards Initiative has clearly stated its policy concerning students with disabilities: ”In order for students with disabilities to meet high academic standards and to fully demonstrate their conceptual and procedural knowledge and skills in mathematics, reading, writing, speaking and listening (English language arts), their instruction must incorporate supports and accommodations.” [emphasis mine]. Educators are thus empowered to become creative in developing innovative ways through which students with special needs can acquire competency in and mastery of these nationwide standards.
For more strategies and tools to help students with special needs meet the requirements of the Common Core State Standards, see my book: Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Achieve Success in School and Life. And visit my website: www.institute4learning.com.
Want Children to “Pay Attention”? Make Their Brains Curious!
By Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.
From Psychology Today Online
Curiouser and Curiouser
Plato Under a Brain Scanner
A few thousand years ago, in 360 B.C., Plato advised against force-feeding of facts to students. "Elements of instruction...should be presented to the mind in childhood; not, however, under any notion of forcing education. A freeman ought not to be a slave in the acquisition of knowledge of any kind. Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind."
We now have neuroscience of learning research to support these recommendations to avoid forced instruction and provide children with the best environment and experiences for joyful learning. We have come to literally see how stress and curiosity edits which sensory information is given entry to our neural networks and where the input ends up.
Social, emotional, hormonal, and nutritional influences are overtaking the attribution of intelligence to primarily genetic factors. Microbiology research reveals that emotions and experiences turn on or off portions of genes that determine how that gene will be expressed. Neuroplasticity research reveals that intelligence can be changed and guides us to educational and parenting strategies are neuro-logical to promote positive changes. Those are topics that will be in future posts here and are addressed in articles on my website www.RADTeach.com .
In this post, combining my background as a neurologist and classroom teacher, I'll share my strategies to help parents and teachers get information "admitted" through brain's attention system.
Children Are Paying Attention, Just Not to the Boring Things in Class
Getting into the brain is like getting into an exclusive nightclub where only the glamorous few are selected. Once inside, another gatekeeper, stress, determines what makes the cut to enter the upper VIP lounge in the prefrontal cortex - that valuable 13% of cerebral architecture where our highest cognition and emotional reflection takes place. (That will be the next post.)
The brain evolved to promote the survival of the animal and the species. That means giving priority to potential threat. Every second, of the millions of bits of sensory information from the eyes, ears, internal organs, skin, muscles, taste and smell receptors that are at the entry gate, only a few thousand make the cut. The system that determines what gets in - what the brain attends to is the Reticular Activating System or RAS. This primitive network of cells in the lower brainstem, through which all sensory input must pass to reach any higher regions of the brain, is essentially the same in your dog, cat, child, and you.
The RAS favors intake of sights, sounds, smells, and tactile sensations that are most critical to survival of the animal and species. Priority goes to CHANGES in an animal or human's environment with priority to change appraised as threatening. When threat is perceived, the RAS automatically selects related sensory input and directs it to the lower brain where the involuntary response is not to think, but to react - fight, flight, or freeze.
Force Feeding Won't Work Even on a Hungry Brain
The RAS is a virtual editor that grants attention and admission to a small fraction of all the available sights, sounds, and tactile sensations available at any moment. This survival-directed filter is critical for animals in the wild, but as it has not changed significantly as man evolved, and the implications for the classroom or with children in the home are significant.
When children's brains perceive threat (punishment or embarrassment in front of classmates for not doing homework, fear that they will be picked last for a kickball game, or anxiety that they will make an obvious error because they are not fluent in English) the RAS lets in only what is perceived as relevant to the threat. Unless the perception of threat is reduced, the brain persists in doing its primary job - protecting the human or animal from harm. The neural activity on scans during fear, sadness, anger or other stressful emotions is evident in the lower brain. In this stressed state "attention" is not under our control and the brain activity on scans drops way down in the prefrontal cortex. That higher, reflective, cognitive region of the brain does not receive the sensory input, determined irrelevant to survival. The day's lesson does fall on deaf ears.
When students criticized for not paying attention to the lesson it doesn't mean they are inattentive. Their RAS is paying attention to (letting in) sensory input, just not the sensory input their teachers think in important.
One of the great gifts of neuroimaging research is information about which sensory input gets through the RAS when threat is not perceived. When not under high stress alert, the RAS is particularly receptive to novelty and change that arouse curiosity. That is the key to the gate - the brain seeks input about the new, the unexpected, the colorful, musical, moving, aromatic sensations that are available when perceived or imagined threat is not blocking the way. When students are curious about something, they seek an explanation. This motivates them to persevere in seeking the information they now WANT to learn, what they need to be taught.
Knowing about the RAS means we can promote classroom communities where students feel safe, where they can count of the adults in charge to enforce the rules that protect their bodies, property, and feelings from classmates who they perceive as threats to these things. Our increasing knowledge of what gains access through the RAS, once threat is reduced, offers clues to strategies that promote attentive focus to lessons in school and at home.
Curiouser and Curiouser
You can build novelty into teaching new information. Changes in voice, appearance, marking key points in color, variation in font size, hats, movement, lessons outdoors, music, curious photos, unexpected objects (a radish on each desk when students enter the classroom) get the RAS attentive to admit the accompanying sensory input of lessons that relates to the curious sensory input!
Advertising a coming unit with curiosity provoking posters or adding clues or puzzle pieces each day invests curiosity as children predict what lesson might be coming and the RAS is primed to "select" the sensory input of that lesson when it is revealed. Playing a song when students enter the room can also promote curiosity; hence focus, if they know that there will be a link between some words in the song and something in the lesson. If a teacher, or parent helping with homework, walks backwards before a lesson about negative numbers, the RAS is primed by curiosity to follow along when a number line is unrolled on the floor start learning about negative numbers. Even a suspenseful pause in your speech before saying something particularly important builds anticipation as the students wonder what you will say or do next.
To further alert the RAS, increase curiosity, and the subsequent memory of the information (learning) that explains the curious phenomenon, have children make PREDICTIONS. The predictions can be written down, shared with a partner, or held up on individual white boards at any point during a lesson. Don't break the participation or curiosity with a "yes" or "no", but maintain the interest by responding with a nod of acknowledgment or a "thanks you" so the other students will continue to predict. The brain actually learns based on a system of predictions and feedback as neuroplasticity strengthens neural networks used to make correct predictions and corrects memory networks used to make incorrect predictions. (This is why feedback is important so those faulty circuits can be replaced with accurate information.)
Children Who Actually Get Excited When Asked, "What did you do in school today?"
Recall how, as a child, you felt about radishes as garnish on your plate. Now, imagine walking into your childhood classroom and finding a radishs on all the desks. Students' RAS will be curious about this mundane object because it on THEIR desk in a classroom, and not on a dinner plate. Now their attention is alerted to the novelty and curiosity so the RAS admits sensory input "clues" to the puzzle of the novel object on their desks. They are engaged and motivated to discover the reason the radishes are there. Now they are attentive and their brains are engaged.
Younger students learning the names and characteristics of shapes might have the opportunity to develop a concept of roundness and evaluate what qualities make some radishes have greater "roundness" than others. The lesson for older students might address as analysis of similarities and differences. The RAS will respond to the color, novelty, peer interaction of evaluating these objects that are usually disdained when found in their salads as they develop their skill of observation, comparison, contrast, and even prediction as to why the radishes that seemed so similar at first, become unique as they become detectives using magnifying glasses. Students' stress levels remain low as they use their individual learning strengths to sketch, describe, or take notes about what the radishes in their group have in common and how the differ.
As the survival tool, the RAS alerts to curiosity and remembers the resolution of the brain's prediction, as animals need to learn and repeat behaviors that are satisfying and fulfill survival needs, such as eating tasty food or following the scent of a potential mate. Engaged and focused brains are alert to sensory input that accompanies the pleasurable sensations. In animals these associations will make them more likely to find the source of pleasure in the future. As students enjoy the investigation with the radishes, the required lesson content can follow the open gateway to reach the higher, cognitive brain.
The novel experience of a simple radish, when used to promote curiosity and prediction, is likely to do more than carry the learning experiences into long-term memory. When children are asked that evening, "What did you learn in school today?" they are likely to further strengthen the memory as they describe both the radish AND the lesson as grateful parents give the positive feedback of attentive listening.
"Ask Dr. Judy" Free Webinar Series:
Topic: Why Don't My Students Pay Attention?
Wednesday, May 5, 2010 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM EDT
Source URL: http://www.psychologytoday.com/node/42444
Links:? http://www.RADTeach.com? http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/u302/What has changed_ Can it hurt me?.jpg? https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/251272049? http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/teaser/2010/05/curiouser-and-curioser.jpg