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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:
I remember all the times that I have asked my children for their opinion. I have asked, "How do I look?" before a trip to the movies. After spending hours in the kitchen, I have also asked "How was the home made soup?" To no surprise, I was not thrilled with their feedback (my daughter typically begs me to change my outfit immediately. As for the soup, I interpret their addition of much salt to represent the need for more flavor).
I didn't go through many changes, or much preparation before asking for my children's opinion, but I tend to think that for the classroom, asking our students for feedback should require a system or at least a plan. We understand the value of student feedbakc, but now, lets focus on how we can begin the process. Because I am a believer in the learning potential within mistakes, I will identify considerations to avoid when pursuing student perception.
1. Don't Reinvent the Wheel.
There is research available to show you the different ways to gather student opinion. There is no need to start from scratch and develop your own system. There are online surveys (survey monkey) or online polls that you can use to measure student perception of a lesson (polleverywhere.com). In addition, there are ways to get more personal feedback with the use of group conferences or individual conferences. You can indirectly obtain feedback through the use of a classroom profile by examining trends in your classroom such as attendance, submissions of late work, extra credit, and the frequency of visits to your classroom blog. Keeley (2012) in a pulication called Science and Children illustrates a great example of creating a classroom profile as a means of collecting information about your students.
2. Dont Overlook the element of Time.
Typically teacher evaluations are completed at the end of a year, but think about the drawbacks to this approach. If you approach your students early and often, there is a greater likelihood of utilizing the data to inform your teaching practices sooner and more frequently. There is a great article in the New York Times (Lewin, 2012) that discusses how professors that wish to go the extra mile collect feedback weekly.
3. Dont Be Vague.
Try to be very specific when aksing for feedback. Instead of asking what the students "like" or "dislike", require the students to share what they found particularly "useful" or what may have created "barriers" to their academic success.
4. Don't Sit on the Sidelines.
Even though you wish to focus on student feedback, allow the students to ask you questions as well. This is an opportunity to share your thought process on how you developed your curriculum map. Also, based on the questions that your students ask, you can learn what elements of the class they desire to have a voice or a role in the decision-making process.
5. Dont Personalize the Information.
It is likely that the student evaluations will yield some negative comments. That is fine. Remember that the focus of the eval is your teaching practice, not you as an individual. The goal is to learn specific things about your teaching that you may improve upon in the future. So, yes, it hurts my feelings when my daughter slams my outfit, but at the same time, I am able to learn a little about fashion (and hopefull learn to later present myself as a fashionista later) due to her feedback.
*Please note that the first post in this series is titled "There's no Crying in Baseball". For the final follow up post, I will outline important things that teachers should do after collecting the student feedback.
I taught English for 16 years. I love English. I love English teachers. I don't want to upset anyone. I do occasionally challenge current practices and try to get people to rethink old habits. I'll give you a quiz that I hope prompts more questioning.
Question One: Name one non-English teacher adult you know who reads Shakespeare, undisputedly the world’s greatest author, for enjoyment.
Now let’s talk about some imaginary people. We’ll name one Skippy and one Muffin. Skippy never had one class about Shakespeare in school. Never heard of the guy. Muffin had several classes in high school that required reading Shakespeare. She read Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. She was taught about iambic pentameter.
Question Two: After schooling ends, will Skippy be less successful in life professionally and socially than Muffin? A) No; B) Well, in my life Shakespeare has never come up so no; C) Just cuz it never comes up doesn’t mean you aren’t a better person by knowing about him.
Question Three: How often will Skippy’s lack of knowledge about Shakespeare negatively affect his life? A) Never; B) Almost never; C) I teach English so I have to believe that there is a third choice. There has to be!
Add a new detail: Skippy is given instruction during his school years that helps him develop oral communication skills. He becomes confident and impressive as a speaker whether one-to-one, in small groups, in large groups, in person, and digitally (webinars, video conferences, podcasts, and videos). Muffin receives none of that instruction but remembers that Macbeth includes something about witches and Hamlet has something about “Alas poor Yorick”—about all that anyone remembers about those plays two years after high school.
Question Four: After schooling ends, what are the odds that Muffin would trade her Shakespeare knowledge for Skippy’s abilities with oral language? A) 100% chance; B) 99% chance? C) But ya gotta know Shakespeare! Ya just gotta!!
We are not dealing with an either/or proposition here: you don’t have to teach either Shakespeare or oral communication. But in reality, we do make choices and there are things we Don't Have Time to Teach, therefore...
Question Five: If you had to make a choice for your child, which would you choose, developing his/her speaking skills or developing his/her Shakespeare skills?
I mention this because I am attending the NCTE national conference in Boston. For decades now, NCTE has failed to recognize the importance of speaking well and the value of effective verbal communication. This year, I counted 16 sessions about Shakespeare and one about speaking (it was combined with listening and debate). Is teaching about Shakespeare 16 times as important as developing effective speakers? (Sessions about poetry outnumbered speaking 15 to one. As adults, do we write poems 15 times as often as we speak?) If all students were obviously competent communicators; if all students were comfortable in front of the class; if all reader’s theater presentations were powerful and engaging; if all student poetry recitations were terrific; if all book reports were riveting and wonderful; if all biography presentations were enthralling and appealing; if Socratic circles were full of well spoken comments; I could understand the oversight. But that isn’t the case, is it? And in a world full of digital tools that display oral communication skills, becoming well spoken is more critical than ever before. Students will become better speakers only with direct instruction. Teachers will not be able to give that instruction without help. That help is not given at any teacher preparation program or district workshop or organization conference—sadly, even a conference about the English language, a language spoken far more than written. Maybe next year? www.pvlegs.com
As a coach, it can be frustrating sometimes when you are coaching novice teachers who want instant answers to solve problems that seem to be the bane of their existence. Coaches, you have to understand and reflect back when you were a teacher, how much you longed for the same thing. As I go into schools supporting teachers and even administrators, I realized that you must leave them with some right now answers. Please know that everything does not lend itself to “right now” answers, but most do. So here are three quick tips to coaching novice educators.
Highlight the Positive: Often when a person is new to teaching, they have many questions around their pedagogue. It’s imperative that you affirm and highlight the positive things in their practice by explaining what makes what they are doing effective. Face it, everyone at some point wants to know if they are doing a good job, or not. This process also will support teacher retention because there is a cyclical process of support that highlights the positive rather than the negative. Just like we do with students, a coach should use that teacher’s strengths to build on areas of concern.
Tangible Quick Tips: It’s almost inevitable to give a novice teacher some quick tips to solve some problems they might be facing. Although every teacher has to find their way, we will often lose good teachers if they are not supported with tangible resources that will impact immediate change. For example, a novice teacher may have difficulty managing student behavior. One quick tangible tip you can provide that teacher is creating a behavior chart or classroom incentive program. Another quick tip can be providing classroom jobs. I used to teach my fifth graders how to apply for a classroom job. I gave them an application and walked them through the process and they had to interview for the job. They loved it! Believe or not, students want to be responsible, and sometimes teachers struggle with this if they see undesirable behavior(s) displayed by that student.
Effective Feedback within 24-48 hours: When providing feedback, it should be done within 24-48 hours; anytime past that starts to become gray and irrelevant. Keep in mind when providing feedback, try to get the recipient to talk first and share what they thought about the lesson or interaction that you (the coach) observed when visiting him/her. Feedback does not only involve you providing next steps, but also you listening to the teacher you are coaching. Often at times, novice teachers will need to talk about their teaching experience and will use your ear for support. This is okay, as long as you are connecting it back to students and how they can continue to grow using the information to become an effective practitioner. Remember, when you are providing next steps, always connect it to research or why this next step is important for the teacher to implement. If they don’t have an understanding of what they are implementing, then how can they do it effectively?
ASCD Leader to Leader (L2L) News is a monthly e-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 email@example.com.
Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Policy Points Highlights Funding Sources for Educator Professional Development
Despite shrinking education budgets, there are still opportunities to pursue funding for educator professional development. Check out the latest issue of Policy Points (PDF), which provides links to these resources.
Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Leader Voices
Welcome University of Southern California ASCD Student Chapter
ASCD is pleased to announce a new ASCD Student Chapter, started by ASCD emerging leader Eric Bernstein. Please join us in welcoming University of Southern California ASCD Student Chapter to the ASCD community!
2013 ASCD emerging leader Melany Stowe was recently appointed director of communications and community outreach for Danville Public Schools in Virginia.
OYEA winner Bijal Damani is one of 250 educators chosen for the Microsoft Expert Educators Program. She is also a finalist for the 21st Century Learning Teacher of the Year award, and will be sharing her experiences at their global conference next month in Hong Kong.
Throughout November on www.wholechildeducation.org: Supporting Student Success and the Common Core Standards
The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum. Standards are targets for what students should know and be able to do. Curricula are the instructional plans and strategies that educators use to help their students reach those expectations. Central to a supportive school are teachers, administrators, and other caring adults who take a personal interest in each student and in each student’s success. How are we designing course content, choosing appropriate instructional strategies, developing learning activities, continuously gauging student understanding, adjusting instruction accordingly, and involving parents and families as partners to support our students’ success?
A whole child approach to education is essential to realizing the promise of the standards. Only when students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged will they be able to meet our highest expectations and realize their fullest potential.
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on supporting student success as schools implement the Common Core State Standards. Guests include Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal in New York, author, and Education Week blogger; Thomas Hoerr, head of New City School in St. Louis, Mo., author, and ASCD Multiple Intelligences Professional Interest Community facilitator; and Rich McKinney, an assistant principal for a middle school in Knoxville, Tenn., and Common Core coach for the state of Tennessee. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blog and 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
This week’s #Edchat was about teacher-centric learning vs. student-centric learning. It is a topic that often gets teachers actively involved in discussion. The reason why so many teachers are so passionate about this subject is unclear, but if Twitter chats and tweets are any indication, it is obvious that many of our connected educators strongly favor student–centric learning. Many view it as 20the century education vs. 21st century. In fact we have been having the “sage on the stage” vs. “ guide on the side” argument for quite a few decades.
Direct Instruction and Lecture are methods of education that have dominated our lessons in education for centuries. They are probably the lessons that most Americans imagine when they are asked to think of what a typical lesson in school should look like. It is the way that most content experts often deliver content to their students. Lecturing is the mainstay of college courses. The majority of the work in this model falls on the teacher to take in and understand the content and deliver it in digestible chunks to the students. This is then noted and memorized by the students for a later summative assessment. That would be the model applied from: chapter to chapter, unit to unit, subject to subject, and textbook to textbook. Both teachers and students were programmed into this model for the most part. Does any of this sound familiar?
The last few decades however have had teachers experimenting with other ways to deliver content. I remember the first time I used simulations in an integrated social studies and English project in the late eighties. It seems a little lame by today’s standards, but we were pushing the envelope back then. The classroom was noisy, the kids were all over the room, the furniture was used as anything but furniture, but we were all engaged in learning. It was active learning and not passive listening.
Moving ahead to the 21st Century we see the use of Project-Based learning, Problem-based learning, and now the Maker movement. None of this is really new, but many educators in larger numbers are newly employing it. We are seeing in more and more literature that lecture and direct instruction may not be as effective as these other forms of learning.
Collaborative learning, which has always been with us, has been turbo-boosted by technology. It once required face-to-face environment to even be considered. It was always effective, but the requirements of time and space limited its use in the classroom, and made it almost impossible outside the education setting. Technology changed all of that. Collaboration now has no boundaries of time and space. Collaborative learning can take place anytime and anywhere. Connections are both local and global. This has become the heart of connected education, and collaborative learning on a global sc
Direct Instruction and Lecture are elements of education that will always be with us. They should not however be the focus of education. Technology now provides the means for student-centric lessons. We need to educate our educators in the benefits and implementation. We also need to get our students familiar with having a voice in personalizing their learning. We cannot hold them responsible for learning, if we don’t teach them the skills of learning. This student-centric learning strongly supports lifelong learning. It creates independent learners and thinkers. It is a learning-by-doing philosophy.
The deterrents to this oncoming wave in education are few, but they are daunting. Observations by administrators are used to assess a teacher’s performance. The easiest observations to do are teacher-centric lessons. Otherwise, in a student-centric lesson, an administrator would have to observe student learning as opposed to teacher delivery of content. Although not impossible, it is a more difficult way to do things. Nevertheless, there are forms of observations that accommodate student-centric lessons. We need to prepare administrators with those tools. More importantly we need to get them as supporters of a method of teaching and learning that has not been the mainstay of education. This is a difficult task in an institution as conservative as Education.
Technology is a driving force for much of the student-centric learning. We need our educators to be at the very least literate in this relatively new digital literacy. It is not a generational thing that people over 30 cannot ever understand. It is a learning thing that teachers can be taught through collaboration, support, and prioritizing ongoing teacher learning for professional development.
The idea that content is king may just be a passing phase in education. Content should be the tool that we use to teach kids the skills of learning. What we learn should take a back seat to how we learn. Once we know how to learn, the content will come to us, as we need it. We need to prepare this generation not only to learn, but also to think critically as well. Learning and thinking are a far cry from listening, memorizing and regurgitating facts.
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!
This past weekend, I attended an education conference with some of the preeminent minds in the field. The focus was on educational technology: its importance, how to integrate it relevantly, and how to market it to staff members who might be resistant. Presenters came from all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, and even Arkansas. (Sorry, had to). Well known connected educators dotted the audience, among them Tom Whitby, the “Godfather” of Twitter #edu chats. There were a lot of brilliant minds talking about moving education forward in an engaging manner for students. What was I focused on? The charging stations, of course.
The location for the conference was at New Milford High School, in New Jersey. It’s an older building, but the infrastructure for wireless connectivity was unbelievable. There were over 400 registrants at the conference using wireless devices (many more than one), and there was no online lag time. Additionally, Eric Shenninger, the Principal of New Milford High School, mentioned at the end of the keynote address that there were charging stations for wireless devices located all throughout the building.
What a brilliant idea, I thought. Imagine the hidden message to all who enter this building each day: you will use technology daily. We understand that in order for you to be successful in the future, you will need to be intuitive with technology today. Think of the secondary expectation embedded in the charging stations: we trust you. We trust that you will use technology for its intended use. You can charge your device whenever you’re low on batter power, and it will be here when you return.
A common theme among the presenters at the conference was that technology is a tool grounded in the human element. It is a way to bring people together, to form connections, extend knowledge in a different modality, and another way to synergize good teaching with good tools. Technology isn’t meant to replace educators, it is meant to enhance them. As the lead learner, teachers still plan, organize, present, and guide. Technology is there to support the infrastructure educators put in place in their classrooms.
The infrastructure of charging stations and strong wireless broadband connectivity embeds the message of trust we try to build with our students. In order for learning to occur at its optimal level, humans must feel comfortable in their environment. They must feel secure in it, supported by it, and able to grow within it. Making clear to students that they’re in an environment where they’ll be prepared for a technologically driven future, in an environment where the infrastructure can handle it makes it clear that we care about them. The secondary embedded message that your technology is safe in here, you can leave it, and it will be here when you return, speaks to the climate and culture created by the administrative team at New Milford High School.
As people moved from presentation to presentation, I kept looking at all the charging stations. I heard high school students giving directions, connecting with conference attendees, and answering questions. A couple students were presented with a question they were unsure how to answer. “We’ll ask Eric,” they said. They asked him the question, got the answer, and moved on – using his first name when talking to him. This happened repeatedly during the day, conversations between Eric and his students, all on a first name basis.
Another embedded message of trust on display: we will provide you with all the technological opportunities we can to make you successful, but we know that your success still depends on the communication and connections we model and form during our conversations with you. We will do that by respecting each other and calling one another by our first name, as we are one unified community learning and growing together.
What a message.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, author and Understanding by Design trainer. If you are interested in examining his other blogs, go to http://bit.ly/13sMlUZ. Additional and related teaching and learning resources and ideas designed to help prepare students to live in a 21st century world can be found on his website: www.era3learning.org
Today’s comprehensive high schools are generally organized the way they have been for decades. While some high schools have radically transformed teaching and learning in the face of major societal changes, most maintain a traditional look, feel, organization, and curriculum. High schools schedules are often the same as they were in the Industrial age, with days broken down into seven or eight time periods. The schools are often large and generally impersonal. Teachers often have between 100-140 students on their rosters. The required curriculum remains pretty much the same as in the past, and tends to be divided into diverse subjects, levels, and courses, without any central focus. High schools generally divide the year into two semesters and few if any student summer programs or professional development requirements exist. Graduation is still based on course credits and, in some states, high stakes standardized tests. Students are expected to stay in school all day and are expected to graduate within four years. Advanced Placement courses are often used as a major barometer of the academic rigor of a school’s program.
How can high schools improve on their programs and bring them into the 21st century? How can they develop more relevant assessments and a more relevant accountability system? While some advocate radical transformations, there are many adaptations and smaller changes that can bring traditional high schools into the 21st century by preparing students for rapid changes through the development of lifelong learning skills; citizenship; and individual talents, strengths and interests. I suggest fifteen possibilities below:
1. Clarify and share a 21st century mission, set of goals and outcomes that drive the school program, courses, and instruction.
Most of today’s high schools seem to lumber along without a clear mission or set of coherent student outcomes. Many high schools often have a confusing, diverse mixture of programs, activities, courses, and compartmentalized teaching approaches. They often suffer from passive learning environments, low expectations, superficial, uninteresting teaching and learning, uneven instruction, and fragmented courses. Many students leave high school unprepared for future learning or work, with a lack of planning or direction for their future.
One important way for high schools to better adapt to the 21st century is to develop and clarify a mission and outcomes with a meaningful and coherent school-wide set of goals. The mission and outcomes are then shared with both the school and school community and used as the basis for making changes in the school’s program and organization. In other commentary, I suggest three goals for K-12 education that are especially appropriate for high schools: prepare students for lifelong self-directed learning; prepare students for citizenship; and help students develop their own talents, strengths, interests and goals. If these three goals are accepted as the core mission of a high school education, what would they imply for the curriculum? For teaching and learning? For assessments and accountability? For a more integrated program? For the school organization? For scheduling? For core courses? For electives? What would change? Clarifying and becoming committed to implementing a clear mission and set of outcomes and goals for all students helps to create a core program focus and more coherent organizational structure for the high school experience.
2. Rethink the organizational and administrative structure
The traditional seven or eight period day, the Industrial model of scheduling, needs rethinking. In an age of computers, it ought to be possible to have more complex scheduling approaches that allow for longer blocks of time, mini-course structures, schedules that promote interdisciplinary teaching and learning, and common preparation time. Year round schooling is another option that needs to be seriously considered. New technologies suggest organizational structures that are only beginning to be appreciated and understood!
In today’s world, more students also need the opportunity for flexible, individualized schedules. Some students work part-time. Some need to help with their families. Others need time to do community projects and service learning. Some students need to leave school for periods of time, and be able to return at a later date in order to complete their work. Some may graduate early, others may take up to six years or more to graduate. All these options need to be built into the school’s programs.
Currently the most comprehensive high schools have principals, assistant principals, and “Department” heads as key administrators. High schools need to examine the question: how can this traditional administrative structure be reconfigured to better serve the needs of students in a 21st century world? What if one administrator were put in charge of “innovation”, looking across the curriculum to determine how the high school could develop innovative programs to better serve the needs of all students. What if one person was in charge of curriculum and instructional resources and curriculum and instructional development across all subjects? What if one was in charge of community “outreach”? Technology? A reconfigured set of administrative responsibilities, designed to promote innovation, interdisciplinary learning, outreach experiences, curriculum and staff development, technology applications might be a better way to organize for the future.
Finally, schools with organizations that tend to support impersonal and detached relationships between students and teachers should consider alternatives. One advantage of block scheduling is that teachers have many fewer students on their roster, and more time each semester with their students. They have a greater ability to get to know their students, to help and support them. The use of advisories and student-teacher advising systems over the four years of high school also enables teachers to develop stronger relationships with students. Teams of teachers working together with groups of students help build better relationships. Organizational changes that enable teachers to get to know students better (and visa versa) and work more closely together will probably help to increase student achievement and build better support systems for students.
3. Build a coherent curriculum
The current curriculum at most high schools is a fragmented mix of individual courses and programs, most of which have little connection to each other. Here are some recommendations for how to revise the curriculum to support student learning:
a. Identify and streamline core courses around the school’s mission, outcomes and goals.
The core curriculum are those “musts” that are required for every student. Should special core writing and reading courses be instituted? What types of thinking should every student be exposed to? How should reading and writing experiences be integrated into every course and subject? What math should be part of the core? Algebra and Trigonometry for everyone? Understanding statistics? Staff members should identify and collaborate to develop the core subject matter and core skills that should be taught and learned across the curriculum[i]. Each course might be organized around a series of “essential” questions, understandings and explicit skills that are core for every student to explore, learn and master.
b. Reduce the number of or eliminate Advanced Placement courses[ii] and instead develop a large number of high quality electives.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses tend to be implemented with an abiding faith that they are good for students. However, while they have some virtues, AP courses often repeat content that students have already studied, superficially cover a lot of content quickly, and crowd out worthy and interesting high school electives. Many of the students who take AP courses to increase their grade point average and feather their transcript don’t even take the AP exam and yet still get AP credit!
Instead of AP courses, develop a set of high quality electives that provide many options for all students to develop their talents, interests, and skills, such as deep learning-discussion seminars, research and project based courses, Internet course options, mini-courses, internships and practicums, and independent study courses. In themed schools, electives should provide a variety of options around the theme. New Internet-based college courses, known as MOOCS (Massive open online courses) provide many new opportunities for students to try out different topics and learn from some of the best college instructors in the country.
c. Increase the number of interdisciplinary, integrated learning experiences.
Should some core subjects be taught in an interdisciplinary fashion, like mathematics and science? Should integrated STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses be an essential part of the high school curriculum? Should more efforts be made to integrate and teach in parallel fashion English and social studies courses? Should mathematics courses be integrated and taught the way most of the world teaches mathematics?
Interdisciplinary learning opportunities might occur as part of the on-going curriculum and within a ninth grade team. High schools also need to create a greater number of synthesizing courses, offered in the junior or senior years, such as “problems of democracy”, applied mathematics, or science and society. Synthesizing courses enable students to integrate learning from previous years and learn how to apply knowledge and skills to new and novel situations and events.
d. Pay attention to innovative ideas that might motivate students, make learning more relevant, increase deep learning, and provide students with new types of programs and new ways of teaching and learning.
Innovative ideas are constantly being introduced into the education world. Entrepreneurship programs provide students with opportunities for learning how to start and maintain a business and they learn math and planning skills. Project based learning strategies suggest new ways of teaching and learning. Technological updates suggest new resources for learning. MOOC’s (Massive open online courses) offer free entrees for students into the college world. Integrated mathematics programs reorganize learning mathematics. The Understanding by Design curriculum model promotes a very different way of planning units, courses and programs. International Baccalaureate (IB) programs offer alternative ways or organizing high school programs, courses and assessments. Innovative organizational structures, such as Big Picture schools, offer alternative high school models that may be appropriate for many students. Competitions in chess, robotics, science, future problem solving, debate teams, and others provide students with exciting learning opportunities.
These and many more interesting and innovative ideas need to be searched out and considered, and some type of decision-making process needs to be introduced into the high school experience to help determine which innovative ideas are worth pursuing and implemented, and which should be rejected.
4. Create freshman teams.
Many students who drop out of school do so because they have not been able to make the transition from middle to high school. Students need to have a gradual and supportive transition from middle school to the first year of high school, with opportunities for personal attention and a focus on core skills and critical knowledge. Teams of teachers and students, working together for the year, help students to adapt to high school requirements. Teachers have the opportunity to get to know students, advise them, coordinate their schedules, differentiate their learning experiences, and create integrated learning across the team that supports key skill development.
5. Create a digital portfolio assessment system
While high school students do research papers, projects, and other forms of writing, the most commonly used summative assessment tool in high schools is still the “traditional test”, consisting primarily of multiple choice, short answer and short essay questions. Unfortunately, an emphasis on traditional tests guarantees that our primary educational focus will be on remembering and recognizing key facts and information, on developing low-level inference skills, and on producing relatively simple written products. A major problem with the use of these tests is that many of the key, critical “learning to learn” skills and personal development characteristics necessary for living in a 21st century world often get short shrift.
In order to demonstrate progress and success in achieving critical lifelong learning and personal development skills, high schools should create digital student portfolios that include multiple types of assessments –many types of written work, performance task processes and results, project results, oral presentations, observations of student participation in discussions, and, yes, the results of traditional tests. Many opportunities for student self-reflection also help to determine what each student is learning and whether each student is developing his or her passions, interests, talents, and goals. Part of the self-reflection process should be a goal setting and planning process throughout the high school years, but especially in junior and senior years.
Students also need opportunities to share senior projects and portfolios with adults from outside the high school, who listen to their explanations and analyses, ask clarifying questions, and help them to better understand their progress, goals and future directions.
6. Encourage student engagement through greater use of inquiry, research and project based instruction
Too much of the high school learning experience is in the form of traditional teaching and learning – recitations, lectures, coverage of textbooks – that makes for passive student learning and disinterested students. Students need more opportunities to be engaged in “inquiry” – to focus on essential questions as the starting point for learning, actively seek out reliable information to share with other students, think deeply and share their thoughts about content, draw conclusions and apply learning, and communicate through writing, presentations, and discussions. Projects based on student interest, chosen all or in part by the student, should be an integral, on-going part of a student’s learning experiences. Senior projects should be used to assess whether students have developed the attitudes and skills they need to be successful beyond graduation – self-direction, curiosity, persistence, patience, research, inquiry, study, thinking, creativity, writing and the like. High school course descriptions might be focused around key questions that will be explored during the course.
Consider alternatives to traditional assessment and accountability models. Multiple types of assessments, such as those described above, collected by students in digital portfolios, brought to class, shared over the Internet, is an alternative model that works well for many high schools in the digital age.
7. Develop community service-personal enrichment requirements.
Both personal learning that develops talents and interests, and service learning, are important elements of a 21st century education. In a Philadelphia public high school that I work closely with, students are required to do 120 hours of a combination of service learning and personal enrichment activities over four years. This requirement has meant that students learn more about their own interests and talents as well as learn ways to help others. Intentionally building these two dynamic components of a strong education into the high school experience has made a strong difference in the education of these students.
8. Make advisories a central part of the high school experience.
Advisories over the entire high school experience can help to personalize and customize education in a more impersonal world. Brian Cohen, a math teacher in the Philadelphia School District, beautifully describes the concept of high school advisories in a recent blog:
“A brief look at schedules across the [Philadelphia School] District leads one to believe that the advisory class plays little to no role in the life of a student. From my experience (and small survey sample), advisory in high schools is between 10-25 minutes long on average and takes place either at the very beginning of the day (before the first academic class) or between 2nd and 3rd periods. There are a variety of reasons for this - announcements, time to allow late students not to miss class, or to allow teachers to mark students as "present" in case they are very late to school. But, these reasons falter when compared to the potential of what advisory could be: a lifeline to the student body to influence school culture and educate the whole person.
Unfortunately, "advisory" is a misnomer. There is little time (or energy) to truly "advise" students as the time is used more for babysitting than anything else. Imagine if there were a rich curriculum devoted to increase student's organization and study skills, with growing themes over the course of four years of high school. Students would know who to go to for advice and truly see a connection with the outside world because they would have time to discuss their place in it.
In my ideal world, advisory would function as a place for discussion and curiosity, with articles read about educational research on how to be the best student; with discussion on what's happening in the lives of students now; with time devoted to what students really need. There are a small number of high schools that provide time for this (Science Leadership Academy being one) but we need more flexibility.
Maybe with that time students would be able to get themselves together and teachers would not have to spend as much time calling home over forgotten homework and missed assignments. And, instead, students would start applying these tools to other aspects of their lives.”[iii]
9. Make Media Centers the hub of the high school learning experience
If advisories are the central place for personal attention and advice, library-media centers are the hub for academic learning. They are the place in which students learn research skills. They are centers for conducting research. They often are the central computer centers for students, especially for those who might not have access to computers at home.
10. Create multiple outreach and “inreach” experiences
Outreach experiences enable high schools to better provide a more “authentic” education experience. For example, powerful outreach experiences occur when students are provided with internships in local businesses, health clinics and hospitals, schools and colleges, social work agencies, and the like. Other outreach experiences occur when students are able to interview a wide range of experts through technological arrangements, visit local colleges, or go on field trips. “Inreach” experiences - outside visitors brought to the school to talk with students about careers and experiences – is also a powerful way to connect students to the outside world. Significant outreach and inreach provides powerful connections to the “real” world outside of high school.
11.Create continuous, high quality, meaningful, relevant professional and curriculum development experiences
Today’s changing educational world demands continual learning and updates about teaching and learning. What would we think of a doctor’s world without continual updates on the best forms of treatment, new drugs, research, and other changes. Yet it’s strange how little emphasis is placed on professional and curriculum development over time. The establishment of professional learning communities (PLC’s), with a school culture that supports continuous learning around collaborative and individual learning goals, should be a key goal. Summers are ideal times for professional development, yet there are generally no requirements that teachers devote some portion of their summers (e.g. two or three weeks) to collaboratively exploring new ways of teaching, new forms of curriculum design, the teaching of writing and thinking, how to implement the Common Core, project and problem based learning approaches, and so on.
12. Switch to Standards-Based Report Cards
Traditional report cards Provide little helpful information to both students and parents. A more effective report card is one that provides information as to how well a student is doing, but also how a student might improve. Standards based report cards incorporate key learning goals and skills either in an interdisciplinary configuration or within each subject area. The ability to solve problems, conduct research, make presentations, write effectively – all these can be incorporated into standards based report cards[iv]
An even stronger standards based report card format includes individual comments by each teacher. Some high schools have built an individual comments model into their assessment process[v]. This entails a lot of work, but it customizes comments, builds on specific student talents, strengths and skills, provides greater specificity as to how students might improve, and in general makes report cards much more meaningful and helpful to students and parents.
13. Use technology as a tool for reaching key goals and priorities
Technology is often used in a haphazard fashion within high schools. The judicious use of technology, designed to help students reach key goals, is a much more rewarding and promising way to use technology. For example, the use of digital portfolios provides ways to collect and analyze student work. Common uses of technology to write papers, spellcheck, organize thoughts and ideas, and so on might be encouraged. Search engines used to find resources, to contact people around the world when appropriate, can be helpful. Teacher use of technology to share articles and readings, course outlines, information about a course, handouts and assignments with students on a regular basis is a good use of technology. The appropriate use of on-line simulations can enhance learning.
However, beware of newer forms of technology without being clear on how they promote the goals of the school. Tablets and smartphones may be useful, but they should be introduced with great care, and with knowledge and understanding of how they will contribute to advancing learning goals.
14.Create small learning communities
Although small learning communities are a radical departure from traditional high school organization, they are worth considering. They consist of groups and teachers and students working together around themes (e.g. communication, technology, health sciences and the like). Where possible, small learning communities within a building are physically separated from each other.
The creation of small learning communities requires significant professional development so that each team is well organized around a theme and is given a chance to work together in advance of implementation. Failure to provide time for teachers to receive professional development and for learning how to work together is often why they fail.
15.Design innovative ways to rate and judge the success of high schools.
High schools are being judged today by arbitrary processes often determined by government bureaucrats. The outside accountability systems often get in the way of making modest and relevant changes that would significantly improve programs. It is time for high school leaders to develop their own models that demonstrate their success!
Instead of a reliance on test scores, high school accountability models, shared with the public and with Boards of Education, might include the number of students who have developed their talents and interests in different directions; sample digital portfolios that demonstrate student learning; data on students that go on to some form of post high school educational experience; results from special programs, such as International Baccalaureate and small learning communities; data on what happens to students as they move through a post high school experience; collective data from report cards; survey data from high school graduates who rate their high school experience; results from student surveys of current courses, and so on. A comprehensive accountability process developed by high schools themselves would be much more meaningful and significant than the current systems being implemented.
Comprehensive high schools need to adapt to a 21st century world. Clearer mission statements that guide teaching and learning, revised and flexible scheduling, strong core and elective programs, administrative restructuring, advisories, greater student engagement through inquiry, research and project based teaching and learning, library-media center hubs, standards based report cards, small learning communities, more meaningful and personalized accountability systems, a careful look at innovative ideas – these and the other suggestions described above would go a long way towards better preparation of students for living in a 21st century world. Not all of these ideas may currently make sense to high school teachers and leaders, but some might be helpful when high schools reconsider their programs, assessment models, organizational structures, and accountability systems in order to adapt to this new age.
[i] In other work, I have identified five core skill sets that should be taught throughout the curriculum – curiosity, information and data literacy, thoughtfulness, application, and communication. For greater insights into what these five skill sets mean in practice, go to www.era3learning.org. I have also developed a process – the Integrated Skill Development Program (ISDP) – that can be used to identify core skills to be taught and learned across the curriculum. A description of this process can be found at: http://bit.ly/RnSwRT
[ii]Advanced Placement courses have many problems. They are often survey courses that focus on learning content without depth or thought. Many students take Advanced Placement courses, get credit for them, but don’t take the Advanced Placement exams. Other students take the AP course, don’t pass the AP exam, but still get AP credit. Scarsdale High School has eliminated Advanced Placement courses in favor of “advanced topics” courses. Some advanced topics courses are designed so that, at the end of the course, if students wish to do so, they can take the Advanced Placement exam.
[iv] For an excellent article on Standards Based Report Cards, see How We Got Grading Wrong, and What to Do About it, in Educational Update, October 2013, Volune 55, No. 10, ASCD.
[v] For example, Science Leadership Academy, a public high school in Philadelphia PA, incorporates teacher comments into its report card system.
In order for me to lead effectively in my classroom, I needed to make sure I was teaching the right things. Otherwise, what were students learning? And, why were they learning it?
Students need to be personally invested in their learning in order for them to be most successful. What’s taught needs to be relevant to them. The curriculum can be rigorous to the 10th power, but if it isn’t taught in a way that is engaging and fun, students will not produce work that is reflective, vulnerable, risky, and potentially full of mistakes.
Mistakes help us to grow when we acknowledge them and are willing to identify what we did versus what we should do the next time. As I sat down to preplan my year as a fifth grade teacher, I needed to reflect on where I was as a learner: what was I doing well? What could I improve on? What was hard for me? And, what were my goals for the year?
What I’ve mentioned are all things I ask of my students: take risks, invest in yourself, advocate, and be open to new ideas because, good learning is messy before it looks good. As I tell my students, if you have truly waded through the mess to construct new meaning and have learned the material, you can teach it to someone else. This is the highest level of learning, and this is how we create leaders. As a leader in my classroom, I need to embody and model these soft skills I ask of my students. Otherwise, I am a hollow leader. And, I felt hollow as I preplanned my year.
When I meet with each one of my students at six week intervals to discuss how they are doing in meeting their hope and goal for the school year, I ask them to answer the questions I posted above so we can have an authentic, meaningful conversation. We get to know each other and ourselves better, thereby deepening our trust in one another. When a student is struggling, we work through it, so both of us have a deepening understanding of why they feel the way they do. Once identified, we can figure out a potential solution to the problem. The challenge is in the identifying. I needed to do the same thing I asked of my students: reflect, ask questions, and identify the genesis for my hollowness As I thought through each question, the same refrain kept repeating: ‘I do the same things every year, but why do I do them?’ I needed to become relevant again, things needed to make sense, and I needed to have fun in order to meet the needs of my learners, and myself.
During the school year, peers will stop in my room for something and comment on student behavior, or on our practice. We hear a lot of “you’re very nice to each other,” “there’s a good vibe in here,” and “you all seem to be really having fun.” All these things are true in the moment. But, have I grown during this time, too? Or, am I just regurgitating the same lesson plans each year? Yes, we do Morning Meeting, Energizers, and Closing Circle. We incorporate cooperative learning and team-building skills into all learning experiences. But, I realized that I was leaning too much on prior lesson plans and prior knowledge. As a teacher, I know that prior knowledge should springboard to deeper understanding, not serve as a final resting spot for learning. When that happens, I am not growing. If I am not maxing out my potential each day, I am definitely not doing that for my students. I needed to model the expectations I had for my students. Otherwise, I was doing them, and myself, a disservice. And, education should never be that.
I went back to the theorists and books on my shelf. I pulled out Jensen’s Brain Based Learning, Denton and Kriete’s First Six Weeks of School, and Kriete’s Morning Meeting Book. I reread pieces of each, took notes, reworked ideas in my head, wrote lesson plans from scratch, and fought with my computer. Half-written pieces on pieces of paper, manila file folders, and books surrounded me. As my wife reminded me of the mess I was making it all made sense: I needed to set the purpose for my learning, teaching, and leading through a hope and goal I shared with others. And, I could do that at Back to School Night. How more accountable could I be then? Every parent of every child I was teaching this year would be there. They would hold me accountable for my hope and goal. I needed to think through my message to them. What did I want to say? What was most important? What did they need to know? How could I weave that into a hope and goal that they could see directly impacted my teaching and would positively influence their child on a day to day basis.
I decided my hope and goal would focus on three key ideals: learn, teach, and lead. I needed to learn each student’s needs, connect it back to what the research shared as best practice, weave these best practices into my teaching, and create a group of young future leaders. I would be modeling the highest level of understanding through my leadership. With my hope and goal cemented, and my lesson plans formulated, I began to learn, teach, and lead again. With passion. When I lost my PowerPoint slideshow the day of Back to School Night, I dug up an old one for window dressing. I spoke without the notes I prepared. I focused on the key aspects of our classroom organization: social – emotional growth, learning risk – taking in our learning, questioning to stimulate deeper understanding, and enjoyment of the learning process. With that would come the academic stamina and perseverance parents could point to as growth occurring.
The rest is yet to be written. Back to School Night went well. I shared the connection between the social curriculum and its impact on the academic curriculum. My passion and vulnerability was visible in my hope and goal for our fifth grade students. And, I learned something. Now, I’ll go teach and lead.
For the past 12 Back to School Nights, I've presented in a very prescribed way. I introduce myself, my years in education, my in-district accomplishments, and my organizational affiliates. I focus on the textbooks we use, the subject matter we cover, and the goals of being a student in whichever grade I was teaching at the time.
It was a dry, easy sell, and did not reflect the social curriculum I've tried to embed into everything we do as students and people in the classroom. I've always felt it was hard to explain to parents who were raised in an academically driven culture, who have attended big name schools of higher learning and have impressive job titles, that the research shows that a child needs to feel a sense of belonging, significance, and fun in order to do their best learning. That a handshake greeting from a peer and teacher each day may be the validating experience that drives their child to take a risk and apply a new strategy when approaching a multi-step math problem. That when we create the environment where students feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes (because that's how people learn), then true learning will occur. I always wondered if parents would think I was 'soft' for this philosophical belief.
So my ultimate goal of creating lifelong learners beginning in the elementary grades, who were driven not by the letter grade, but by the learning itself, was kept under wraps. We held daily Morning Meetings, infused Energizers during transition times, and met as a class during Closing Circle. These opportunities for collaborative and cooperative learning eliminated a lot of the little cliques I used to see form among students. The faces or body language students would use when I grouped them with other students they didn't connect with were slim and none. Students treated each other respectfully, fairly, and in many cases, patiently. These approaches to learning drove our academics, and allowed us to learn at a more rapid rate. The consistent reflections we conducted at the end of each lesson (what did you learn from working with Jake? what did Sam say during your conversation on the Civil War?) enabled us to see one another as peers, not people who happened to be in the same class.
Parents, during conference time, would say to me, "Fred really likes those Morning Meetings," or, "Hillary can't stop talking about that 'Just Like Me' energizer." I would nod my head, smile, and simply state we do 'team building exercises.'
However, this past Back to School Night was different. Perhaps it was the fact that I lost my PowerPoint presentation two hours before I was supposed to present. Or, maybe I was ready to model what I've told my students to believe about risk taking: you will learn more from the mistakes you make and the failures you have, than any success you achieve. Fail means a first attempt in learning, and if we're really open to new ideas, willing to think creatively, and trust our ability, we need to try new things and embrace our instincts.
So, at Back to School Night I took the risk and left myself vulnerable. I presented a bare bones PowerPoint that focused on the philosophy, theory, and research behind how our classroom was organized and run. We modeled social skills because they aren't inherent. That my mini-lessons were no more than 15 minutes, because it wasn't about me as a 'sage on a stage', but as 'guide on the side'. Students would learn more from each other than they would ever learn from me. After all, there was only one me, and 20+ of them. That research in the business world proves that more people lose their job, not because of a lack of knowledge, but an inability to work with others. So, it was incumbent upon me as the children's teacher, to create a comfortable environment where soft skills like collaboration, cooperation, problem solving, perseverance, failure, and grit were celebrated as successes. Mistakes were looked at as learning opportunities. And students took ownership for their work, even when the grade wasn't what they wanted.
An amazing thing happened as I got halfway through my presentation: parents began to nod their heads in agreement. Some wrote down notes. Others stared at me without yawning. And at the end, I made it clear we were all in this together. That our classroom community extended outside the classroom to their homes. We were only as strong as each other, and we were all 'pulling on the same rope, in the same direction, for the same thing' -- what was best for their children. And, if they didn't understand something I did, call or e-mail me. I wouldn't take offense to it. If anything, I would appreciate their sharing their concerns, and we could work together to figure out solutions when issues arose. I just asked for the benefit of the doubt, as I would give them, so we adults could also best model the behavior and soft skills we were working on in the classroom.
I shared my last slide, thanked parents for coming, and then ended stopped talking. Some parents came up to me and said hello. Others had a couple academic questions, or a general "How's my son doing in class?"
As one parent walked out though, she turned around and said to me, "You should really have some kind of regular meeting with parents. Talk about topics in education. I felt like I needed to learn so much more." I told her it was a good idea and I'd think about it. First, I needed to digest what I just did.
And learn from it.
At a recent education award ceremony, a prominent education leader being recognized began the acceptance speech by saying “I am not a techie”. At first I was a little upset, because these awards were for educators, and not technology educators. I had to catch myself and hold back my criticism, because I often use that same phrase with educators, but for a different reason. It is actually a symptom of a decades old and continuing discussion in education.
We are now living in a world that is technology-driven, requiring a minimum amount of digital literacy from anyone who hopes to function, if not thrive, in that world. Many educators do not feel that they are sufficiently versed in technology to adequately prepare their students for the world in which the students will live. Much of this is a result of the way technology has evolved in education. Technology was not integrated as a tool for learning from the start, but rather it was almost a mystical, or a magical thing that had its own department and staff, as well as specially trained teachers to work with it. In the beginning it was an add-on. It also started in the wealthier schools. Colleges were not adequately preparing pre-service teachers in the use or integration of tech. Some colleges struggle with the very same issues today. Technology and education were like trains on two spate lines of track.
Some tech blended in immediately with little resistance. When the first electronic four-function pocket calculators came out in the seventies, teachers could not buy them fast enough at a time when report card grades were due. The cost back then was about $100. The other quickly accepted tech was the word processor. This was probably because it closely resembled an accepted form of tech, the typewriter. The methodology in using a word processor is very different from a typewriter. I am willing to bet however, that there are still teachers requiring kids to do a rough draft, final draft, on paper in pen, and then to type that into the word processor.
Being an educator today requires that we be digitally literate. Beyond that we also need to have a basic understanding of these technology tools for learning. The ultimate plan for education is to have kids learn to intelligently communicate, critically think, collaborate and create in their world. The very tools that they will use today to do all of this are technological. The tools that they will use in their future will be even more advanced technology. Educators have a responsibility to deliver a relevant education to their students. That requires digital literacy.
I often had to debate some of my higher ed colleagues as I incorporated more and more technology into my education courses. Colleagues telling me that I was not teaching a technology course, but rather an education course often challenged me. I would insist that I was teaching an education course, and using technology tools for learning that the future educators in my class need to understand. However, in the minds of my colleagues technology and education were two separate entities.
If we are to accomplish the goal of educating our educators about digital literacy, we need to stop apologizing out of embarrassment for shortcomings. For an educator to say, “I am not a techie” and consider that ample reason not to use digital devices, or not to permit Internet access in a 21st Century classroom is depriving students of skills and sources that they will need for better understanding and a better ability to compete in their world.
That Award winning educator found herself in an auditorium of connected educators and made claim to not being a techie. She wrongly assumed that connected educators in that room were all techies. In fact although some were techies and some were geeks, most were just digitally literate educators; a goal that should be held by every educator who wants to be relevant and effective.
When I tell people I am not a techie, it is not because I fail to use technology as a tool. It is because at my age I learn about whatever it is that I need to know to stay relevant. I emphasize that digital literacy is not a generational thing; it is a learning thing. I am a life long learner and that requires digital literacy to maintain. Technology and education have merged in many ways. We cannot separate them out any longer. Educators should not need a degree in education and then another in Educational Technology in order to be a digitally literate educator.
Beyond the mindset we need to change the approach to professional development. We do not need to be teaching the bells and whistles of a technology application. We need to ask teachers what they are doing first, and then see if the introduction of an application will benefit that goal. Chances are good that it will. We need the Technology staff to understand pedagogy and methodology in order to incorporate technology into education more seamlessly.
We will not be effective as a profession of techies and teachers. We will succeed if we are all digitally literate educators. An illiterate educator is an ineffective educator. To better educate our children we need to better educate their educators.
In an earlier post I mentioned that teachers are increasingly having students work in groups or with a partner. Within these groupings students are required to “turn and talk,” “work with their group” or “share their thinking.” Furthermore, students are asked to “share out” their thinking to the larger group who in turn will either validate or challenge their thinking through the teacher’s skillful prompting. Thankfully, we all do this. It is a very good strategy on multiple levels. I have been realizing, however, that while teachers are increasingly asking students to do these things, they have devoted the same amount of time (close to none) to teaching students the social skills to do what they are asking—engage in academic discussion.
On the surface it seems simple. Easy even. Students simply have to share what they think about a certain teacher-directed question with someone sitting within earshot. No big deal, right? It‘s not like they have to give a long speech or share something deeply personal. Wrong. It is a big deal. At least it is a lot bigger deal than we act like it is. Not only is the concept of a discussion difficult for students, their inability to effectively engage in discussions is detrimental to their learning. In essence, some teachers are just wasting time by implementing a valuable strategy that students do not fully understand and cannot carry out effectively. This is partially due to student misconceptions about discussions.
1) A discussion is when we all share what we want to, if we want to. First, many kids don’t’ understand the concept of a discussion. From my experience, it seems as though some students think a discussion simply involves voicing your own thoughts, regardless of what was said by the people that spoke before you. Furthermore, participation is voluntary.
2) If you know the answer then I don’t have to talk. In a group of people the dominant voice usually speaks first and is often times assumed to be correct. This is simply human nature and kids are especially susceptible to this false notion. Students who require more time to think about things or are confused about the topic are especially comforted by this myth and use it to support their idleness. Not having a confident comment or not wanting to appear “stupid”, they erroneously think they have no part in the discussion and tune out.
3) If I use an idea you shared I am “copying” you. Unfortunately, the mindset of most kids is that if they hear something from a peer that resonates with them, they better not share it or else they will be labeled a “copier.” Copying is a grave offense in a kid’s mind and it can make an immediate and almost permanent scar on a kid’s school life.
4) If I disagree with you I am “mean”: Disagreements are fundamental to academic discussions, yet they are often not aired due to fear of being perceived as mean. Similarly, many students do not want to share their thoughts because they fear the same “meanness” pointed their way.
Assuming students really do operate under these myths, the question is: What do we as teachers do about it?
1) Teach kids about discussions. If kids don’t understand discussions, we must teach them, plain and simple. This is especially relevant when considering the decline of the family dinner (a time usually spent discussing a single topic such as a current event in the news or within the family), because school might be their only chance to learn this important skill. Teaching tip: Model and diagram a discussion as a web for students to see the flow of participation and the inclusion of all participants centered on a common topic.
2) Teach kids to become active participants in discussions: First of all, we all think about things at different rates. Those that require less thinking time to formulate an idea or opinion should not have the right to rob those that require more time of the same opportunity. Second, me must let kids know that being confused is part of the learning process. In addition, we must teach them to express their confusion with a certain level of specificity. Teaching tip: Honor all students by giving them ample time to think but also respect “quick thinkers” by giving them an extension thinking point. Help students express their confusion by giving them sentence starters like: I understand ___________ but I am confused about ___________.
3) Teach kids to give credit for other’s ideas. We must help kids realize that agreeing with someone’s thinking and adopting their point of view or idea is part of learning. In fact, the whole reason we have our students talk to each other is to learn from each. We must, however, teach kids to give credit to the originator of the thought they adopted so their peers do not view them negatively. Teaching tip: Help students by giving them sentence starters like: ______(name)______ shared with me that ___________.
4) Teach kids to disagree respectfully: Disagreements are fundamental to academic discussions and are often signals that learning is truly happening. Therefore, we must teach kids to embrace disagreements (both giving and receiving) by doing so respectfully. Teaching tip: Help students by giving them sentence starters like: I agree with you about ____________ but I disagree with you about ____________ because ______________.
In all of this, maintaining trust between teacher and student is paramount. Some students are apprehensive about discussions due to past experiences in which their peers looked down upon them as a result of their comments during a discussion. A lot of times, however, we as teachers add to student apprehension even though we might not realize it. Here is an example that plays itself out in my class more often than I would like to admit. Perhaps it will sound familiar. Even though I tell students time and time again that being confused is a part of learning and that I will honor their confusion when they express it . . . it happens. Responding to a raised hand, the student honestly and confidently divulges, “I’m confused.” Suddenly, all that talk about “honoring confusion” flies out the window and I hear myself say, “I told you three times. Were you even listening?” Just like with anything else, our actions speak louder than our words. In this case, confusion isn’t honored; it is punished. Once that trust is broken it is nearly impossible to it earn back. That student will disengage from future discussions with huge consequences for their learning.
From the perspective of student learning, students’ willingness and ability to share their thoughts are too critical in today’s schools to be ignored or lost due to issues of trust. We must both teach the skills and create the climate necessary for the academic discussion to be a truly effective strategy. We must walk the walk.
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
School Improvement is tough and requires putting a lot of pieces into place to ensure that all schools meet the needs of kids. The whole child “Improving Schools”blog entry, written by ASCD Whole Child Programs Director Sean Slade, takes a look at the various factors required for successful student outcomes by tackling the issues kids and schools face today. During his more than two decades in education, Slade has written extensively on topics related to the whole child and health and well-being (PDF) and has been at the forefront of promoting and using school climate, connectedness, resilience, and youth development data for school improvement.In the latest “Improving Schools” column, Slade discusses the importance of preparing students for the futureby teaching them the skills they need for tomorrow. Read Sean’s entire “Improving Schools”column.
Throughout September at wholechildeducation.org: Resilience
Resilience—the ability of “each of us to bounce back stronger, wiser, and more personally powerful” (Nan Henderson); “not only survive, but also learn to thrive” (Bonnie Benard); or even to “bungee jump through the pitfalls of life” (Andrew Fuller)—is more than a trait; it’s a process that can and should be taught, learned, and required. Being resilient helps youth navigate the world around them, and schools and classrooms are becoming more attuned to providing the cognitive, emotional, and developmental supports needed for resilience to prosper and grow in each of us.
“If children are given the chance to believe they’re worth something—if they truly believe that—they will insist upon it” (Maya Angelou). What benefits do schools, classrooms, and students gain through increased attention to resilience teaching and development? How is resilience best developed: taught as a curriculum, integrated across all content areas, or organically developed by each student?
Download the Whole Child Podcast for a discussion on resilience with host Sean Slade, director of Whole Child Programs at ASCD, and experts Sara Truebridge and Andrew Fuller. Throughout the month, read the Whole Child Blog and tell us what has worked in your school and with your students. E-mail us and share resources, research, and examples.
ASCD Leaders on Reflection
A defining trait of leadership is a passion for success and continuous improvement. With progress comes new vistas and new goals, as well as new challenges to overcome in our never-ending quest for knowledge and excellence. Leaders envision a future, and great leaders shape that future. With that in mind, the Whole Child Blog asked ASCD leaders to share their thoughts on what reflection means to them as learners, teachers, and leaders. Here’s what they said:
ASCD Leader Voices
Reflecting on How We Learn, Teach, and Lead
Educating the whole child and planning for comprehensive, sustainable school improvement requires us to be whole educators who take the time to recharge, reflect, and reinvigorate. How did you reflect on your practice this summer and what goals have you set for the new school year? Read more at the Whole Child Blog.
Over the summer months, we looked at educators’ need to reflect on the past school year, refresh their passion for teaching, recharge their batteries, and look ahead. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast hosted by Kevin Scott—a former history teacher and current director of constituent services at ASCD—and featuring guests Peter Badalament, principal of Concord-Carlisle High School in Massachusetts, and Jason Flom, director of learning platforms at whole child partner Q.E.D. Foundation.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read the latest newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
Something to Talk About
Keynote Speakers Announced for ASCD's 2014 Annual Conference and Exhibit Show—ASCD has released the keynote speakers for the 69th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show, held in Los Angeles, Calif., March 15–17, 2014. The conference will showcase ideas and best-practice strategies that are driving student achievement and will unlock ways to boost teacher and leadership effectiveness. Attendees will choose from more than 350 sessions that will enable them to prepare our world's learners to be creative, critically minded, and compassionate citizens. Read the full press release.
ASCD Kicks Off Yearlong “Membership Means More” Campaign, Announces Insurance Benefits—ASCD announced today new benefits available to current and future members as part of a yearlong rollout of new member perks and benefits during the association's “membership means more” campaign. Read the full press release.
ASCD Publishes Eric Jensen’s Book about Engagement Strategies to Help Students in Poverty Succeed—ASCD announces the release of Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind: Practical Strategies for Raising Achievement, a new book by seasoned educator, prolific author, and brain expert Eric Jensen. Read the full press release.
CEO and Executive Director Dr. Gene R. Carter received the Best Health Promotion Practice Award at the 21st IUHPE World Conference in Thailand for his service promoting a whole child approach to education and fostering greater alignment between the health and education sectors. Dr. Carter was selected by the Global Scientific Committee of the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) as one of the three award winners for best health promotion practice. Dr. Carter urges educators to promote and view health as fundamental; not only for the individual, but also for the success of education itself. Read the entire press release.
Baruti K. Kafele’s New ASCD Book Shows How to Close the Attitude Gap to Improve Student Learning—ASCD has released Closing the Attitude Gap: How to Fire Up Your Students to Strive for Success by award-winning educator and best-selling education author Baruti K. Kafele. Read the full press release.
New ASCD and McREL Book Presents Simple Approach to Maintaining Focus in the Classroom—ASCD has released The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day by McREL experts Bryan Goodwin and Elizabeth Ross Hubbell. Read the full press release.
ASCD Welcomes New Teachers to Profession, Offers Resources—ASCD is pleased to welcome new teachers to the education profession and offer professional development resources to ensure their success during the coming school year. Read the full press release.
ASCD Launches New Educational Leadership Subscription Offering—ASCD now offers subscriptions to its flagship magazine, Educational Leadership (EL).Read the full press release.
ASCD Releases New Professional Development Offerings for Educators Heading Back to School—As students head back to school for the start of the 2013–14 school year, ASCD offers a new selection of professional development opportunities to enable educators at every level to support the success of each learner. Read the full press release.
Dr. Carter Receives International Award for Best Health Promotion Practice
It is what teachers do all the time and it is a great way to replace hodgepodge professional development planning with professional developing planning that is effective: begin with a baseline; provide support; and evaluate.
Begin with a baseline: What do teachers need in order to continue to grow professionally and to enhance student achievement? How do these needs relate to the school’s goals? Anwering these questions require two things. One is teacher reflection that determines where the teacher is and what she wishes to improve, or, add to her instructional toolbox. The other is having an honest conversation with the school leadership about how the teacher’s needs are linked to the school’s goals. This information is recorded by both parties as part of the teacher’s professional development plan.
If the school plans to introduce new iniatives, it is a good idea to ask the teacher if and what she knows about these initiatives. Responses will provide further insights to the type of professional development opportunities that would be useful. Also, a good way to ensure that all teachers are interviewed is to list meetings on the school’s internal planning tool.
Evaluation criteria are established during this step and are based on the questions posed earlier. Hence, enhancement of teacher practice, student achievement, and impact on the schoolwide community are factors that are measured. These factors typify Danielson’s framework domain one (planning and preparation), domain three (instruction), and four (professional responsibilities), respectively.
Provide Support: As noted earlier, recorded goals and responses to questions about initiatives are great sources to use to plan appropriate, group and differentiated professional development. In addition to providing internal professional development opportunities, school leadership should also consider allowing teachers to attend external professional development sessions during school hours. However, in keeping with the effort to create an effective professional development plan, these sessions should also be included as part of the school’s internal planning tool to ensure a smooth transition of instructional changes that are needed in the teacher’s absence.
Additionally, teachers are to be encouraged, after a reasonable time has passed, to share what they have learned, what challenges they faced when implementing new learning, how implementation affects their practice and urged to provide a demonstration for their peers. And, they are to be recognized for their efforts and accomplishments.
Evaluate: Now that goals have been set in accordance with teachers’ and the school’s needs and a support base has been established, evaluation can take place. How has the professional development that teachers have engaged in enhanced practice, student achievement and the school community as a whole? The criteria established during goal setting are used to conduct the evaluation that will help to answer this question.
One other area that is often overlooked but that must also be evaluated is the process. How effective has the process been in promoting professional development? This can be determined by using feedback from teachers together with implementation results.
This approach of using a baseline to meet specific needs, providing support by making it possible for teachers to practice and share what they learn and evaluating to determine the value of professional development, is simple but useful for promoting a healthy environment for effecting growth in teaching and learning.
My older son is two years-old. He will be three in November. We call him a "boy boy," which is code for him being very physical. He likes to run and wrestle. He likes to explore, try new things, and finds the world interesting. Sometimes, most times, it's an amazing quality. He learns colloquialisms quickly and utilizes them appropriately, has a keen sense of humor, and smiles a lot. He is a giggler, much like his dad. As much as I am trying to teach him, he teaches me, too. Today, he taught me an important lesson.
Often I make mistakes as a father. I give him too many directions, not enough directions, or set him up for failure with unrealistic expectations. Today I made a combination of all of those decisions when I took him with me for what I thought would be a quick haircut. It wasn't.
My son, Jake, was getting tired. I could see it when we drove up to the haircut place. His eyes had fluttered open and closed, and his head had begun to sag forward a bit in his car seat, clear indicators that he was close to napping. I should have heeded the warnings signs. Instead, I tried to maximize my time and jam in the haircut, too. Not one of my better ideas.
We walked in. I saw there was no wait. 'Score! We'll be in and out,' I thought. I'd been to this particular place before. They specialize in quick, affordable haircuts. The stylists save the haircut settings in the computer, so whoever cuts your hair the next time knows your preferences. I was called right away. I'm feeling good.
I held Jake's hand and he walked with me to my seat. The stylists idea to keep him occupied was to put a child chair ten feet from my seat and tell him to sit. She was young, she didn't know better. I'm not young, and I do. I know my two year-old doesn't sit in a seat unless a cartoon is on, he's eating french fries, or he's strapped in. I thought, 'he can do this,' even though there was no evidence supporting he could. He'd never sat in a seat for any length of time without a distraction. Why should he do it now? I hadn't brought in food for him, his favorite book, a toy, or the iPad. I had unrealistic expectations for him, and he behaved how he was supposed to -- like a normal two year-old. And, that became the problem.
As I got my haircut, Jake sat in his seat and looked around. He brought over a magazine and turned the pages. Within 30 seconds he was ready for something more stimulating. He surveyed the room and saw the hair care products. I cringed on the inside, as Jake approached them and proceeded to reorder some of them. Gels, sprays, other things I don't know what they're used for, they all were moved, touched, slapped together, and played with. He went to a hair dryer and tried to take it. He took some of the hair products and moved them to the other side of the room. He seemed pleased with himself. He'd taken the initiative to take a bunch of objects that looked shiny, colorful, with interesting shapes, and made something new with them. Don't I give him free reign to explore with similar looking objects in his playroom? As far as he was concerned, he'd follow the inherent rules established at home. If they were different, I needed to tell him that in advance, and guide him through as he made mistakes so he could learn from them.
Instead, I was tongue tied. I wasn't sure how much to say, or what not to say. I excused myself from the chair and caught Jake mid-run. I explained to him that we needed to respect the property and everything in it. I needed him to sit in the chair for 2 minutes and look at the magazines, perhaps play with my phone. Then, we would go, and I would get him home and to bed.
He settled down compared to how he was prior, but he was still over-stimulated. There was a lot to see, and he wanted to see it. His curiosity had been piqued, tempered, but still there. I apologized for Jake's decision making.
"This is my mistake," I stated. "I didn't bring any toys or food for him. I am sorry for this."
The hairstylist didn't respond. She continued to cut my hair and stare at it as she lopped parts off.
"I am sorry," I tried again. "I was not prepared for this, and should have explained to him what the expectations were."
Again, silence. No response.
'Ok,' I thought, 'she's just trying to get through this, just like me.' Had I been her I might have accepted the apology, tried to empathize, or just dismiss what was said with a quick, 'no big deal.' I've been around the block, worked with a lot of different types of personalities as an educator, and don't take things personally. I find it personal to them. The hair stylist, for whatever reason, was taking this highly personal.
When the haircut was finished, the hairstylist usually asks if I want any gel in my hair. Instead, she said, "you're done," and walked to the cash register. I paid her, tipped her, and tried one last time. "Thank you," I said, making eye contact. She looked at me and walked away. The two hair stylists behind her looked at me. I looked at them. They smiled sheepishly. They were embaressed for everyone. They didn't want to be in that spot right now.
"Does he want a lollipop?" one offered.
"I think a nap would be better," I replied.
Jake is home sleeping now, and I am reflecting. What did I learn from the 'Haircut Doomsday Experience,' and how can I relate it to my teaching and leading practice? First, keep in mind what's realistic and practical. If someone isn't in the right frame of mind to accept something new or different, like Jake was, I need to trust my instinctual read and choose another time to connect with them. Second, if I do make a decision and it's incorrect, recognize it, admit it, and change it. When I saw that Jake wasn't going to behave appropriately during my haircut because I hadn't made the prior preparations, I needed to excuse myself, take him home to his mom, and return to finish my haircut. Third, make it right. I should have asked to speak with her privately and made it clear I appreciated her efforts during 'Jake-gate', take ownership of my role in what occurred, and asked her what I could do to help her. She's not an educator or parent, and did the best she could with her skill set. Additionally, I needed to tell Jake I messed up and shouldn't have brought him there, instead of hustling him to the car as if we were leaving the scene of a crime. Last, I should let the owners of the haircut place know that their staff did the best they could, but perhaps having child-centered materials available (the chain bills itself as a family haircut place) and staff training on how to handle different types of children would be beneficial.
Or, I could just be mortified and never go there again. But, how would anyone grow from this experience if I do?
This is the fourth year I have been part of a summer reading program which ditched the traditional assignment for a more connected approach. Utilizing a tool, like Schoology as we have, to provide a platform for ongoing communication regarding the reading has had a truly transformative effect on a traditional assignment.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
While a variety of teaching and learning approaches are valid, inquiry learning is an important part of the mix. For positive contributions to life and for success in post-secondary education and work, students need to analyze and problem-solve and they need skills in interdependent and self-directed work, communications, creativity/innovation, literacy, numeracy and appropriate use of technology.
Not only do students need skills but they need motivation and a sense of self-efficacy. When students work to solve relevant, real life problems and find answers for themselves, they develop a sense of purposefulness that is missing in other kinds of learning. The focus students develop can spark desire for lifelong learning and lifelong constructiveness.
Employers need people who can problem-solve and innovate. For effective decision making in a democracy, citizens need to be able to analyze the logic of statements they read and hear. Education leaders, business and government have identified critical thinking, communications, collaboration, creativity/innovation, literacy and numeracy as 21st Century Skills (The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, http://p21.org/).
Students develop and use 21st Century Skills when, in combination with other learning methods, they solve problems by framing their own research questions, find, analyze and synthesize data, form logical conclusions, and present their findings.