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Every morning before work, I stop by Yahoo with the intention of checking my email—and only checking my mail. Without exception, this is what happens: In the half second it takes me to move my cursor over the email icon and click, it’s all over. Suddenly, I find myself halfway into an article entitled “Nike pulls poorly timed t-shirts from stores.” “How did I get here?” I think to myself as I polish off the last paragraph of an article about Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. Of course I never want to read these articles, but the power of an enigmatic, well-written headline can get me to read just about anything.
So what can teachers learn from the power of a well-written headline and how can they harness it for engaging students? Here are a few ideas we gleaned from one of our favorite authors and educators, Dr. Richard Curwin. We highly recommend checking out his blogs here.
Headlines always use teasers. Teachers should too.
Regardless of what you teach, try beginning each lesson with some sort of provocative statement—something that will make your students go, “huh?”
Which of these two questions do you think would work best for engaging students?
You went with the second one, yes? How about these two questions:
We bet you went with the second question both times. Why? Because Jay-Z and Keyboard Cat are interesting. At first glance, they also seem completely unrelated to the essays you asked your students to read. This will not only capture their curiosity, it’ll force students to think critically to make a connection. Here’s another tip for engaging students that comes courtesy of Dr. Curwin.
Use Compelling Questions
Have you ever forgotten the name of a song, a book title or even someone's name and spent the whole day trying to remember it? It was under your skin, so to speak, and the need to remember was compelling to the extreme. The same is true when you begin a class with a question that creates a compelling need for students to know the answer. This strategy is based on the principle that questions should come before answers. Typically, teachers give information and then ask questions about it. Hearing the question first, especially a great one, radically increases the need to learn the information just to find the answer. Great questions have these things in common:
Here is a sampling of compelling questions that teachers from various content areas have shared with me:
Questions like these begin your class with energy, excitement and most importantly, a desire to learn.
Photo credit: Adam Sundana at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cukuskumir/
An advantage that I have as one who is fortunate enough to attend many education conferences, or special education events is the contact I have with many of the thought leaders in education. Of course most of those folks do not think of themselves as thought leaders, but just educators. The fact is that we are often defined by the perception of others. This holds true for institutions as well.
NOTE: I recently posted a commentary on ASCD Edge (co-authored with Jay McTighe) identifying ten research-based beliefs about teaching and learning and their implications. #7 was:
Attitudes and values mediate learning by filtering experiences and perceptions. Therefore, teachers should understand how student attitudes and values influence learning and help students build positive attitudes towards learning.
This commentary elaborates on that belief, suggests its importance, and describes more ways to implement it.
In America, especially during the progressive education era and the “open education” years, building positive attitudes towards learning, motivating students, creating interest in learning, making learning relevant, and yes, even promoting the joy of learning were important aspects of educational planning, development and practice. The belief during these time periods was that building curiosity, expanding student interests, and making learning relevant and interesting would promote active student inquiry, build on a natural human inclination to learn, and help create an educational environment in which students would WANT to learn.
Unfortunately, this emphasis has been mostly lost, even negated, in the push for teaching “the basics”, often through worksheets and drills, and then with the more recent focus on passing high risk standardized tests, teaching skill based reading and math, and cutting back on “frills”, such as the arts and social studies. Today, it is hard to find schools where curiosity, interest in learning, being motivated to learn, and making learning joyful are as important as doing well on standardized tests, taking four years of English, or passing AP courses. These goals are also missing from any meaningful discussion about what we want to accomplish with our students, what we will assess, and what kind of learner we want to graduate.
Yet, if we really want to encourage students to learn, grow, succeed and achieve in a 21st century world, if we truly want them to be lifelong learners in a world of rapid change, social media, access to technology, and transformative job development, we will need to create a new and different kind of approach, one that puts curiosity, motivation, interest, and joy back into the learning equation. What primarily distinguishes our country from the rest of the world, what makes us unique, is not how well we take tests, but the unusual amount of curiosity, individual talent, creativity, ingenuity, and interest in learning and growing that comes from so many Americans and is developed in so many different ways. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were unusual not only because of their drive, but also because they were curious about how things worked and how they were able to learn about things they were passionately interested in. Bill Gates became interested in computers in part because the opportunity to work with computers was presented to him in high school outside of his regular courses. Steve Jobs created the diverse calligraphies found on the Apple computer because he took a calligraphy course that interested him after he had left the formal college world. Their natural leadership inclinations happened because they were curious about and interested in computers, and because they knew that, in order to keep pace with others, they needed to grow, adapt and change.
Unfortunately, due to the pressures to do well on standardized tests, to time spent on practicing for these tests, to the need to “get through” multiple topics required by coverage based standards, to the emphasis on getting more students to take AP courses, and so on, millions of children are lacking the kinds of positive learning experiences that support lifelong learning, increase curiosity, build individual talent, and make learning interesting, rewarding and just plain fun!
How do we promote a focus on developing the positive learning attitudes and values identified in this commentary? A good place for an individual teacher or a faculty to start is to first examine and explore the following questions: What motivated you in school? What did you enjoy doing? What interested you? What types of activities piqued your curiosity? Spurred you to continue learning and growing? My guess is that many teachers would say that they enjoyed learning because they were good and successful at it! They were rewarded for what they did. They did well on tests. They were encouraged to build on their strengths. They liked hands on activities and projects. They were given choices. Few would say that they enjoyed being reminded of their failures, that they liked taking multiple-choice tests or doing worksheets, that they liked reading textbooks, that they found enjoyment in doing an activity that they didn’t understand or was so far above their abilities that they had no chance at success. Most probably had mentors and supporters in times of difficulty. Most had at least a few teachers who encouraged them who were good at explaining difficult concepts or who helped them “learn how to learn”. The list of answers might be expanded through reading articles and books on how to build curiosity, motivation, individual talents, and interest in learning.
Once a list of answers is developed, then the following questions might be examined: What am I/are we currently doing that builds curiosity, interest, relevance, enjoyment, and the kinds of “learning to learn” skills and competencies that our students will need in the future? How do I/we implement and expand programs, approaches and activities in schools and classrooms that motivate and interest students in learning and create enjoyment?
Based on my own informal research and discussions of this topic with teachers and others, here are thirteen suggestions as food for thought:
In sum, a focus on how to create positive attitudes such as curiosity, interest, motivation and relevance leads to a very different way of thinking about school and classroom missions, outcomes, the learning environment, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. For example, instead of a focus on standardized tests passed by everyone, a portfolio assessment approach helps students focus on their individual strengths and reflect on what they have learned. Teachers concentrate on building student strengths rather than dwelling on their failures. Students are provided with opportunities to improve their work before they are graded. More choices and options are given to students in the form of classroom choices, electives, and enrichment activities. Some learning, such as research projects, is built around student interests. Many types of questions become more central to the learning experience. “Learning to learn” skills become a critical part of the classroom experience. There are more opportunities for students to make connections to the outside world in order to raise expectations and build motivation.
These ideas are just some of the starting points for your own discussion on how to develop positive attitudes towards learning and build the individual curiosity, skills, talents, and interests that will propel our students towards a better life, towards continued learning, and towards “pathways to student success” in a 21st century world. While this way of thinking might lead to a wide variety of suggestions and ideas, please remember: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
[i] SQ3R is a study guide model that is focused around:
Surveying what you are reading;
Questions: Turn chapter and section headings, titles, subheadings into questions;
Read for the answers to each question;
Recite your answers after each section – orally ask yourself the questions and summarize your answers;
Review what you have learned.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, ASCD author and Understanding by Design trainer. If you are interested in examining additional and related teaching and learning topics in order to help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website at: www.era3learning.org
Thanks for a fantastic 2013 ASCD Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois!
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Register for the Whole Child Virtual Conference: May 6–10, 2013
Join ASCD for its third annual Whole Child Virtual Conference. This free online event offers thought leadership discussions; presentations from leading authors and experts; and an exploration of the steps outstanding schools, communities, and individual countries take as they move along the continuum of a whole child approach—from implementation to sustainability to culture. No matter where you are on this continuum, you’ll find lessons you can learn and questions you can ask to improve and grow your schools.
This year the conference will include 24 sessions over 7 days between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. eastern time, with sessions on May 2 and 3 specifically for Australasian and European audiences. This year’s conference speakers include authors and experts Thomas Armstrong, Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Eric Jensen, Wendy Ostroff, William Parrett and Kathleen M. Budge, Pasi Sahlberg, and Yong Zhao.
Sessions will also feature presentations from ASCD Emerging Leaders, ASCD’s Outstanding Young Educators Award winner, the recipient of Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and members of ASCD’s Whole Child Network of Schools.
Registration is now open. Go to www.ascd.org/wcvirtualconference to sign up.
ASCD Nominations Committee Applications Open in May
ASCD is seeking ASCD leaders who are interested in serving on the 2013–14 ASCD Nominations Committee. More information—the committee’s charge, qualifications for service, and time commitment—will be available starting May 1 on www.ascd.org. ASCD will be accepting applications May 1–31. We invite ASCD leaders to consider their interest in this opportunity over the next few weeks before the application becomes available.
ASCD Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Student Chapters Help Chicago’s Hungry During ASCD Annual Conference
On March 15, 46 ASCD Student Chapter members volunteered to make a difference in the fight against hunger in Chicago. Working together the Friday morning before ASCD’s Annual Conference, the students packaged more than 15,000 pounds of food to help feed the nearly 678,000 people who rely on emergency and supplemental food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Thank you and congratulations to our ASCD Student Chapter volunteers! Read the full Conference Daily article.
ASCD Forum Session at ASCD Annual Conference Gives Educators a Voice on Teacher and Principal Effectiveness
On March 17, ASCD Past President Debra Hill facilitated a discussion of the ASCD Forum topic “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” Ten ASCD leaders stepped forward to help lead the discussion:
· Jason Flom, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Ben Shuldiner, Position Advisory Committee Member
· Amy Vanden Boogart, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Jeffrey Lofthus, Alaska ASCD Executive Director
· Daina Lieberman, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Mamzelle Adolphine, Professional Interest Community Facilitator
· Laurie McCullough, Virginia ASCD Executive Director
· Alice Wells, Arizona ASCD Executive Director
· Matthew Cotton, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Torian White, ASCD Emerging Leader
Session attendees stepped up to the front of the room to share their thoughts and also posted tweets to the #ASCDForum hashtag. Many thanks to the ASCD leaders who participated to make this session a success!
Congratulations to ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Winners
Please join ASCD in congratulating the ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Recipients:
Two affiliates were recognized for the 2013 Overall Excellence Award: Iowa ASCD, for its increased focus on integrating technology into professional learning opportunities and their influence and advocacy work with ASCD, and New Hampshire ASCD, for its work to increase membership and provide increased professional learning opportunities, such as Common Core workshops.
In addition, New Jersey ASCD received the Area Excellence Award for Programs, Products, and Services for their leadership in their state as a trusted source for professional learning. Texas ASCD received an Exceptional Progress Award in Influence and Policy, and Alberta ASCD, Ohio ASCD, and Vermont ASCD were all recipients of the Exceptional Progress Award in Programs, Products, and Services.
Welcome to the “Educating Beyond Disabilities” Professional Interest Community
Please join ASCD in welcoming our newest Professional Interest Community, facilitated by 2011 ASCD Emerging Leader Christina Yuknis. Please join her group on ASCD EDge.
Tennessee ASCD Featured in ASCD Inservice Blog Series
Weasked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. In the sixth post of the series, Tennessee ASCD President-Elect John Combs writes about the challenges and successes that Tennessee has had with CCSS implementation.
Meet ASCD President Becky Berg
Becky J. Berg is from a family of educators. "My dad was a school board president; my mom was a career educator; and my sister, my grandmother, and my great-grandfather were educators," she says. Despite the genetic pull, Berg wasn't completely convinced she would follow in the family's footsteps until her experience as a summer camp counselor while she was in college. It was then that she realized how much she loved working with kids. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Congratulations to the 2013 Outstanding Young Educator Award Winners!
ASCD salutes a new generation’s passion for education excellence through this year’s selection of two Outstanding Young Educator Award winners: Joshua Garcia, deputy superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools (Wash.), and Parkville High School (Parkville, Md.) teacher Ryan Twentey. Twentey teaches art, photography, and interactive media production and also serves as the school’s technology liaison. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Interactive ASCD 2012 Annual Report Features ASCD Leaders
Check out the ASCD 2012 Annual Report, entitled “Creating Solutions: The ASCD Revolution in Motion.” This interactive report features videos footage of ASCD leaders, including ASCD Emerging Leader Steven Anderson, Florida ASCD President Alina Davis, Alabama ASCD Executive Director Jane Cobia, ASCD Board Member Harriet Arnold, and Connecticut ASCD President David Cormier.
Throughout April at wholechildeducation.org: Principal Leadership
Principals are the key players in developing the climate, culture, and processes in their schools. They are critical to implementing meaningful and lasting school change and in the ongoing school-improvement process. Principals who have a clear vision; inspire and engage others in embracing change for improvement; drive, facilitate, and monitor the teaching and learning process; and foster a cohesive culture of learning are the collaborative leaders our schools need to fully commit to ensuring each student—and school staff member—is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
What qualities do principals in today’s (and tomorrow’s) schools need to fulfill their roles as visionary, instructional, influential, and learning leaders?
There are two episodes of the Whole Child Podcast in April for you to download and share. The first episode, “Leveling and Raising the Playing Field,” features school staff from Oregon’s Milwaukie High School, winner of the 2013 Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and is available now. On April 11, the second episode will be available. It will focus on principal leadership and include guests Kevin Enerson, principal of Whole Child Network school Le Sueur-Henderson High School in Minnesota, and Jessica Bohn, ASCD Emerging Leader and principal of Gibsonville Elementary School in North Carolina.
The Best-Case Scenario
As we review and reinforce our schools’ safety measures, we aren’t planning for the worst-case scenario that might happen; we are working to make sure the best-case scenario—where schools are learning environments that are physically, socially, and emotionally safe for students and adults—is an everyday occurrence that does happen. Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In February and March, we looked at what we, as educators, believe is crucial to making our schools safe—not just physically safe, but also safe places to teach and learn. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Joseph Bergant II, superintendent of Chardon Schools in Ohio; Howard Adelman, professor of psychology at UCLA and codirector of the School Mental Health Project and the Center for Mental Health in Schools (a whole child partner); and Jonathan Cohen, adjunct professor in psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and president and cofounder of whole child partner National School Climate Center.
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
A new study at Michigan State suggests that there is limited vocabulary instruction in kindergarten classes across the U.S., particularly for those students living at the poverty level. The is problematic because numerous studies have noted how building a good vocabulary right from start of schooling is directly related to later academic achievement and to success in a wide range of school subjects. The above study didn’t specifically address the issue of students with special needs (i.e.,neurodiversities such as learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, intellectual disabilities, autism, and emotional and behavioral disorders). These kids in particular need learning strategies that capitalize on their strengths in areas such as music, physical expression, social interaction, and interest in nature. Here are 17 ways to teach vocabulary skills in kindergarten and at other grade levels that are good for all students, but in particular are helpful for students with special needs.:
For more strategies to help neurodiverse students achieve success in school, see my book Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life (ASCD). Also, visit my website: www.institute4learning.com.
Because of the requirements of No Child Left Behind and the current emphasis on implementing the Common Core standards, reading and math are given priority time and attention in many, if not most public schools and Districts. Due to these circumstances, there is relatively little priority given to teaching and learning science. We frequently read in the media about the importance of science in today’s 21st century world, yet there is little emphasis on creating comprehensive, high quality science programs at all levels, pre-school through high school. It is rare to find coherent, active learning, inquiry based science programs at the pre-school and primary grade levels. Many teachers at the elementary level indicate that they have limited time to include science activities in the curriculum. High quality science programs emphasize active learning through inquiry strategies, investigation, hypothesis testing, experimentation, and science projects, but in too many middle and high school science classes, the key science program ingredients are the use of textbooks as the primary science resource, coverage driven teaching and learning, and traditional multiple-choice, short essay tests. Other priorities, time limitations, lack of attention, fragmentation, a traditional coverage based focus – all conspire to reduce the effectiveness and excellence of science programs in most schools and Districts.
Here are one dozen reasons why we must counter these trends and find ways to implement high quality science teaching and learning for all our children at all educational levels:
1. Science is interesting, important, meaningful, and motivating.
Science questions provoke interest in the mysteries and wonders of the natural world. Students learn to think about important questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? How does life exist? Why do things grow? Learning science provides students with an understanding of its massive contributions to everyday living and the comforts of life. Science programs provide an important avenue for helping students to develop a passion for inquiry and a better understanding of the world around us.
2. Science career opportunities will be important in the future.
High quality science education experiences develop scientific talents and interests. Good science programs interest, motivate and encourage students to prepare to work in the growing science-related professions, as scientists, health care professionals, technicians, and other science-related fields.
3. Science promotes democratic thinking and values.
Science teaches children to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking in order to resolve problems. Conflicts in science are resolved peacefully through discussion, argument, further investigation and the collection of evidence. Scientists learn to “disagree without being disagreeable”. Thoughtful criticism is the norm, not the exception. The expectation is that, as Einstein once said, “critical comments should be taken in a friendly spirit”.
4. Science builds positive lifelong learning habits, behaviors and attitudes.
Good science programs emphasize the value of inquiry, encourage curiosity, and reward persistence and patience. Students learn to focus on science as a series of mysteries. They learn how to develop and explore interesting questions. They learn to solve problems and answer questions by taking small steps, being persistent, having patience, and overcoming adversity. They learn that finding “truth” is often messy and inconclusive. Students learn that successful achievement and learning often require trial and error, making mistakes, even failure. In other words, science teaches habits, behaviors and attitudes that support self-directed, autonomous, lifelong learning.
5. Science enhances creativity and imagination, tolerance for and adaptation to change
High quality science programs encourage students to ask “what if…?”. Students learn to explore open-ended questions, to consider alternatives that are “outside the box”, to invent and test creative solutions, and to try to solve problems in different and unusual ways. Science teaches students that change and adaptation is part of the nature of learning and growing by testing new ideas and adapting to changing circumstances.
6. Science teaches that knowledge is “tentative” and that knowledge, theory and explanation are all part of the learning process.
Too many students come away from school thinking that that knowledge is fixed and immutable (especially if it comes from a textbook) – that there is always a right answer. A study of Galileo’s or Einstein’s discoveries help students to see that what once was thought to be “correct” turned out to be wrong, that scientific knowledge needs to be tested, studies need replication, and theory is only an empty idea until there is data to support and explain it. Good science programs teach students that knowledge is frequently tentative and changing.
7. Science develops critical intellectual skills.
Science fosters the development of critical thinking skills that carry over to learning other subjects and daily living. Through science, children learn to carefully observe (What do you see happening to this plant as it grows?) interpret and hypothesize (Why do you think this is happening?) conduct experiments (How can we prove it?), see different perspectives and points of view (What are different points of view about why this happened?) analyze (What are its component parts?) synthesize (How does this all fit together into a pattern? What are the connections and relationships?) and draw conclusions (What are our results? Conclusions? Why?) Students learn how to create an argument with supporting evidence to justify a point of view, to question opinions that have little backing to support them.
8. Science builds reading and “learning to learn” skills.
Good science programs build strong reading skills! As students investigate physical forces, chemical reactions, biological growth, or the solar system, they also learn how to read a variety of science resources, understand new concepts, build vocabulary and background knowledge, and learn the language of science and science inquiry. The investigation skills they learn – defining problems and challenges, searching for and processing information, thinking critically and creatively, drawing conclusions and applying learning, and communicating with others and explaining results - are a significant part of the “learning to learn” skills they will need for college and future careers.
9. Science helps students to learn and apply mathematical thinking.
Math is the language of science. As students learn science, they learn that mathematics is an important tool to help solve real problems and questions. Measurement, number manipulation, and proportional thinking are critical tools of science. As students “do” science, they learn how to collect and analyze data, form patterns, develop spatial and geometric relationships, and apply many of the higher level and complex math systems to scientific problem solving.
10. Science enriches learning in other subjects.
All subject areas benefit when a student understands science concepts and ideas. For example, science concepts are helpful for understanding historical forces, technological and social changes over time, and current issues and concerns such as global warming. Science problems can be used to help students understand and apply statistical analysis. The arts are integrated into science through graphic designs and drawings that complement learning about scientific and technological principles and innovations and provide visual demonstrations of learning. Science concepts are intertwined with understanding healthy living habits and good nutrition.
11. Science develops teamwork skills.
Through science, children learn how to work together to investigate, test hypotheses, interpret data, and draw conclusions. As they work together, they learn to understand and tolerate difference and diversity. They learn how teamwork contributes to significant learning. Science can also contribute to making schools safer and more peaceful by teaching students how to work together and resolve conflicts.
12. Scientific understanding is critical for good citizenship in a 21st century world.
An understanding of science, science concepts, how science arrives at results, and science research is critical if students are to become intelligent citizens in a democratic society. An understanding of today’s complex issues, concerns, challenges and problems require an understanding of scientific principles, concepts and ideas. Global warming is the most obvious, but others include what to do about atomic waste, how to get clean water, agriculture and food issues, health and illness, hurricane damage prevention, energy issues, automation and robotics.
High quality, inquiry based science programs motivate children and provide them with intellectual skills and positive attitudes and values that help them to succeed in school and in life. Science learning raises and examines critical questions and promotes understanding about the natural and physical world, and provides students with inquiry and investigation skills that will encourage a lifetime of learning. They increase interest in a subject that is of considerable importance to the development of highly educated citizens who understand critical issues for the future and to student preparation for well-paying science-related careers. Good science programs help students learn to work together and to learn methods that help them resolve conflicts peacefully.
Teachers, Boards of Education, superintendents, principals, the community at large, and governments at all levels – all need to make a commitment to support and develop high quality science programs at all levels, including pre-school. There are many ways to do this – for example, to widely share and discuss these dozen reasons on why it is critical to develop strong science programs, to adopt high quality science curricula at all levels[i], to develop teachers’ science knowledge and skills, to train teachers on how to incorporate high quality science experiences into their classrooms, to involve local science organizations in promoting and fostering high quality programs, to apply for funds to implement and support high quality science programs at all levels, and, ultimately, to develop competent science educators in every school and at all levels.
Every child should have the opportunity to participate in a strong, coherent science program. It should be priority for a 21st century world education. Science education can have a powerful impact on children and learning, and it can make a significant difference in the lives of children. What it takes is understanding, commitment, dedication, passion, persistence, and hard work over time.
[i] Curricular programs that meet the high quality test include active, kit based elementary science programs such as FOSS (http://lhsfoss.org), secondary programs such as Active Physics (http://its-about-time.com/htmls/ap.html), and the adoption of teaching methods that promote active learning and support science understanding, such as those created by Eric Mazur at Harvard University (http://mazur.harvard.edu/education/educationmenu.php).
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, Understanding by Design trainer, author, consultant, former Professor of Education at Temple University, and former Director, Curriculum/Instruction Services for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. If you are interested in examining additional ways to improve teaching, learning, and curriculum in order to help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website at: www.era3learning.org