Search ASCD EDge
On April 15 and 16, 2013 I visited the Philippines and did two talks on multiple intelligences. The first talk on April 15th was for 1500 pediatricians as part of a dinner symposium sponsored by Wyeth/Nutrition at the CMX Convention Center in Manila, coinciding with the annual conference of the Philippine Pediatric Society.
I focused on how multiple intelligences can be used to stimulate cognitive growth in infancy, enrich play experiences for toddlers, and enhance the environment of developmental preschools. I was surprised to learn that 80% of pediatricians in the Philippines are women. In the United States, the figure is more like 57% (and this has grown considerably over the past few decades when pediatricians were largely male). It makes a lot of sense to have more women pediatricians, because women are generally more nurturing than men, and young children can benefit from this more empathetic relationship.
After my presentation, there were talks by pediatricians, and as a surprise event, one of the Philippines’ most celebrated popular singers, Gary Velenciano, entertained the guests with his high-powered performance (he is known in the Philippines as Mr. Pure Energy!). He also had his daughter and one of his two sons perform with him in some very moving ensemble work. All in all, it was a great evening!
On April 16, I was involved in a press launch of a new Wyeth/Nutrition product, Progress Pre-School Gold, a powdered milk drink supplement, at a hotel in the financial district of Manila. Wyeth has tied the product to multiple intelligences. I researched the company and was glad to see that they promote breastfeeding in infants, so I entered into this relationship with a clear conscience. I was not asked to endorse the product, simply to serve an expert in the field of multiple intelligences. The event was attended by 50 members of the media, including television, newspapers, bloggers, and other online services.
I contributed to the event with a twenty-minute talk on multiple intelligences, a conversation with a celebrity mom, Dawn Zueleta, who is a well-known and highly regarded actress in the Philippines, and several individual interviews with television and print media.
My trip to the Philippines has been wonderful (I also lectured here last September). The people are so friendly and helpful, and the weather has been relatively pleasant (although I’m told that this is very warm for this time of year!). I’ve been reading the novel Nolo Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) by Jose Rizal, who is the Philippines’ national hero. He was an intellectual who traveled around Europe, held humanistic ideals, and ultimately was executed by the colonial Spaniards for his strong nationalist beliefs.
The Philippines is a vibrant society, with many cultural influences including those from the Malay peninsula, Spain, China, Islam, and the United States. The American influence on the Philippine educational system in the early part of the nineteenth century made it so that virtually all educated individuals in the Philippines speak English. I had a wonderful experience here, and I look forward to coming back to the Philippines in the coming years!
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
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of real-life lessons for educational leaders, unfortunately many times separate from what we receive in methodology courses or workshops. As I was dropping my daughter off at preschool last week, I started reflecting on how just much of what is experienced during a normal day of life for toddlers is extraordinarily relevant for the work we do as adults. With that in mind, here are four lessons that we should readily learn from our youngest leaders:
We can’t learn everything from nursery school, but we can learn quite a bit. We must remember that for most of our students, they are closer in age to these toddlers than in many times, to ourselves. It stands to reason that what prepares our students for the microcosm of schooling can just as easily prepare them for the great big world out there.
This is probably the wrong time to sit down and address what has just happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. All of the details are not yet out, but the news media has made many statements and assumptions that seem to hold up myths about schools that we continue to hear each time another of this growing number of horrendous incidents explodes on the TV screen. Reporters continue to ask the question, “Were all of the security and safety measures in place and adhered to?”
Here is a fact: Video cameras, Buzzers on doors, People sitting at desks in the hallways of schools, even metal detectors are not security against an armed attacker. The people maintaining these items could very well be the first victims of the assault. These measures and methods taken by schools are to give an illusion of safety to caring parents and teachers. It is an assurance that schools are seemingly doing something to protect children. None of these measures however, protect children from an armed intruder bent on killing as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. In terms of schools, we must understand the people we refer to are children.
In my lifetime these tragic attacks have occurred at the college, high school, middle school and now at the elementary school level. Most recently, they also occurred at a movie theatre, shopping mall and a political open air, town hall gathering complete with a congresswoman. After each of those incidents the idea of discussion about the problem for some reason had to be put off for a few months before we could talk about it. I did not understand it then, and I do not understand it now. We need to see this as a problem. We can’t wait until we add a pre-school, or a maternity ward to the long and growing list of places where kids are being killed. This incident is now listed as number 5 in the Top school shootings. What civilized, educated country has a list like that? How long is that list?
The Terrorists of 911 have changed how we all travel today. Measures are taken to prevent weapons being taken aboard planes. Yes we are inconvenienced and many of us complain every time we go through those long lines. We comply, because it is reasonable, and it insures our right and freedom to travel. One imbecilic terrorist made an unsuccessful attempt to use a shoe bomb and today, and every day, any American boarding a plane takes off his/her shoes. We all complain about that, but it is a reasonable sacrifice for safety. The cost of us learning this lesson of reasonableness about safety and security in the air came at a huge price to our country. It took well over 3,000 lives in NYC, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.
What is the total number of dead children that we need to get to before we can begin discussions to change what we are doing now? Obviously, what we are doing is not working. We need to have a discussion based on facts and not rhetoric. Too many of the facts about guns and their control have been distorted by too many people and a few organizations, well healed with the ability to put out misinformation and propaganda. We need critical thinking skills to sort through all of the BS. We need honesty, clarity and focus. We cannot start from a position stating that “nothing can be done”. If we ask, how do we prevent another incident where 20 children, ages 5-10, and 8 adults being killed in an elementary school in a matter of minutes. How can an educated civilized culture accept that “nothing can be done” as an answer? If the solution doesn’t begin NOW with US, when will it begin? Is there an actual number of dead children that is a tipping point? More importantly, are my kids going to be in that number? Are yours?
I believe in the constitution, and I believe in the Second amendment. I believe that citizens have the right to own guns. I also believe that right comes with a very big responsibility. Not everyone is responsible. Not everyone is mentally stable enough to be held responsible. I believe that we can regulate guns with commonsense laws in consideration of the facts, and not the rhetoric. I believe that reasonable people can look at real facts and come to reasonable conclusions that can lead to reasonable controls. The process however must begin with discussion. That almost never happens after these horrific events. There will be blog posts like this, editorials, documentaries, and maybe a “60 Minutes” segment, but probably no real substantive, focused meaningful discussion to protect kids will ever take place in the political arena. Politicians need to put the right to life for our kids first. The discussions will move to protect the rights of people who may not capable of responsibility to hold in their hands the lives of our children. If not now, when? If not us, who?
Of the many “habits of mind” that students need to develop in a 21st century world, one of the least developed is curiosity. Curiosity becomes an important attribute in a 21st century America where uncertainty and rapid change is the rule, knowledge explosion and search engines provide us with a vast array of knowledge instantly, and invention, innovation, and creativity are rewarded and encouraged in all fields of endeavor.
Unfortunately, experts and lay people often comment on the curiosity differences between young children and those that have attended school for a while. Pre-school children tend to be curious about everything, ask many questions, are willing to try new things, and in general are eager learners. However, as children age in school, they tend to become less and less curious. How does that happen? Aging may have something to do with it, but one can argue that the types of school activities foisted on children deadens the urge to be curious – that sitting in seats, raising hands, completing worksheets, being lectured at, and having less time to ask and answer questions all deaden curiosity.
So how can schools support a habit of mind that many say is extremely critical to the success of the United States in the future? Here are six suggestions for improving curiosity:
Focus learning around essential, driving questions.
“If the textbook has the answers, then what were the questions?” The development of essential questions as the starting points for units, and the development of driving questions as the starting points for projects, are both good ways to encourage students to see questions as the starting points for learning. Using Understanding by Design[i] and Project Based Learning[ii] curriculum design models encourages this approach.
Use wait time and pauses to ask for questions from students.
When teachers use strategies such as lectures and recitations, they should pause often and give students many opportunities to ask clarifying questions, make comments, or give opinions. At the end of a class period, give students time to write down three questions that come to mind as a result of the period’s lesson, and start the next class session by examining those questions.
Give students more choices and options.
Let students choose a book to read from among a number of options. Periodically give students the opportunity to read any book of their choosing. Develop an elective program with interesting options chosen by the students at the middle and high school level. Encourage students to search for, find, and bring to class interesting and relevant sources and resources related to a topic under study. Encourage students to choose from a number of enrichment programs that take place both during and after school.
Increase the number of non- graded assignments.
Grades often get in the way of curiosity. Periodically develop interesting assignments both for the classroom and as homework that promote curiosity and interest in learning but don’t count as part of grades. Presenting interesting puzzles, 20 questions games, and similar activities to students often support curiosity and interest in problem solving.
Give students the opportunity to choose interest-based projects.
Offer students at all levels the opportunity to do research projects that are based on their own interests, whether or not they are related to the curriculum. Help them develop their own questions, conduct research on the topic, and do a presentation of their own choosing for other students.
Use multiple strategies that support curiosity and creativity.
Give students the opportunity to brainstorm and then select their own essential questions that they wish to explore at the beginning of a unit;
Use Socratic questioning and interpretive discussions[iii] to encourage students to ask and respond to powerful questions;
Use creative problem solving strategies[iv] that start with a “messy” situation; define challenges, brainstorm alternatives, develop solutions, and create implementation plans;
Offer hands-on, minds-on inquiry-based science programs[v] that promote active learning around science questions and challenges;
Use problem- based learning strategies[vi];
Find out about and use the design thinking model[vii] that promotes the creation of innovative solutions to authentic, “real life” problems.
These six recommendations are just a few of those that might be used to foster curiosity. One hopes that these six will serve as a catalyst for brainstorming more strategies, and encourage teachers and schools to think about how, and to implement ways, to stimulate greater curiosity among students.
Given this important goal of building curiosity, every teacher can develop their own ways to increase student questions and foster curiosity, important goals both for the country and for individual students. The likely side effects of increased curiosity are a greater interest in school and learning and a more creative and innovative society.
[i] For Understanding by Design resources at ASCD, go to:
[ii] See Buck Institute, Project Based Learning model, http://www.bie.org
[iii] Two sources for Socratic questioning and interpretive discussions are Touchstones and the Jr Great Books program:
[iv] For information about Creative Problem Solving strategies, go to:
[v] For one such program, go to: http://www.fossweb.com/
[vi] For more information about problem based learning, go to:
About the Author
Elliott Seif is a long time teacher, 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 exploring additional ways to improve teaching and learning, and help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website at: www.era3learning.org
I have observed many, many teachers in elementary and early childhood classrooms and the ones that have the smoothest-running classrooms all do the same thing: they teach procedures. Now only do they teach the procedures they need the children to follow, but they also have the children practice and they give them positive feedback until they become automatic routines. They make learning procedures the most important teaching priority in the first few weeks of school, even if it takes time away from other subjects. They more than make up for this time because their classrooms run so effectively.
So the first step in getting ready is to plan what procedures to focus on. It’s helpful to think about them in three groups based on when you will teach them: The first day of school, the first week of school, and the first six weeks. Here are some suggestions:
Arrival: putting things away and getting started on “do now” work
Walking in the Hallway
Using the Bathroom
Dismissal: cleaning up desk and getting materials ready to go home
Fire Drill or Other Emergency Procedures
Moving from group meeting area to centers and other transitions
How to sit during group meeting or circle time
Sharpening pencils, getting a drink
Cleaning up after work time or center time
What to do when you’re finished early
How to say nice things to each other
How to push in chairs
How to hang up coats (this might have to wait for cold weather)
Working with a partner
Turn-and-Talk or Think-Pair-Share
Getting help when the teacher is working with a group
What to do when the teacher has a phone call or must leave the room
What to do when a visitor enters the classroom
What to do when someone is hurt
What to do when you need to calm down
How to take care of materials
How to take appropriate breaks
The Responsive Classroom has a wonderful strategy for teaching procedures called “Interactive Modeling.” This has four distintive elements:
Here is a video that shows the process of Interactive Modeling in action:
You can also try the “I do, We do, You do” demonstrated in this video:
Remember that children at all ages – from preschool to high school – need to be taught or reminded of how you want them to behave. Don’t be afraid to teach very minor procedures. It is better to err on the side of teaching too many than too few.
Please share with us in the comments what procedures you think are most important in your classroom and how you teach them.
This is the second posting in a four-part series on getting ready for the start of school. See Part I here.
This week my college students have been submitting their own professional development plans for what they’d like to continue learning after they graduate in a few weeks. In light of that, I've been thinking about the ways that I learn new ideas and stay in touch with other educators. In the last few years many wonderful online learning opportunities have been developed for teachers. The best of these sites offer one or more of these characteristics:
Here are my favorite sites that I return to over and over again:
Edutopia is an amazing website devoted to transforming learning. It focuses on the core strategies of Project-Based Learning, Integrated Studies, Comprehensive Assessment, and Social and Emotional learning, Technology Integration, and Teacher Development. There are videos, blog, classroom guides and a section on Schools That Work. It’s a wonderful community of educators who share their talents and ideas. All age groups.
CONNECT: The Center to Mobilize Early Childhood Knowledge provides free online modules in the following areas: Embedded Interventions, Transition, Communication for Collaboration, Family-Professional Partnerships, Assistive Technology Interventions, and Dialogic Reading Practices. They each have an interesting 5-step process with videos, audio, handouts, and training materials. This is a brand new website and they will be adding more modules soon. Also available in Spanish.
The IRIS Center provides an extensive array of interactive multimedia modules that focus on children with disabilities. They also have Case Studies, Activities, Information Briefs, and Podcasts. Also in Spanish. This is one of my favorite sites because of the wide variety of topics and the practical, commonsense way they put research into practice. All age groups.
The Teaching Channel is my newest favorite site. It’s hard to find high-quality free videos of exemplary teaching, but they do it! There is a wide range of videos, lesson plans and other resources. They are adding new videos all the time and if you sign up for a free membership you can get notified by email when there are new ones on topics you choose. All age groups.
The Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning is absolutely the best resource for helping teachers with behavior problems in preschool children. There are training modules for staff development and lots of practice resources for teachers. This is the best place to go for information on teaching children social and emotional skills. Although it is geared to preschool, many of the ideas are appropriate with elementary school children as well.
Please share in the comments your own favorite professional development sites!
Hofstra University ASCD Student Chapter has been raising money for the past two years to build a school in the Massai Land in Kenya. With a lot of help of fellow undergraduate and graduate ASCD board members, Student Chapter Graduate President Nichole Facchini successfully spearheaded an effort to fundraise and donate $2,300 toward building a school in the Maasai Land in Kenya.
The student chapter presented Chief Joseph Ole Tipnako Koisele of the Maasai tribe with the funds in May 2011. This month, Chief Joseph came back to Hofstra to show the progress of the school that was built with the $2,300. Chief Joseph explained that where they live has no running water and no forms of transportation. Families walk 17 miles to get to the market, which is the only source of water and electricity. Children as young as ten have to walk six miles to get to school, which can take up to two hours each way.
"It was an extremely enlightening and humbling experience to meet him and hear about the struggles that these families go through on a daily basis," said Nichole Facchini. "Also to see how the basic necessities of life such as water, food, electricity, and strong shelter are things people in this community do not have; things that we as Americans often take [for granted]."
The student chapter members were able to view pictures of the school that they worked so hard to fund. It is a preschool that houses 40 students. The donated funds also paid for 20 young women to go to high school.
"It was amazing to see a building made out of stone,which is very expensive and rare to see in Kenya. The chairs are filled with children, and tables filled with paper and pencils. It is amazing to see how we are fighting in [American] schools to get laptops for each child, or iPads, and these children did not even have pencils! It really made me appreciate everything I have," said Facchini.
At the end of the meeting, Hofstra University ASCD Student Chapter presented Chief Joseph with an additional check for $1,500; the photo above shows the chapter and the representatives from Kenya after the check presentation. View more photos of the event on the Hofstra website.
The student chapter is also raising money to help build schools in Liberia. Last fall, the chapter donated $1,000 to Liberia, and is continuing fundraising efforts to donate more funds this spring.
Many thanks to Hofstra ASCD Student Chapter for their amazing work in helping students in Kenya and Liberia!
Do you avoid using learning centers? Or struggle to get the children to work independently? Wish the children stayed on task better? You’re not alone. Managing centers or work stations can be quite complicated but today I’ll share some tips for making things go more smoothly:
1. Plan the Structure. Learning centers can range on a continuum from very structured to very open. At the open end of the continuum, children can choose their own center, how long they work there, and who they work with. This model is more common in preschool and kindergarten, and yet it helps children learn to make good choices, take responsibility, and learn to make social connections. (Here’s a review of research on preparing kindergarteners for learning centers.) On the other end of the continuum are structures in which children are assigned to a group which rotates through a sequence of centers that are assigned. The advantage of this model is that you can be sure all the children get the content exposure of each center. Here’s a video example of structured planning. The disadvantage is that children don’t get opportunities to learn to make choices. Many primary grade teachers use a combination of these models in which children are required to complete activities in one or two centers, but then get choices of other centers.
2. Prepare the Centers. Be sure all materials are ready and that there are directions for the activities (pictures for younger children, task cards for children who are readers). Centers don’t have to be separate locations around the room – most rooms are not big enough for this. Consider baskets or other containers to hold sets of materials. Groups of desks can be different centers, or children can work on small carpet squares.
3. Teach Procedures. Don’t assume the children know what to do or how you want them to work. Break down the steps and teach each step by modeling it and having the kids practice. Here are some guiding questions:
4. Set Boundaries. If you are planning to work with children during center time, such as guided reading groups, or one-on-one instruction, you need to set boundaries on your attention so you are not continually interrupted. First, be sure to plan activities at centers that children can do WITHOUT adult help. Teach children what to do if they need help. Here’s a great little video showing the “Ask 3 Before Me” rule in one classroom. You could also put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign to remind children not to interrupt. Be sure to teach the children what a real emergency is, however, so they know when it’s alright to get your attention. It is also helpful to have a specific spot in the room that is the “teacher table” so children learn to avoid that area when moving in the room.
5. Hold Children Accountable. Children will be more likely to stay on task if they know you will review their work, or that there is a purpose to their activities. You can collect their papers in folders, have children write their work in Center Time journals, or schedule a presentation time on Fridays during which time the children share the work they’ve done all week.
Using learning centers takes planning and preparation, however the payoff is worth it. Children get important opportunities for developing independence and task persistence, while teachers get invaluable time to individualize instruction. Let us know what techniques have worked the best for you in managing centers!
New Milford High School proudly joined 37 states, 15,000 teachers, and over 2 million students on February 1 for the inaugural Digital Learning Day. This day, however, was not really much different than any other day at NMHS as we have made a commitment to integrate digital learning into school culture for some time now. As Principal I am proud to state that many of the pedagogical techniques, learning activities, and tools described in the rest of this post are consistently in use on a daily basis across all content areas. The reason for this is that we have put a premium on creating a teaching and learning culture that better meets the needs of our learners while enhancing essential skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, media literacy, and global awareness. Below I have summarized some of the pre-planned activities that my teachers planned and had their students engaged in on Digital Learning Day.
In Ms. Levy’s U.S. History class, students learned about the rise of Jacksonian Democracy and had to determine if Jackson was a highly successful president or a corrupt leader. Students were broken up into groups of 5-6 students. Each student went on line and looked at one source from Ms. Levy’s website. They then had to use their “Origin Perspective Value Limitation” handout to answer and dissect the source in classic IB format. Once they had evaluated the source for these 4 elements, they wrote down their answers in a group created Google Doc. Finally, they came together as a group to decide their perspective on Andrew Jackson’s presidency. After students decided as a group, they voted individually as a class about their opinion on the source with “Poll Everywhere,” using their cell phones.
In Mrs. Morel’s art class, students embarked on a QR Code scavenger art hunt around the school. This activity began with an introduction to QR Codes: what they are, how they are used in the marketing world, how we are going to use them, and best of all, how they (students) could use them in their lives. Students also reviewed artists’ work and tried out a few QR codes in class. For the lesson, students were paired up with a partner and utilized their Smartphone, iPod, etc. to search for clues that led them to QR Codes. The QR Codes contained various artists’ work and clue information. Mrs. Morel wrapped up the activity with a summary of the findings and then transitioned into having the students create their own QR codes with links to their artwork and websites. These were then posted in school for our school community to scan.
Mrs. Vicari’s business classes utilized YouTube, a variety of video sites, and websites to preview Superbowl commercials as an introduction to the semester Marketing/Advertising course. Students discussed the definitions of marketing and advertising and how they are different. They used a series of thought-provoking questions, while viewing the various commercials, to identify different areas of marketing and advertising that will be discussed in this course throughout the semester.
Students in Mr. Tusa’s history class investigated the history of Europe through painting (1500-1800). He challenged students to think of a painting as an essay - in the sense that it captures not in words, as an essay does, but through a visual image, some aspect(s) of the life, history, and culture of a particular historical period from the point of view not of a writer but of an artist. Students were given a list of paintings/engravings produced in the period 1500-1800. Working with partners, they had to choose one painting from each category, study it by paying particular attention to the political, economic, religious, social, industrial, and/or artistic way in which it captures/criticizes some aspect(s) of the period 1500-1800, and record their impressions accordingly. He reminded students to “read” the painting as they would read an essay and record their view/impression of what historical themes, ideas, person or people, the painting is portraying/criticizing. Using Mac Books: one student recorded and shared their comments on a Google Doc while the other searched for and viewed the paintings. Links were also provided for students to locate and view paintings.
Students in Mrs. Beiner’s Culinary Arts classes created a “how to” video for recipes. They then posted them on her YouTube account and tracked how many hits they received over the Superbowl weekend. Her Early Childhood Development classes read a book to the pre-school children on an iPad and worked with a website to review the book.
In math, Mrs. Chellani began the lesson with mobile learning devices and Poll Everywhere to review prior learning. She then utilized a variety of virtual manipulatives (using the SMART tablet) from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives. These virtual games/math problems are a fantastic way to further embed the Smart tablet into daily instruction, help foster the students' development of higher-order thinking skills, and make the learning experience more challenging and enjoyable.
History teacher Ms. Millan collaborated with Mrs. Keesing, our media specialist, on a QR code assignment. Students used their cellphones to download an app to both create and read QR codes. To tie in with their study of the English monarchy in the Elizabethan-Stuart era, they researched websites to find quality information on selected, relevant topics. They then created QR codes for those websites. Students printed the codes and affixed them to some of the school library's books -- some of which greatly benefited from the updated information the students located.
Later in the day, Mrs. Keesing again collaborated with a colleague, this time in science. With Ms. Chowdhury's honors physics class, students used Edmodo as a means of collaborating on a new topic. They shared their observations with their pre-set groups and uploaded images that they had created to further examine the concepts they were learning about and applying.
The students in Mrs. Westervelt’s Independent Living Skills course became familiar with, and completed an online job application to practice applying for a job in the 21st century.
In music, Mrs. Swarctz conducted a survey using Smartphones in all of her classes. Those students who did not have one worked with those who did. In addition, she used YouTube in each class to watch other schools that have performed the music they are currently performing. During her second period class the students conducted research using YouTube to help with their solos. Each lesson ended with students continuing to work in the Music lab on an on-line music theory program.
Students in Ms. Perna’s US History I class created Wordles to review information studied prior to their midterm. In order to review prior learning, students worked in pairs to create Wordles related to the presidencies of Washington and Adams, up until the election of 1800. This allowed students to work collaboratively using technology (computers) while reviewing prior learning. As a class, they viewed and discussed the Wordles created in order for students to see what their peers had created while reviewing together as a large group before moving on with the curriculum.
Mr. Andolino had his Applied Music Theory students create a music commercial using software. Finished products were posted to Pure Volume. Prior to Digital Learning Day an original vocal rap and live performance was recorded with a portable recorder and uploaded online.
Ms. Millian’s math students utilized an Avermedia document camera to display work. Poll Everywhere was used in class to express opinions and check for understanding by completing problems and texting answers in.
Using the Poll Everywhere, Mrs. Mackey’s English students used their cell phones to respond to questions based on what they knew about persuasive writing. The teacher gave out sample HSPA (High School Proficiency Assessment) rubrics specifically for persuasive essay writing. Then, using the Smart Board, the students read actual HSPA essay prompts and responses while using Poll Everywhere to answer, "What score do you think this essay received?" For closure, the students responded to an open ended polling question: "As of today, how do you feel you will do on the essay portion of the HSPA?"
Students in Ms. Ginter’s Biology class have been working on creating a travel brochure PowerPoint presentation using several websites that provided them with specific information on their assigned biomes. The assignment required them to include key information specific to the biome (ex. native animals, native plants, average temperature, and average precipitation), as well as interesting things for people to do or see there. They incorporated graphics in their presentation through the usage of charts, pictures, diagrams, and videos - where appropriate. The students were then responsible for rating the presentations and voting on the best one to present to a client using Poll Everywhere and their cell phones.
Here is a video we produced leading up to Digital Learning Day showcasing our Social Studies Department.
As you can see, NMHS has made a commitment to digital learning, not just on one day, but everyday.
Near the beginning of a teaching certification program, a common concern surfaces: How does an aspiring teacher with no certification gain teaching experience? For in theory, the feasibility of teaching seems imperturbable; but, upon gaining teaching experience, there is an initial disconnect between the theoretical and the practical—a commonality among the theoretical. Only through experience, with an emphasis on the process (of which to repeat) of preparation, implementation, reflection, revision, preparation, and implementation, are theories shaped. However, gaining teaching experience for pre-service teachers can be a confounding process.
Because most pre-service teachers have no teaching experience, they are unsure where to look. Additionally, they have a notion that they cannot gain teaching experience until they are certified. That notion is false. Teachers need to have a variety of hats (e.g., facilitator, tutor, mentor, coach, etc.). Consequently, teaching experience can come from numerous opportunities.
For the optimum pre-service teaching experience, practice should coincide with theory, and it should occur prior to the student teaching experience.
Most aspiring teachers’ first teaching experience is obtained through their student teaching. Imagine if a pre-service teacher could gain teaching experience prior to student teaching; that teacher would be a step ahead and better prepared. With previous teaching experience, pre-service teachers could use their student teaching to enhance their teaching abilities and tools and broaden their teaching capabilities. In effect, gaining teaching experience prior to student teaching improves a teacher’s quality, resume, and the quantity of references and job possibilities.
Below are some suggestions and spring boards for gaining pre-service teaching experience. Each suggestion includes a brief explanation for clarification and includes link(s) to useful websites for additional inquiry.
If you have earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher, you are eligible to substitute teach in the state of Illinois even if none of your course work relates to education. One can apply online for a substitute teaching certificate and then register at school districts where you would like to sub. (Requirements may vary from state to state.) In most cases, you will still need to complete quite a lot of paper work and submit to a police background check but this should not take too much time.
One of the biggest advantages of subbing is to gain valuable experience in a variety of classroom at different grade levels. It also gives you a chance to place your “foot in the door” and begin to network with other education colleagues to find out about the opening of teaching positions. Treat each day that you substitute teach as professional as possible for in many ways, you are being observed indirectly and others around you are “taking mental notes” about your performance. This can be helpful if a position opens within that building or district. Never treat it lightly as this could actually harm you if a position does open. You may be seen as a poor candidate for the job if you did not take substitute teaching seriously. Also, keep a log sheet of the who, what, where and when: who you taught for, what you taught, where you taught, and when. This will be a great addition for your résumé.
Illinois State Board of Education (e.g., Illinois’ substitute teaching information)
U.S. Department of Education (Search by state)
Anyone can volunteer. It does not require a degree or certificate to help out. Most voluntary experiences are good learning experiences, and all of them look great on a resume. However, before volunteering finds a place on your resume, the experience must first be found. Because there are seemingly infinite opportunities to volunteer, you must decide which opportunity best fits your schedule. In addition, consider your interests, abilities, and which learning experience would be most beneficial (other than on your resume) to further develop your teaching abilities.
Depending on the season and time at which you wish to volunteer, the opportunity will vary. Opportunities can always be found in literacy programs. Chicago’s Open-Booksnonprofit organization is a great example. Open-Books provides various experiences for pre-service teachers, such as writing workshops, reading workshops, one-on-one tutoring, mentoring, and after school programs. Remember: the point of volunteering is to gain teaching experience, so, although it is ideal to find an opportunity in your content area, keep yourself open to other areas.
Organizations like Open-Books are common and can be found through Internet search engines, such as Google and Craigslist. Other ways to find volunteering opportunities are to ask around (don’t be shy: you are giving up your free time to lend a hand), libraries, local colleges and universities, and coffee shops (while you’re waiting for your order, check the corkboards). Here are a few links to some additional websites:
American Library Association’s Literacy Outreach (Specific contact information)
Citizen Schools (Citizens from community get teaching training and experience)
Community Resource Network (Search by keyword and location)
Community Volunteer Center (Search by keyword and location)
Do Something (Search by cause, organization, and location)
Mentoring (e.g., Big Brothers Big Sisters)
Mentoring (e.g., Mentor)
Seasonal Reading Programs (e.g., Chicago Public Library’s 2010 summer program)
Teaching abroad (e.g., World Teach)
Tutoring (e.g., Sylvan Learning)
Tutoring (e.g., Tutor Match)
Saturday and summer enrichment programs
Many universities offer both summer and Saturday morning enrichment camps for gifted and talented children. These programs provide unique opportunities for students to extend their education in a highly academic setting with other bright children of their same age group. One such program is Northwestern University Center for Talent Development.
Many of these programs employ teachers who have skills and knowledge in a given field that may or may not be offered on a regular basis in the school districts. Although these institutions prefer persons who have a valid teaching certificate, many do not. These programs also need teaching assistants to help the teachers. Many private schools also offer such programs and sometimes need people to help out with these programs. If they are private schools, then you will not need a teaching certificate.
Teaching Assistants (Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Park Districts and Summer Camps
While the title of this category may make you think, “screaming, bratty kids”, today’s park district and camp programs are getting more and more sophisticated and offer topics that are more serious in nature than even just a few years ago. While there is a need for persons to work at some of the more traditional positions, camps and parks are updating their programs to include activities across a wide range of themes.
Because of these unique offerings, more and more children have a higher degree of interest and therefore treat the classes (and teachers) with more respect and seriousness. There is even the possibility that you could design your own course of study for a summer camp that the administrator of the program may not have even thought of and would take you up on your offer to offer something new. If they feel your suggested new course or topic would be of interest, they will most likely place you on the program in hopes that children will register. If there are enough registrations, then you course will most likely take place. So long as enough children sign up for your course, it adds no cost to the overall program.
Depending on your background, you may have certain knowledge and abilities that can be utilized to help you gain more teaching experience, such as boy/girl scouts. You should consider all the aspects of your background and decide which can be used. Here are two more suggestions:
Coaching: consider your background knowledge and identify your area of specialty. Most coaching positions at the secondary level require some sort of certification (for example, see Illinois’ requirements here), but the certification can be obtained through a relatively brief training program. Also, check local community centers and park districts for voluntary coaching positions. Usually, coaching opportunities through community centers and park districts do not require certification.
American Sport Education Program
Article on coaching youth sports
Coaching (Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
National Alliance for Youth Sports
National High School Coaches Association
Religious institutions: Not only do local houses of worship rely heavily on volunteers to help provide instruction for both children and adults, many religious institutions offer more than “Sunday School” classes for its members. There are programs for all ages ranging from pre-school to senior citizens that have some component of instruction where members are encouraged to pitch-in and help use their skills and talents to offer a variety of classes in different settings. This may also include universities with religious affiliations as well. Of course, expect to go through an interview process, however informal, and ask questions as to what kinds of opportunities might be available. Don’t rule out checking an institution that you are not a member of. While it may be easy to finding listings of religion institutions in your area, don’t be shy about asking family and friends for recommendations of places they are familiar with.
Research studies: sometimes researchers at a university or college are looking for volunteers to help work with students specifically for the purpose of collecting data for a research study. Researchers get data; you get teaching experience. Check local universities and colleges.
Education Commission of the States (find information on specific research studies)
National Center for Education Statistics (find contact information for specific schools)
Additional useful websites:
National Council of Teachers of English
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
National Council of Teachers of Science
National Council for the Social Studies
National Education Association
National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals
The children in most of the primary grade classes I observe spend hours --yes, hours-- at their desks doing seatwork, or sitting on the carpet for teacher-directed lessons. I have often thought that most adults could not sit for this long and still be able to concentrate. I just came across a research study that confirms what seems to be common sense-- that physical exercise can improve children's attention and help their academic achievement.
Researchers at the University of Illinois studied the effects of having 9 year-old children take a test after either resting or briskly walking for 20 minutes. The researchers measured the brain activity of the children and found that those who did the physical exercise were better able to filter out extraneous stimuli - in other words, better able to pay attention and act appropriately.
Next the researchers tested the same children on academic achievement tests in spelling, reading, and math. The reading results showed improvement after the exercise break - more than the math and spelling tests which were done after the reading test. Apparently, the closer the timing of the test was to the exercise break, the greater the benefit. The researchers plan to study more about the timing effects of physical activity. This research appeared in the journal Neuroscience. You can read more about the study here.
In the current education environment in which children are pushed to learn more and more skills in less time, it can be tempting to just keep children working longer. Hopefully this study will help inspire you to try giving children more physical breaks. Here are some suggestions for integrating physical activity into the daily routine:
Share in the comments your suggestions for other ways to incorporate physical exercise into the daily routine. What have you found that works?
Discussions about pink can also happen for blue, television, electronic games, and other potentially “hot button” topics. As leaders, we decide how we will approach any issue. If we think pink is cute, then that’s what it is. We will dress our little girls in pink because we think they look sweet. If we believe pink is the first step in transforming girls from princesses to divas, then we will feel and act accordingly. We will dress and live as princesses and divas—and possibly end up with our own reality show. As parents and educators, it’s important to remember that children are learnful and take direction from us.
We all know plenty of girls who love pink—and lots of other colors as well. We all know girls who have green and blue bikes, and not pink ones. Young children watch, study, and act out what they see. Ask any preschool teacher to tell you about the conversations they hear in the dramatic play area—or listen to your little one talking to himself when he plays! In a Pre-K classroom that I visited, the dramatic play area was transformed into a hotel kitchen. A little boy was on the phone taking orders for a party. His exchange went something like this, “Don’t be calling me about cakes. You didn’t pay me for the last ones! What’s wrong with you?” The teacher later found out that the child’s mother ran a catering business from her home!
As leaders, we decide if we will take anabolic or catabolic approaches to anything—regardless of whether it’s pink or blue. Positive approaches are almost always the best—they encourage children to learn, explore, and make their own decisions. A team of team of Pre-K teachers in South San Antonio ISD set up this dramatic play area where children can explore the 5 senses (a unit study). Teachers provided the instruction and path for children to investigate how they use their 5 senses everyday. Children came up with their own answers. Likewise, as parents, we allow children to discover and learn for themselves. Over the holiday season, how many of you provided a mini-lesson on gift wrapping, home decorating, or cooking and then let your child have a go?
For the New Year, may we all take an anabolic approach to whatever is presented. Positive, thoughtful leaders provide instruction, support, and feedback. They don’t tell people how or what to think. They provide an environment where everyone feels safe to learn, explore, discover, share, and examine ideas.
What would it take to bring most American schools into the 21st century? Why aren’t we as a nation homing in on the kind of education students need in a world of uncertainty and rapid technological and social change? Briefly, some 21st century changes and their implications to consider are the following:
Being awash in data and information
Information technologies, such as search engines
Cheap, worldwide electronic communications networks
Genetic and other bio-engineering developments
Computers and robotics and their effects on work and the workforce
The rise of other countries and the growth of the middle class in other countries
Career uncertainty (the need to change jobs and careers is much more likely in today’s and tomorrow’s world, outsourcing isincreasing…)
The need for continuous lifelong learning and skill development (demand is for a more highly skilled, adaptable, creative workforce)
Given these changes, my wish is that all schools and districts, starting in 2012, commit to develop the following:
AN OUTCOMES BASED MISSION STATEMENT BASED ON THE NEEDS OF STUDENTS IN A 21ST CENTURY WORLD. The mission should focus on outcomes that will prepare students for lifelong learning, change, and citizenship, and promotes student self-development and understanding. The focus of the mission is on building core background knowledge, critical inquiry based skills, an understanding of US and global issues, support for service to others and character development, and the development of individual talents and interests. The nine other parts of this wish, below, are designed to develop programs and supports to implement this mission.
A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE AND LEARNING COMMUNITY. Every member of the school community is entitled to reside in a safe learning environment, with a positive culture that promotes the mission, and high learning expectations.
A RICH, COHERENT, FOCUSED CURRICULUM. In a 21st century world, the school program should include a strong curriculum in all subject areas, including the arts. The curriculum in each area should be focused, coherent, and built around key understandings and essential questions. For example, the English/language arts program should be focused around literature at all levels. Multiple resources and materials in all content areas should be used to promote inquiry and information processing. The science program should engage students in “hands-on, minds-on” activities. Integrated, interdisciplinary programs increase coherence and interest in learning. The social studies program is key to the development of citizenship and should be a model of core learnings and skill development.
“INQUIRY BASED” TEACHING AND LEARNING. Teachers primarily engage students through an inquiry based teaching and learning model that stresses five key skill areas:
a. Ask questions, formulate problems and challenges
b. Search for and process information
c. Think deeply and flexibly
d. Draw conclusions, apply learning
e. Communicate effectively.
PERFORMANCE BASED MEASURES OF ACHIEVEMENT AND SUCCESS. Schools and teachers primarily develop and use three types of assessments – critical knowledge exams, authentic performance tasks, and self-assessments. Student work becomes the measure of success. A technology-based portfolio becomes a graduation requirement.
ACTIVITY CHOICES, ELECTIVES, ENRICHMENT OPTIONS, AND REAL LIFE FIELD EXPERIENCES AVAILABLE TO ALL STUDENTS. A full range of classroom activity choices, electives, enrichment options, and field experiences help students expand their horizons, both within school and after school. Apprenticeships, college course options, high school electives, special trips, outside speakers, music lessons, chess clubs, robotics, competitions – all offer students the opportunity to expand their horizons, discover their interests and talents, and learn the importance of practice, persistence and patience.
SUPPORT SERVICES AND PROGRAMS. Quality pre-school and early childhood programs, along with full-day kindergartens, should be available to all students. Also, let’s not skimp on the kind of support services that make a difference to so many students -- counselors, mentors, tutors, and others.
FACILITIES, RESOURCES, AND SCHEDULES THAT ENABLE TEACHERS TO DO THEIR JOBS. Students should be able to learn in an environment that is comfortable and that has what it takes to educate students –libraries in each early childhood classroom, adequate library- media resources in each school, technology and technology support that enables students to use computers and other technologies on a regular basis.
CUSTOMIZED SPECIAL PROGRAMS. All schools should have resources that enable them to adopt special, customized programs for their students. The International Baccalaureate program, language immersion programs, music and/or art options, technology specialties, culinary arts, entrepreneurship courses – all are examples of programs that provide for a customized, quality education.
CURRICULUM RENEWAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. Schools and districts should provide adequate time and resources for curriculum and professional development. Continual curriculum and professional development is a must throughout the year if the above programs, initiatives and outcomes are to be instituted.
So there you have it – my top ten wishes for education in 2012 and beyond. Some questions to ask yourself about these wishes:
Remember – A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…
Elliott Seif is a member of the ASCD Understanding by Design cadre and a contributor to Educational Leadership. This blog is one of a series on 21st century education at ASCD Edge. You can also find this blog and others, along with numerous resources that describe, support, and deepen this educational approach, at: www.era3learning.org.
Most adults will tell you that comics are not just "kid stuff."
The Comic Book Project, founded by Michael Bitz, Ed. D. in 2001, while at Teachers College at Columbia Universityis still running strong. Currently, this project is maintained by the Center for Educational Pathways. Starting this year, New York Times staffers and comic-book fans George Gene Gustines and Adam W. Kepler are reviewing all 52 DC Comic titles that have been reset to Number 1.
Comics are entertaining and engage readers. Comics involve (1) fun characters who live simply funny lives or (2) complicated characters who live hysterically-complicated lives or (3) ordinary characters who reframe the mundane into comical. These are all good things, especially when literacy rates in the US are declining.
What we all know: kids watch way too much TV; the time kids spend watching TV doesn’t include the time they spend gaming or on the phone. Kids learn vocabulary from reading—not TV, not an electronic game, not social media. And, it’s not just a kid problem. US adults, especially males, aren’t reading like they used to either.
As a reading teacher, I always kept a few comics in my classroom. This genre displayed tendencies of magically spawning legs and walking out the door within a few hours or days. They returned in worse shape than when they left—dirty, greasy, tattered, torn, thumbed, and creased. I didn’t mind. Eventually, the kids learned to come by after school and check out the comics. Before I knew it, kids would want to talk about what they were reading. Of course, this meant I had to read the comics as well so that I could respond appropriately.
The other day, I was in a book store where a boy of about 10 had selected super hero books with colorful pictures and big print. His mom rolled her eyes and said, “Put those baby books back. Get something else.”
The boy put the books back and got nothing. Period. A note to all, when kids are at that fragile age between 4 and 7 (i.e., when they are experimenting with words and deciding if they’re going spend their valuable time on books), let kids read what interests them. The important thing is that kids read.
Think about a newspaper. It’s not all “serious” business. It’s got comics and celebrity gossip too! Parents and educators, help your little ones find that connection to reading. Get them hooked, and before you know it, you’ll have a bunch of willing readers on your hands.
Let’s stop believing that standardized tests, factual coverage, a focus on discrete skills, traditional multiple choice end of course tests, a teach-test-move on mentality, even AP courses, can prepare most students for this new age we are now living in. This new era, with its qualitatively different dimensions -- information overload, instant search engines, cheap worldwide communication, Netflix, Twitter, and Facebook, rapid technological innovation, job restructuring, uncertainty and change, and new, complex political, economic and social challenges -- requires a very different educational approach.
In the face of these societal changes, all students need to be prepared with critical knowledge, skills, and attitudes and behaviors that allow for continued learning and growth beyond high school, critical and creative thinking, and the skills necessary for finding and processing huge amounts of information. Even with the Common Core standards, our current educational emphases aren’t adequately preparing most students for learning beyond high school – for college, career, military or other future endeavors.
While a critical knowledge base and positive attitudes and behaviors are important for future living, this blog focuses on the skills students must develop if they are to adapt to this new world. Five key skill areas should be given a laser-like focus in order to prepare students for continuous learning in this new age:
1. Asking questions, formulating problems and challenges.
It is a rare school or program that enables students to examine and develop profound questions, solve complex problems on a regular basis, or work from/develop challenges that are worthy of critical study. Imagine studying the American Revolution by enabling students to brainstorm questions and choose (with the teacher’s input) to examine some profound and critical questions, such as “Why revolution, not evolution”? “Did they really have to revolt?” or “Is war ever justified?”.
2 Processing Information
Information processing enables students to learn a broad variety of skills appropriate for a world of information overload and instant access. These series of skills assure that students can search for information from many sources, sort and select for importance, evaluate information for reliability, read for understanding, and summarize, categorize, and conceptualize from texts.
3. Thinking deeply and flexibly
Students are provided with the opportunity to extend their thinking – for example, to compare and contrast, interpret, apply, infer, analyze, synthesize, and think creatively.
4. Drawing conclusions, applying learning
Students draw conclusions, solve problems, make decisions, answer key questions. They are often asked to apply learning to new and novel situations, problems, and issues.
5. Communicating effectively.
Students communicate effectively in a number of ways, such as through writing a persuasive essay, demonstrating how to solve a math problem, or creating a powerpoint presentation in order to explain the results of a science experiment.
These five skill areas create a relatively simple approach to thinking about skills teaching. Taken together, they provide students with powerful tools for learning and living. They can be taught separately, but my thinking is that they are of a whole cloth. Together, they form an “Inquiry” or “Research Based” Instruction model for teaching and learning, and provide the common threads for unit design and powerful project development. They suggest a curriculum that concentrates on working from important, essential questions, provides students with opportunities to frequently collect and process information, encourages students to extend their thinking, builds in opportunities for students to draw conclusions and apply learning, and enables students to frequently and effectively communicate. All subjects and content areas, such as literature, history, science, engineering, mathematics, health and physical education, the arts, and foreign languages, become the vehicle through which these skills are continuously taught, learned, and developed in their complexity over time.
The teaching of these skills starts in pre-school, as students are encouraged to ask questions about the world around them, observe pictures, discuss books that are read to them, play in ways that encourage analysis, and so on. As students progress through the grades, they focus learning around critical and essential questions. Textbooks are treated as searchable texts. Research opportunities help students find and evaluate new resources, process information, and read for understanding. As appropriate, students analyze data, draw conclusions, apply learning to new and novel situations, make presentations, and write, write, write and do more writing. Discipline based and interdisciplinary thematic projects are a core part of the learning process. As they use these skills, they also learn the attitudes and behaviors they will need for future learning, such as curiosity, collaboration, perseverance, learning from failure, risk-taking, striving for accuracy, and learning how to improve their work.
This relatively simple approach to teaching and learning is what students need to be prepared for the continual learning they will have to face in an ever changing, uncertain, high skills world. Let’s hope that our National and state laws, curriculum frameworks, teacher preparation institutions, educational leaders, and classroom teachers can move in this direction in the near future.
Elliott Seif is an educational consultant, member of the Understanding by Design cadre, a member of the ASCD faculty, author, and a contributor to Educational Leadership. You can find this blog and others, along with articles, readings, resources, weblinks that promote a forward looking approach to education in the future, at his website, www.era3learning.org.
I have visited a few different primary and preschool classrooms this month and one thing they all have in common is the hand raising ritual. A teacher asks a question and waits for the hands to go up. Many do, some waving wildly. Many don’t, the children staring into space or playing with the rug. Some children seem to still call out, no matter the grade level. When the teacher eventually calls on a child, often he doesn’t know the answer and stumbles for a minute or so before the teacher moves onto to someone else. Sometimes the child does answer in a correct, thoughtful way, while the rest of the children zone out or anxiously wait for their own turn. The teacher is often exhausted from trying to keep the children on-task.
Sound familiar? Besides the management challenges of controlling children's behavior, the part of this ritual that concerns me the most is that during these exchanges only one child at a time is fully engaged in the learning interaction. Young children don’t learn well from sitting and listening to others, even if they can get themselves to be able to focus on the interaction. This is an ineffective learning pattern, yet teachers repeat it because it’s so familiar and comfortable.
Here are some better alternatives to the hand raising routine:
Turn and Talk. After the question is asked, pairs of children turn to each other. One listens while the other answers. This way half of the class is engaged in talking, and it is easier for children to pay attention to the speaker in a paired situation. Be sure that children know ahead of time who their partner is and that they practice how to pair up. This should move quickly, so keep the pace brisk to support children staying on task. Check out this video of a kindergarten class from andreaheckel and notice the difference in the children’s engagement during Turn and Talk compared to when one child is talking.
Think-Pair-Share. Similar to Turn and Talk, except that children are first given time to solve a problem or answer a question individually, then they turn to their partner, quickly share responses with each other and come up with the best or most interesting answer. Next the teacher calls on a few pairs to share with the class.
Choral Responses. To increase student engagement and reinforce simple concepts, allow the children to respond all together. This works best for questions with one answer, and as a quick review of previously covered material.
Individual Lapboards. Each child has a whiteboard and marker and they write down their answer to the question. Children hold up their boards so the teacher can judge how well the children are understanding the concepts.
Cold Call. Keep a list of children’s names, put their names on cards, or sticks, and randomly pick children’s names to answer. This helps to improve the pace of the lesson, and keeps children engaged since they don’t know when they will be called on. However, it should still be used sparingly since it still suffers from the problem of only one student at a time interacting with the question.
What other alternatives have you found to hand raising?
In a faculty meeting this week, a colleague shared the following Holocaust survivor letter with us.
Dear Teacher, I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness:
Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.
So I am suspicious of education.
My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns.
Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.
It is a powerful reminder that real learning is more than the sum of its parts. We can teach reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, but without the larger context of humanity we fall short of our responsibility to cultivate life long learners who are reflective humans. So how do we create learning environments that not only teach basic skills but lead to transformative learning experiences that stand the test of time? In a recent New York Times article titled, “School Curriculum Falls Short on Bigger Lessons,” Tara Parker-Hope quotes Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:
“What are we really trying to do when we think about raising kids? . . . We’re trying to put in place the ingredients so the child is going to be a successful 35-year-old. It’s not really about getting an A in algebra.”
Ms. Parker-Hope goes on to write:
In one set of studies, children who solved math puzzles were praised [either] for their intelligence or for their hard work. The first group actually did worse on subsequent tests, or took an easy way out, shunning difficult problems. The research suggests that praise for a good effort encourages harder work, while children who are consistently told they are smart do not know what to do when confronted with a difficult problem or reading assignment.
Such research has broad and far-reaching ramifications when it comes to how we challenge, encourage and respond to our students and children. Inadvertently or not, we play an important role in how they see themselves, the world and their place in it. As a community dedicated to the best interests of students, we wonder, how do we best praise our students and children? What language do we use that students then use with each other? And what subtle (or not so subtle) messages are we sending them when we say something as seemingly complimentary and innocuous as “You’re so smart”?
These sort of reflections are why students, from preschool through graduation, should find themselves engaged in experiences that not only build their basic skills, but purposefully help them understand that intelligence is not fixed. It can be shaped, molded, built and grown through effort and reflection. It can also be applied to make the world a better place.
Perhaps when we focus on the small moments with our students and children, we find the levers that will help ensure they graduate as learned individuals as well as compassionate humans.
'Twas the night before Pre-K
and excitement rang out,
going to bed early,
I was beginning to doubt.
The supplies were all ready,
The backpack was full,
With gluesticks and pencils,
And notebooks for school.
Her mom and I are ready,
To start her school path,
We're excited she's learning,
Reading, writing, and math,
And new languages,
And Science, and History too,
All to get ready
For whatever she'll do.
New Common Core standards,
New ways to prepare,
We want her to be ready,
The things that she'll learn
As a student in school,
With much to discern.
We're proud of our child,
We want her to thrive
Beyond traditional constraints
Always flying high.
To her teacher, we pledge,
Our support to the max,
To her journey, we hope,
There is nothing she lacks.
As we begin our new life
Of bright public ed,
We wish Lily success,
In her journey ahead.
We love that she's ready,
Excited and glad,
To begin a lifelong love
Of the world to be had.
That this world can provide,
Is now in your reach, child,
Just step inside...
*Your mother and I love you very much, Lily, and are so excited for you to begin your educational journey. We know the value to your life that learning brings, and we hope that you take advantage of it. We're so proud of you already, and look forward to many great things filled with wonder and passion.
* "Once you learn to read, you will forever be free." - Frederick Douglass