Posted in Challenges, Education, Humanities, Learning, Presentation, Students, Teaching

What’s the Most Effective Way to Engage All Students?

I was in school during the worksheet boom.  Sometimes I wondered who was doing the teaching, the teacher or the worksheet. It felt like every class had worksheets.  Worksheets kept students engaged back then.  Sure, the students hated them because they were mindless busy work, but they kept us focused and quiet in class, for the most part.  Luckily, worksheets are no longer the in-thing in education and are now rarely used.  When students see a worksheet now, they get excited because they are novelty.  It’s so crazy how trends in education change as often as my son changes his clothes.

To engage students in the classroom, teachers use various active learning approaches.  They will engage the students in discussion, Think-Pair-Share activities, Socratic discussions, projects, and other hands on activities.  We find ways to make the learning fun and interactive for our students.  Sometimes, though, I wonder if these new approaches do really engage all students.  Are there other ways to be sure that all students are engaged and on-task in the classroom?

Today in Humanities class, I attempted to engage the students in various types of class and partner discussions to get them thinking about communities and what they want to learn about the community in which our school is located.  I posed several, what I thought were great, critical thinking questions for the students to ponder and discuss.  After explaining to the students the importance of not being a distraction to their peers and staying present in the moment, a few students did not seem engaged in class today.  They were fiddling with various objects and talking to their peers.  When I called on them to see if they were paying attention while fidgeting, as some students can, they were unable to address my question as they weren’t genuinely paying attention.  I then spoke to the whole group again about not staying focused and being unable to meet the expectations of the class.  This didn’t make much of a difference, those disengaged students remained disengaged throughout.

So, what happened?  What caused them to be unfocused and disengaged?  Were they bored or uninterested?  What could have helped them be more engaged in what was going on in class?  In moments like these, I wonder if having a specialized worksheet would have helped those fidgeting, disengaged students.  While I’m not generally a fan of worksheets, if the students had something they needed to fill in that was graded, perhaps this would have helped keep them motivated and interested in what was being discussed.  Is that my only option though?  Could I try other approaches to help keep those two or three other students from distracting their peers?  I’m not sure at this point what other ideas could help but I will definitely be trying the worksheet solution during our next lengthy class discussion period.  Perhaps this will help keep all of the students focused on the learning and engaged in what is being discussed.  Well, it looks like Justin Timberlake isn’t the only one bringing something back.  I’m bringing the worksheet back into the classroom, at purposeful and specific times.  Don’t worry though, I’m not going to make this a regular practice; however, if it helps my disengaged students stay focused, I might implement it during class discussion days.

Posted in Education, Humanities, Learning, Students, Teaching

Fostering a Sense of Community in the Classroom

It’s easy to find examples of ineffective communities in the media today.  Countries are struggling to stay united, families are breaking apart, towns are arguing about rules and laws, and sports teams are having difficulty staying focused and positive.  Bad communities are heavily highlighted on news websites throughout the Internet.  There seems to be so much focus on how communities don’t work, that it leads me to wonder if people remember what effective communities look like.  What about the towns that stand together against violence and prejudice?  What about the families that volunteer together?  What about the countries that go out of their way to help other countries?  Rarely do we hear about the good communities in our world.  While I’m no globetrotter, I do hypothesize that there are plenty of effective communities on Earth.  In fact, there are probably more good communities around the world than there are bad ones.  The problem is, happy news isn’t nearly as popular as sensationalized news, which is why we rarely hear about the great things communities are doing around the globe.  So, as a teacher, I need to be sure my students understand how effective, caring communities function.  I want them to see the value and benefits in being a part of a good community, as they won’t find many good examples of working communities online or in the news.

Today in my Humanities class, the boys completed a Quick Write activity in which they had to craft a piece telling the story of a school without adults.  What might that look like?  How might you feel?  What would you do?  The boys spent 17 minutes furiously writing or typing their story.  Most of the students thoroughly enjoyed this task and had almost a page of single-spaced text by the end of 17 minutes.  It was awesome to watch them work.  They all seemed so focused and engaged.  What else could I hope for as their teacher?

Once they completed the writing phase of the activity, I had them share their story with their table partner.  After reading their partner’s story, they had to provide him with one nugget of positive feedback.  What did your partner do well in his story?  They all seemed to have fun reading their partner’s creative piece and providing him with feedback.  I heard lots of laughter and saw many smiles.  Once every group had finished this portion of the task, I had volunteers share the feedback provided to them by their partner and explain how it made them feel.  I wrote the feedback and feelings on the whiteboard.  Every student reported how happy this positive feedback made them feel.  Some of the boys were proud while others were feeling good about themselves because of what their partner had said to them.  I wrapped up the activity by telling the students, “We are a family and we need to always take care of each other.  An easy way to do this is by providing each other with kind words.  When we help someone feel good, they may in turn help someone else feel good, and then that person might help someone else.  Kindness and compassion creates a domino effect and spreads like fire.  So, be sure to provide each other with positive feedback on a regular basis as it makes a huge difference in building a strong and healthy community in the classroom.”

My goal was to help my students see how powerful kindness and compassion can be.  I want them to realize that using kind and caring words can make people feel good, and in turn, strengthen our community.  The boys left class today feeling happy and proud of their accomplishments because I provided them with time to be kind and nice to one another.  As our screens today seem to be filled with nothing but negativity, it’s important to remind our students how vital positivity is to fostering a strong sense of community within the classroom.  We need to take time out of every class day to focus on the positive aspects of our world communities so that our students see how valuable kindness and compassion truly are to the success of these communities.

P.S. As I reflected on today’s Humanities class and how important it is to foster a sense of community in the classroom, I had an epiphany.  I want to have my students participate in a Kindness Project.  Now, I have no real, concrete idea as to what this will look like, but I’ve got ideas.  I want the students to complete acts of kindness around the community and within the class over the next several weeks.  How we go about doing this will be up to the students.  I’m going to introduce this idea to the boys during tomorrow’s Humanities class.  I’m hopeful that they will have some brilliant ideas that we can use to drive this kindness ship.  But that’s not all, oh no.  My hope is that this project takes off in the sixth grade so that I can then introduce it to the whole school and inspire a campus-wide Kindness Project.  Spreading compassion and kindness are two easy ways to help unite and strengthen communities as well as change the world.  I can’t wait to see what comes of tomorrow’s discussion.

Posted in Education, Humanities, Learning, Reader's Workshop, Students, Teaching

Helping Students Increase their Reading Stamina

In this day and age, sports are a huge draw for people.  Most everyone likes playing in or watching some kind of sporting event, whether it’s boxing, baseball, football, tennis, or soccer.  The sport industry is a money making machine.  It’s also a great way to help motivate kids and adults alike to stay healthy and in shape.  Building one’s stamina can lead to a longer life, healthy heart, reduced stress level, and so much more.  The benefits are staggering.  Exercise or participation in a sport of some kind can help improve one’s life in numerous ways, which is why schools and towns devote vast resources to creating physical fitness programs or sport teams in which students can participate.  Developing one’s physical stamina can help people in so many ways.

Like physical stamina, helping students increase their reading stamina is vitally important.  “The more you read, the more you know,” is a line from a famous commercial that aired on television in the 1990s.  Knowledge is power, and an easy way for students to acquire knowledge is through reading.  To help students learn more, they need to read more, and in order to read more, they need to be able to read more efficiently and for longer periods of time.  As teachers, we need to provide our students with opportunities to develop their reading stamina throughout the year so that they can become more effective students, learners, and thinkers.

Today featured a Reader’s Workshop block in my Humanities class.  Following a short mini-lesson on the reading strategy of reading with a purpose, the students spent the remainder of our time together, which was about 45 minutes, reading silently.  While many of the boys were thoroughly engaged throughout the class, a few of the boys were a bit distracted and distracting.  For those boys, they will need direct instruction on how to stay focused on their reading for a long period of time, as they clearly currently lack the skills needed to be successful in this area.  So, over the course of this year, I will work with those few students to help them learn how to increase their reading stamina so that they can become more effective readers and students in preparation for the rigorous reading requirements of the seventh grade.

Teaching Practices to Promote an Increase in Reading Stamina

  • Modelling: After conferencing with students each week, I pull out my current reading book and read right along with the students, so as to be a good role model.  I want my students to see the value in reading, and if they see me doing it with them, they be more apt to see the direct correlation.
  • Time: The students have several chances each week to sit and read for long periods of time, at least 30 minutes.  We have Reader’s Workshop once a week and they are assigned nightly reading homework at least three times a week.  This practice offers the students opportunities to develop their ability to read and stay focused for large chunks of time.
  • Conferencing: I meet with the students weekly to review their reading progress.  During these conferences I help students set goals to increase their pages per day goal if they are struggling to keep up with the reading requirements.  This generally motivates them to stay focused and make good use of their free time to read.
  • Choice: Once the students begin to love reading and find the joy in it, they will devour books like I devour cookies.  As many students have never been given the option to choose the books they read, some students begin sixth grade not liking reading.  Once they begin reading books that they select and enjoy, they will want to read more, this increasing their reading stamina.

Building stamina, whether it’s physical or academic, is important to the overall success of our students.  The more they exercise their brain and body, the longer they will be able to live and prevent mental and physical decay.  Helping students see the value in increasing their reading stamina is important for many reasons, which is why all teachers should be advocating for this in the classroom.  We are all reading teachers and need to remember that on a daily basis.  Reading is everywhere, in every class, and needs to be supported and celebrated.

Posted in Challenges, Education, Humanities, Learning, Students, Teaching

Is Modelling an Effective Teaching Strategy?

When my son learned to do new things growing up, he had to try them out for himself.  He is very much a kinesthetic learner.  No amount of watching or modelling would have helped him learn how to do anything faster.  He needs to do it in order to learn.  Then there are other people who need to watch it being done first in order to learn how to do something.  Modelling a new skill or task is crucial for this type of person.  They need to see first and do later.  Me, I’m a mix.  Sometimes I need a little modelling to help me get started and for other new things, a quick explanation will suffice.  Being a teacher, I know that I have all different types of learners in my room.  Some students learn by doing, others learn by listening, some need to watch, and others learn in completely different ways.  As their teacher, I need to take this into consideration when leading or planning a lesson.  For some of the more complex tasks, I try to model what is being asked of them, while if it is an easier task, I will try verbal or written instructions.  I also try to help build critical thinking and problem solving skills within my students by occasionally providing very little instructions for a task.  Using a variety of instructional methods is vital when trying to tap into the learning styles of my students while at the same time trying to help them learn how to develop their listening, watching, and doing skills.

Yesterday in my Humanities class, the students had the task of creating an account on the Goodreads website, friending me, and adding various books.  I wanted them to really understand how to navigate the website as we will be using it regularly in class.  As it is early in the academic year and many of them are unfamiliar with their laptops and the Internet, I thought it best to model this entire process for them.  So, I imagined I was a student and modelled how to create an account on the website while also accomplishing the other tasks.  I verbalized my thought process as I modelled so that they understood what they needed to do and how it was supposed to be done.  I then addressed questions the students had about how to complete the task being asked of them.  Very few questions were raised.  As the students worked, very few of them needed assistance.  Was it because of my modelling?  Did that help them understand the process and task better?  Could I have introduced the assignment in another way that would have been more beneficial to them?  Perhaps, but this early in the year, modelling seemed the way to go.  My students now all understand how to use this website.  Could they have figured it out on their own?  Maybe, but I do feel as though I would have had many more questions if I let them try to complete this task on their own.  I would have fielded the same questions over and over.  By showing them the basics of how to accomplish the task, I provided them with just enough information to do what was needed.  While a few of the students didn’t understand all of the English language words I used to describe what they needed to do on the website, they all understand how to do it.  Perhaps I could have given the students the option to fly solo and figure it out on their own or watch me model the process.  This way, they could own their choice, and those who learn best by doing would have the opportunity to do so while those who learn by watching and listening would also be provided with what they need.  Maybe I will try this approach next time I’m introducing a task of this nature.

Although all of my students were able to successfully accomplish yesterday’s task, I did learn that there is always more than one way to do something.  Teaching is definitely an art, open to interpretation.  We do what we believe will best help our students learn and grow.  Sometimes this means taking risks and trying an approach that will help most students.  Varying the instructional methods used in the classroom is very important to the learning process and so as long as I provide my students with opportunities to solve problems on their own later on, then what I did yesterday to model a task was not an incorrect choice.  Learning from doing taught me that there are other ways to solve problems and accomplish the task at hand.  Was modelling the best instructional method to introduce yesterday’s task?  Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, but either way I helped my students learn and grow during class yesterday.

Posted in Boy Writers, Education, Humanities, Learning, Sixth Grade, Students, Teaching, Writer's Workshop, Writing

The Power of Providing Students with Choice when Writing

“What would you like for sides with that?” wait staff at various restaurants often ask customers when they are ordering their meal.  With so many choices, it’s almost too difficult to choose; however, at the end of the day, people like being able to pick what they eat.  Some people like French fries while other people like rice or pickles.  If restaurants did not offer choices, I wonder how many customer would become repeat patrons.  Humans like to be offered options.  It empowers us and makes us feel as though we are in control.  As teachers, we need to remember this same principal when teaching our students.  Our students don’t like when we make choices for them.  They like to be able to select how and what they learn.  It engages them and allows for genuine learning to take place in the brain.

Today in my Humanities class, I made sure to provide my students with choices and options so that they would be excited and engaged in the learning process.  Following a discussion on community and what it means to be a part of a community, the students completed a Quick Write activity.  As this was our first Quick Write of the academic year, I did explain the protocol and procedure so that they understood what was expected of them.  Today’s prompt was, “Imagine the perfect community.  What would it look like?  How would it function?  Who would live there?  Where would it be located?  Explain and describe your perfect community.”  After explaining how a Quick Write works and what the prompt is asking them to do, I addressed questions the students had: “Does it have to be about a real community or can I make it up?”, “Can I write about a community I’m a part of?” and,  “Can I write it like a story?”  The boys were thrilled that they could write about any sort of community.  They were also excited that they could write it as a story or any form of writing.  They liked that they had choices for how they could complete this task.

For 15 minutes, the boys sat, quietly typing away.  Some of the students had almost a full page of text when the time had expired.  A few of the boys were upset when the time was up because they wanted to keep writing.  I love their enthusiasm and excitement.  They were all so engaged in this activity because they could choose what to write about and how to do so.  I didn’t pigeonhole them into one style or topic.  They had the freedom their brains crave.  Once the writing portion of the activity had finished, I had the students share their piece with their table partner.  They seemed to enjoy sharing their work with a peer.  I then had the students analyze their piece to determine their favorite sentence or short chunk of sentences, and a few volunteers shared what they had chosen aloud to the group.  I was so amazed with the variety of topics and genres the students utilized to accomplish this simple writing task.  To conclude the activity, I asked students to raise their hand if they had fun with this writing exercise and almost every hand in the classroom quickly shot up towards the ceiling.  That’s a great sign in my book.

My students were excited about writing, communities, and creativity today in Humanities class all because I provided them with options and choice.  Sometimes, little things make a huge difference.  I certainly could have outlined exactly what I wanted them to write about and how, but would all of my students have been as engaged with the assignment if I posed it like that?  Are all students interested in the same things?  Clearly, we know that effective teachers tap into how students learn best by providing them with options in the classroom.  Just as customers don’t like to be forced into ordering one particular side with their burger, our students don’t like to have only one way to complete an assignment.  So, let’s make sure that we find creative, engaging, and fun ways to provide our students with choices in the classroom this year.  Not only will it help our students learn better and be more excited in the classroom, it’s also a lot more fun to read different types of stories and papers than the same one written by 15 different students.  Let’s vow to make our classrooms more fun for us and our students this year.  Bring on the choices!

Posted in Education, Humanities, Learning, Reader's Workshop, Sixth Grade, Students, Teaching

The Importance in Providing Students with Opportunities to Fail

When I was in the sixth grade, failure wasn’t an option.  If I didn’t do something correctly the first time, I received a poor grade and got in trouble with my parents.  Therefore, I quickly learned how to be the perfect student.  School then became a me vs. them sort of game.  I had to learn what my teachers wanted or expected and then gave it to them when work was assigned.  I wasn’t really doing any learning as I was simply striving for the perfect grade.  Failure was never an option for me after sixth grade.  Perhaps if I had failed more often, I would have learned much more than I did.  You see, my grades were a reflection of figuring out the game of school and not a picture of what I learned or was capable of.  In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t placed so much emphasis on the importance of grades on myself when I was in school.  I feel as though I missed out on a lot of learning opportunities because of this.

Clearly, I know that genuine learning comes from failure and making mistakes.  Students need to be provided with safe opportunities to mess up, make mistakes, and fail in the classroom.  As a teacher, I understand this.  So, I try to make sure that I help my students value failure and making mistakes.  I want them to see failure as a crucial part of the learning process.  When mistakes happen, I focus on the next step.  What will you do now?  Now what?  How will you solve this problem?  As I don’t want my students to turn into the kind of student I became in the sixth grade, I need to be sure that failure is a part of everyday life in the classroom for my students.

Today in my Humanities class, I introduced the students to Reader’s Workshop.  I explained how to choose a Just-Right book and allowed them time to choose a book and begin reading it.  While part of me wanted to set my students up for success and help them choose a book that I feel is just-right for them, I resisted the urge and remembered how important learning from one’s mistakes is to the learning process.  When students chose a book and reported to me, if they followed the steps we went over in class on how to choose a book and could explain this process to me, I allowed them to begin reading the book they chose.  Even if I knew the book was too difficult or easy for them, I empowered them with the opportunity to make their own choices and mistakes.  I’ll have a chance early next week to conference with them independently and see where they’re at then.  I want them to come to the realization of how truly easy or difficult it is for them on their own.  This way, the students learn to value the process of choosing an appropriate reading book for themselves.

I was able to see the benefit in letting the students learn from their own mistakes first hand today in class.  An ELL in my class chose a book that I knew was going to be too challenging for him, but he wanted to try it and was able to tell me the process that he went through to choose it.  So, I let him start it.  About 15 minutes later, this same student came up to me and said, “This book is little too hard for me.  Can I choose new one?”  As fireworks went off in my head to the sound of the Queen song Another One Bites the Dust, I calmly responded, “Sure thing.  Would you like helping choose a new book?”  I then recommended several books before he decided on one that would be just right for him.  He needed to fail on his own in order to realize that the book was too hard for him.  Me telling him no would be like when your parents told you not to touch the stove because it was still hot.  What did we all do?  We touched the stove, of course.  Our students need to learn from doing and making mistakes just like we did.  So, it’s important that as teachers, we provide opportunities in the classroom for students to make mistakes, fail, and then try something new.  Preventing our students from failing or making failure appear bad to our students is the worse thing we can do for them.  We need to help them see that failure is part of the learning process.

Posted in Education, Learning, Mistakes, Sixth Grade, Students, Teaching

The Key to Making Mistakes is to Learn from Them

I mess up a lot.  Just ask my wife.  I can barely remember to do half of what she tells me to unless I write it down.  While I’m trying to get better at this, it’s still an area of my life in need of improvement.  The key is is in admitting that I’m not good at remembering what my wife tells me to do.  Through this admission, I’m telling myself that I need to work on it.  My brain then hones in on this issue when my wife next tells me something.  It’s almost like sticky notes for my brain.  By owning my actions and choices, I’m realizing that I need to remedy the situation; therefore, my brain places emphasis on what my wife tells me in the future so that I can pay closer attention to it and not forget to do what she asks of me.

Teaching students to do this as their brains are still myelinating is quite challenging.  The key when working with students regarding this issue is to have deliberate and purposeful conversations with them after mistakes or poor choices are made.  Debriefing the situations and then helping them to understand how to approach a similar situation in the future is vital.  Role playing can help, but timing is key.  You don’t want to discuss things with them directly following the situation as tensions may still be high.  You want to follow up with the student a few hours or a day or two later so that they’ve had time to process what happened and are not operating under the fight or flight protocol.  After many of these types of conversations, students will eventually build the appropriate neurological connections in their brain that will help them learn from their mistakes.  Knowing this, teachers realize that students will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again as their brain grows and develops.

Adults on the other hand, have much stronger and myelinated neurological connections that should, in theory, allow them to easily learn from their mistakes the first time.  While I do still sometimes repeat the same mistakes over and over again, despite knowing what I should do, as an educator, I do find that once I make a mistake or try something that fails, I don’t repeat that same poor choice.  Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t or won’t mess up or make mistakes, because I do quite frequently.  However, I’ve gotten really good over the years, mostly due to this blog, at learning from what doesn’t go right in the classroom.  Case and point, yesterday’s academic orientation schedule for the sixth grade.

Although I know what great, evidence-based teaching looks like, every once in awhile, I revert back to the sage on the stage mentality of teaching and find that I’m doing way too much of the talking and leading.  I feel as though my co-teacher and I planned a very information-heavy schedule for yesterday’s orientation, day one.  While we do need to impart much knowledge to the students during these opening days, there are clearly more effective and engaging ways to do it than what we did in the classroom yesterday.  We basically talked at the students for several hours.  Sure, we mixed it up a bit with games, activities, and tasks, but for the most part, it felt like we were just overloading the boys with information about our sixth grade program.  We could have and should have structured yesterday’s agenda differently.  We should have talked much less and engaged the students much more.

Now, it did take me quite some time to come to this realization, as I left the classroom yesterday feeling pretty good about what we had done.  I felt like we had accomplished our goals and provided the students with lots of valuable information.  It wasn’t until my co-teacher shared some agenda slides she created for today’s orientation schedule that I came to the realization that what we had done yesterday was hogwash.  Her slides involved the students in the learning process.  She was asking them questions while providing them with crucial information in a very succinct manner.  “Why didn’t we do this yesterday,” I thought as I perused her slides last evening.

Luckily for me, my axons are relatively well myelinated and so I was able to see the errors in my ways to know that we can’t plan next year’s orientation schedule in this same way.  We need to be more purposeful and engaging.  We need to plan more active learning activities for the students.  We need to do what we normally do in our regular classes: Ask questions, engage the students in critical thinking exercises, and promote teamwork and collaboration.  If we can do this on a daily basis in our classes, why was it so challenging for us to plan an orientation schedule in the same style?  Who knows, but what I do know is that this won’t happen again next year.  I will be sure that we plan a relevant and meaningful orientation day one schedule, because unlike some of my students, I can easily learn from my mistakes.  Yah for me!

Posted in Boys, Education, Students, Teaching

How to Change your Thinking in the Moment

Despite preaching to my students about the value of utilizing a growth mindset, I sometimes struggle to use one myself.  It’s very easy to get stuck in a negative line of thinking.  “This will never work.”  Over the years, I’ve focused my energy on trying to be mindful of how I’m feeling so that I don’t allow my emotions to get the best of me.  I’m definitely getting better but still have much room for improvement.  I try to take one day at a time.  Luckily for me, today provided another opportunity to practice this very technique that I’ve been working on.

Today marked the first day of Academic Orientation at my school.  For the sixth grade, this meant having the students play some group games, discuss class norms, organize their planbook binders, and generally get to know each other better.  These two days of orientation help to build the foundation for a successful year in the classroom for the boys.  Of course, today was no exception.  The boys were awesome.  We are fortunate to have a fine group of 10 wonderful young men from around the globe in our class.  They worked well together as they began bonding like a family.

Like every other part of life, today was filled with twists and turns.  The timing of our activities was off a bit and our projector stopped working.  These were simple problems with quick and easy solutions.  There was, however, one issue that arose that proved a bit challenging for me.  One of our students struggled to follow simple directions and meet our basic expectations in the classroom today.  While he is an ELL, it was hard to tell if his issues were due to his lack of language proficiency or something else entirely.  His attention issues most certainly made it difficult for him to stay focused, but the big challenge was his defiant behavior.  He refused to do what was asked of him.  After working with him in the dormitory all weekend, I began the morning a bit frustrated with him.  So, when he first displayed this refusal behavior, I reacted a bit negatively.  “Ms. Levine explained how to do this.  Please ask your table partner for help as we are not going to do it for you.”  While this reaction didn’t elicit much of a change in his behavior, I realized that I would need to change my approach with him.  So, later in the morning when he refused to share a poster he had made about himself, I thought about what I would say before I said it as I wanted to be respectful and elicit a more productive response from him.  “As this is an activity to learn more about our family, it’s important that you share about yourself with your classmates so that they can get to know you.  We are a family and we need to work together like one.  The more your peers know about you as a person, the better they will be able to work with you as a student in the classroom this year.”  After a short pause, he did do what was asked of him very well.  His English was quite strong, which leads me to believe that his behavior is not entirely tied to his lack of proficiency in English.  So, then, what could be causing him to exhibit this defiant behavior?  Is he angry that he is at a new school in a strange place far from home?  Is he homesick?  Does he not want to be a part of our class family?  Is he embarrassed to share about himself with the group?  What could be causing this defiant behavior?

Over the next few days and weeks, I hope to uncover the root of this issue and help him through it.  I want this student to be and feel successful in my classroom.  So, I will need to be extra patient and compassionate as I mindfully navigate my way through helping uncover why this student is acting the way in which he is acting.  It will be important for me to not take what happens personally and try to discover the whys of his behavior.  Perhaps I will even try Plan B with him from the great professional development resource I read this summer Lost at School by Ross Greene.  Maybe this will help me figure out what is going on with this student.  No matter what, I am going to persevere with a growth mindset and much patience to help this student feel like a part of our classroom community.  Being mindful when interacting with this student will help me to change my thinking so that I can respond to him instead of reacting to him.

Posted in Change, Education, Learning, New Ideas, Professional Development, Teaching

What’s the Most Effective Professional Development Model for Schools?

When I first started teaching, the schools I worked at had little to no money available for its teachers to pursue professional development opportunities.  While this was certainly not an ideal situation, my colleagues and I made do.  We learned from each other.  If I wanted to learn more about the Reader’s Workshop model of literacy instruction, I talked to the first grade teacher in my school who had been implementing it in her classroom for years.  If a teacher wanted to utilize technology in their classroom, he or she sought me out for guidance.  We capitalized on the resources available to us in-house as an educational institution.  This worked for me as a young and developing educator.  As I grew, learned more, and gained more experience, I craved more than what the teachers at my schools were able to teach me.  I wanted to learn about new teaching practices that no other teacher in my school was aware of.  I wanted to learn how to implement standards-based grading in my class, which no other teacher at my school was doing.  I wanted something more than what my school offered.  At first, I sought out books on the subjects for which I wanted to learn.  Then, I ran out of books.  Luckily for me, as I was growing, so too was the school at which I worked, which meant that there were funds available for professional development.  So, I started attending conferences.  I learned so much from the sessions I attended at the various conferences I went to over the years.  They were so useful.  I felt a bit like a dried up sponge before I started going to teaching conferences.  Then, in a few short years, I was transformed into an overly moist and wet sponge, dripping knowledge from every nook and cranny.  It was awesome!

As schools have evolved over time, so too have professional development models.  While most schools have funds available for their teachers to attend conferences, workshops, and the like, some schools have switched back to in-house professional development for most teachers except those going through the self-evaluation process.  Although reflection and self-evaluation are both vital processes to one’s success as a teacher and individual, this model of professional development makes it challenging for other teachers to grow and develop.  So, to help all teachers feel as though they have access to professional development opportunities, some schools invite in speakers and have teachers read and discuss various teaching resources.  This modification definitely helps all teachers feel included.

My school has moved to this model and I like it, for the most part.  What I would like to see is more differentiation within the in-house professional development opportunities.  Like snowflakes, no two teachers are exactly alike in their teaching practices or knowledge base.  Therefore, schools should help meet all teachers at the level they are currently at.  For example, my school recently spent a morning learning all about the neuroscience of education.  A professor from a local college came to speak with us about this topic.  While the information for some of my colleagues was useful, a fair amount of teachers at my school have taken courses in this very subject and are well-versed in how to support all types of learners based on brain science.  For me and a few of my fellow teachers, this speaker did not provide us with new information nor allow us to explore and engage in areas of interest to us.  Because of this, we extrapolated very little from this four-hour session.  While my school was trying to do the right thing, they didn’t think about all of the teachers and their ability levels.  They planned this workshop session for the average teacher.  This seems a bit counter-intuitive to what we should be doing in the classroom as teachers.  If we are expected to differentiate our instruction, then why isn’t the school doing the same for its teachers?

Wouldn’t it be great if professional development at schools was differentiated?  Imagine this…  “The topic for today’s professional development workshop is differentiation.  For those who are new to teaching or unfamiliar with this concept, you will be participating in a session with an engaging presenter who will help you understand the concept and be able to effectively employ it in your classroom.  For those who are already familiar with differentiation and utilize it in your classrooms, you will be attending a session of your choice based on your interest level within the topic.  Option one will provide you the time and resources needed to update your lessons plans so that they all incorporate differentiation of some sort.  Option two will be an interactive session on new technology applications used to differentiate instruction for students in all subject areas.  And option three will be an open forum discussion on differentiation techniques that worked well or didn’t work well.”  Doesn’t that sound amazing and wonderful?  Teachers would receive training and support that is appropriate for the level at which they are currently working.  I would love to be at a school that utilizes this model of professional development as I could more effectively grow and develop as a teacher.  So, my question is, why don’t all schools employ this model of helping teachers grow and develop?  Sure, it takes planning, but that’s what great teachers and schools do.  So, why not try it?  Why not best support and help all teachers at all schools around the globe?  Let’s practice what we preach as teachers and meet students, or in this case educators, where they are so that we can best help them grow and develop as individuals.  Let’s change the way schools help teachers grow and develop professionally.

Posted in Challenges, Co-Teacher, Curriculum, Education, Learning, New Ideas, Professional Development, Sixth Grade, Students, Teaching

What Makes Effective Teaching?

This morning, as I perused the various headlines via the News app on my iPhone, a story caught my eye: “Educators: Innovate Less, Execute More” by Kalman R. Hettleman.  The author proposes that teachers need to focus on effectively teaching students rather than trying to find new and novel ways to teach and educate them.  Although the focus of the article is really on how public schools implement RTI, the first few graphs do discuss classroom teachers.  As I first read the article, I found the perspective refreshing after having been inundated for the past several years with books, articles, and conferences on the importance of being an innovative teacher and using innovative technology products and services in the classroom.  Most of these books and conferences all focused on the same issues and ideas, and so they all felt very repetitive; therefore, I was ready for something different.  But, upon further contemplation of this article, I realized that the author was somewhat contradicting himself, as great and effective teachers are always trying to find new and better ways to effectively teach and engage their students.  In order to execute a lesson or activity well, teachers must know and understand how their students learn best so that they can be sure they are reaching each and every individual student in their classroom.  To do this, teachers need to find new and novel ways to hook students.  While being sure that the lesson is executed well is an important part of the teaching and learning process, it’s only a part of the larger educational puzzle.  Teachers must constantly innovate their teaching practices in order to be effective in the classroom.  Great teachers are the best students because they value the importance of knowledge.

As the final three days of faculty meetings begin tomorrow morning at my fine educational institution, I can’t help but get excited for what is going to happen on Friday: Registration Day.  My new students will arrive and get settled into their dormitories and prepare for the start of classes next week.  I can’t wait to meet my 11 new and eager students as we embark upon a journey of curiosity, wonderment, knowledge, failure, and fun.  I can’t wait to introduce Reader’s Workshop to the boys and get them excited about reading.  I can’t wait to have them play and explore with the Makey Makeys we’ve added to our Maker Space this year.  I can’t wait to begin working with my new co-teacher.  I can’t wait to begin implementing the new Brain and Mindfulness units my co-teacher and I crafted this summer.  I can’t wait to put on my teaching cape and get down to business.  I just can’t wait for the new academic year to begin.

While I will be sure to execute lessons and activities well in the classroom this year, as Mr. Hettleman suggests I should, I will try to also do what he states I shouldn’t do in the classroom, innovate and try new things.  I will take risks and try new approaches to teaching to help best support all of my students.  Great teaching requires a positive attitude, desire to learn, flexibility, creativity, innovation, enthusiasm, and an understanding of effective teaching practices.  So, thank you Kalman, for reminding me what it takes to be an effective teacher.  Thank you for helping stir up my mental pot and prepare for the coming days that are sure to be filled with fun, drama, and lots of questions.