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Showing posts from January, 2015

Engaging Students

A while back, a parent asked me an important question.  "What kind of active learning opportunities do you provide?"  At the time, my instinct was to feel a little defensive.  My class is pretty fun, but we were covering some somewhat dry content that week.  And I was not on my best game.

Once I got over the perceived insult, I thought a lot about that question.  What are the ways I provide active learning that engages each student?  The discussion broadens when you think about work product - what are we asking students to produce that is engaging and meaningful?

These questions are so important that we must never stop asking them.  But it helps to think about some possible options, some tried and true ways to engage learners purposefully and meaningfully.  Here are a few that have been working for me lately:

Pear Deck - Pear Deck has been my go-to source for fun lessons and formative assessments.  My students even ask "Can we please have a Pear Deck today?"  In es…

What did you learn today?

I don't know if parents still ask this question.  I don't really remember my parents asking me this question, but it is a question - or a form of a question - that I like to contemplate often.

Learning is a big deal, but not always in the ways that we think.  Often, learning is equated to knowledge acquisition, but it is so much more.  While it is true that learning involves skill development, skills and knowledge should, ideally, result in the learner developing a worldview.

That is a pretty big deal, if you think about it.  In learning, we create a lens through which we see everything.

For me, the lens is a positive one. Interestingly enough, this was not always my way.  I used to be more pessimistic and would often react to unexpected things in negative ways.  Learning from my students, I adopted a better worldview.

Each day, students add my my skill base and knowledge, if I take the time to notice and reflect.  They teach me to laugh a lot.  To forgive mistakes.  To embra…

Finding That of God in Everyone

"Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one." ~George Fox, 1656
I teach at a Quaker school.  As you might expect, we admire George Fox.  The above quote is framed in our Meeting House.  I like to read it every day.  It also finds its way into our Mission and Core Values.   For many, the idea of God is tricky - difficult to discuss publicly and hard for some to accept.  That said, I think Fox is using words that had meaning for him to explain and idea that most humans can accept - each person has something within that is beautiful, unique and unexplainable.  Is that the same as "holy," "divine" or "godly"?  You decide.  But we all have it.  George Fox was pretty radical.  He was vocal in what he knew to be right, stood up for equality and w…

Find Your Avocation

"Whatever career you may choose for yourself - doctor, lawyer, teacher - let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it.  Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights.  Make it a central part of your life.  It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher."   ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today in class, students blogged about Martin Luther King.  I had promised to blog along with them, but then various duties got in the way.  Several hours later, I'm catching up.
My #reflectiveteacher friends are blogging today about choosing education as a profession.  The two are related, I think, if one reflects on MLK's words.
I cannot imagine another life for myself.  I love school.  Showing up at school makes me feel better.  Almost instantly.  I love to connect with students and hear their stories.  I love to witness their progress.  I love to grapple with ideas along side them.  I love to problem solve.  School is, in many ways, my "happy place.&q…

There is no wrong answer

I am inherently optimistic.  Some people, my sister in particular, find this annoying.  I work with teenagers.  Sometimes they are grateful for my rosy outlook and other times they find it hard to swallow.  My own children are both teenagers, so they can be fairly skeptical of my optimism as well.

As an optimist, I like to recruit people to play on the team.  This can be difficult as the aforementioned teenagers don't always want to join.  Sometimes (and this is true for all of us), it is just easier to wallow in the moment of icky feeling or frustration.  I get it, because I have been there.  But I also know that wallowing is rarely a good idea.

In an effort to help someone (student? child? I honestly don't remember) out of a funk, I presented them with some options.  After reviewing the list of possibilities I said, "just choose the best one for you.  There is no wrong answer."  That did the trick and the person in question was able to move beyond the sadness, woe …

Improving Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary is a fundamental component of reading and comprehension.  It is, therefore, a barrier for many students, particularly those for whom reading is a struggle.  Or those with auditory processing difficulty.

I love words.  I think about their origins, sort them, find synonyms and examples.  Make up songs about them.  Learn how to spell them.  Think about their parts of speech and how they are used in sentences.  I do these things alone, with my classes and for fun.  
All of these are excellent first steps, but I need to improve.  Here's why:
Often when we get lost in a new word in class it occurs on the spur of the moment.  There are ideas and resources that I lack on the fly.  Surely, I could anticipate these moments better.  Not always, but often enough to make the moment more teachable.
Typically, our discussion is oral.  What about the visual kids?  I need to have more visual input for them - pictures, the word printed, examples.  When all we do is TALK about the word, …

This is how we do it!

How do students learn best?  The question has as many answers as their are students.  Each student has her own unique needs, and yet there are a few universals.  When these conditions are present, students are most likely to learn in deep and meaningful ways.  This is how we do it:

Motivation - Students learn best when they have a desire to do so.
Challenge - While the task cannot be too difficult, it must not be too easy, or students will not invest.
Fun - If the environment is lively and energetic, students are more likely to try and engage.
A well designed task - Too vague and they will flounder, too structured and there is nothing for them to figure out.
Food - Students are human and they love to eat.
Input - Students need some say in what and how they will learn.
Acceptance and appreciation - Students need to know that their opinions and ideas have merit and value.
Freedom to make mistakes - Mistakes can be an excellent teacher.  Students need to experience and embrace them.
Slight discom…