Thursday, June 30, 2011

Engagement, Emotions, and the Power of Boredom

All electronic devices including cell phones, ipods, ipads, laptops or any electronic device that has an on/off switch must be turned off at this time. Life vests are located beneath your seats. Remove the vest from the pouch by pulling on the tab. Place the vest over your head.......bla, bla, bla. Sound familiar?

I had just boarded my flight to Chicago to attend the sold-out National Conference on Common Core State Standards. However, I could have been entering many schools across this nation. Do you see and hear the familiarity? Power down and get ready for the much dreaded lecture! During this time, I thought about how I felt. Disinterested, unfocused, inattentive, unmotivated, and disconnected are just a few that come to mind.  Do you know that split-second feeling you get when you turn around in a crowded area and suddenly your four year old isn't standing there? This is the exact feeling I got when I suddenly realized our students experience this type of power-down instruction 180 days a year.

Following the safety speech, I inquisitively turned and asked the person sitting to the left of me a simple question. “Did you hear where she said the life vest was located?” He responded, “I have no idea. I never listen to that.” I then asked the same question to the lady to my right. She stated, “I wasn't paying any attention. Sorry.” Do you get the picture?

Recently, I attended a technology integration conference lead by Dr. Debra Pickering, senior scholar for Marzano Research Laboratory and co-author (with Dr. Robert Marzano) of several educational books including the following excerpt from the book, The Highly Engaged Classroom:

With every new situation, feelings affect human behavior. In a sense, we ask the question, “How do I feel?” If our emotions are negative in that moment, we are less likely to engage in new activities or challenging tasks. Skinner et al. (2009) associated the following emotions with engagement:


In addition, they associated the following emotions with a lack of engagement:


Imagine boarding the same plane, sitting in the same seat, not allowed to get out of your seat, listening to the same flight attendant, while unplugged to the world for 180 days a year. Which emotions would you feel? How attentive and engaged do you think you would be? Probably about as enthusiastic as the two passengers sitting next to me!  What is even more frightening is the thought of our plane actually experiencing some type of failure. How many passengers would be proficient at following safety procedures?  

"It's as if the power of boredom is just as influential as the power of engagement.  The emotions we create in our classrooms can determine our effectiveness as an educator." - Shawn Blankenship

Monday, June 20, 2011

Never smile until Christmas!

We have all heard this so called adage. However, I believe the right classroom management strategy will allow you to smile consistently from August till May.
Throughout my many conversations with teachers, I have heard time and time again how they feel bad for the rest of the class because they spend all their time and energy on just a few students. These teachers are correct, it's not fair. Yet, they continue to give more attention to these disruptive students, in which I believe, increases the likelihood that this undesired behavior will continue.
According to Michael Linsin, “When you attend to poorly behaved students more often, you’re communicating to them in a subtle but clear way that they’re different, that they don’t have what it takes to control themselves like other students, so they need extra attention.”
So, why exactly do teachers warn, argue and interrupt instruction to repetitively lecture more often to misbehaving-prone students or give them more attention than other students? Your guess is as good as mine. However, I want to believe that most teachers do the very best they know how. Therefore, it's time to reveal the secret to year-round smiles! The solution is to simply treat them just like everyone else. Allow your most challenging students to feel what it’s like to be a regular student.
Michael Linsin states, “To do this, you must follow your classroom management plan to the letter. Stick to it no matter what, and acknowledge your students when they do something well. Stop pulling them aside to explain this or that, stop lecturing or trying to get assurances from them, and stop telling them how wonderful they are because they sat quietly for 15 minutes during a read aloud.” Simply acknowledge them for the same things you would for any other student. Remember, students have a distinct sense of what is and what is not fair. You must act fairly for all students if you expect to be respected. If you do not treat all students equitably, you will be labelled as an unfair teacher and students will not be keen to follow your rules. Make sure that if your best student does something wrong, they too are treated like any other student.
And resist the urge to discuss their behavior-related issues with them. If they’re angry or upset, don’t speak to them or let their anger bother you. It’s not personal. They have every right to be angry. It’s not your issue. Otherwise, smile and talk to them about the same things your other students like talking about—sports or movies or whatever feels right,” says Linsin.
In my experience, this strategy of treating your most disruptive students like everyone else only works if you set high expectations and have a solid classroom management plan that you follow precisely and every single time. In my opinion, one of the worst things you can do as a teacher is to not enforce your rules consistently. If one day, such as after Christmas, you ignore misbehaviors and the next day you jump on someone for the smallest infraction, your students will quickly lose respect for you. Your students have the right to expect you to basically be the same everyday. Moodiness is not allowed. Once you lose your student's respect, you also lose their attention and their desire to please you.
It's time teachers 'change the behavior.'  No more lectures and short-term successes. It simply isn't fair to the rest of the class.  Instead, lets set the bar high for every student and hold every student accountable from August till May while treating all students with the same respect.
It's a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.” - Somerset Maugham 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

2 Billion Potential Teachers Globally

A few months ago, I was contacted by a colleague who needed my assistance to solve a problem.  The question was this, "How can I take a video from youtube and embed it into imovie?"  This particular problem was one I had never performed before so I immediately called my technology director expecting a quick solution.  His response was that I needed professional software and it would require the ability to write code.  Unsatisfied, I clicked end call and clicked on my youtube app .  Did I mention that a solution was needed within the hour?  Within only minutes, I had discovered Aleah, a 16 year old from New York City, who had submitted a 3:26 tutorial describing in detail a simple solution.  Because of Aleah, who I have never met, I was able to meet the deadline and more importantly, help a colleague.  This particular youtube video has received 32,890 views along with numerous comments such as, "Thx's, u helped my science project," and "You basically saved me when I was making my senior project!  Thank you so friggin' much!" Evidently, I am not the only person she has saved in the nick of time. 

According to Will Richardson, a student could take his cell phone from his pocket and with a couple of clicks, could have access to over 2 billion potential teachers.  

If they have access, our kids now have an easy connection between an individual's passion to learn and the people and resources to learn it.”
John Seely Brown, A New Culture of Learning

Will Richardson makes it clear that test prep and learning are two very different things.  What are some ways in which you can integrate social online learning in your classroom to make learning more authentic and meaningful?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Modernizing Assessment Types to Fit Our Times

Can You Spot The Differences in the two pictures?


Thirty years ago, I was sitting quietly in a kindergarten classroom listening to one classmate after another recite the alphabet until each had been called upon.  The teacher's primary activity was assigning and listening to these recitations while I waited patiently for my twenty-six seconds of fame.  My, how the times have changed.......... or have they?

As the years went on, I experienced great success through memorization giving very little effort at understanding the meaning of various concepts.  Do you remember those 'Spot the Difference' picture puzzle games when you were a kid?  Remember how long it took to find them all?  During these years, I was reminded about this game when comparing my study guide to my unit tests.  I had trouble determining any differences!  As a result, A's were easy to earn.

"But you can't assess a student's deep understanding of a subject and their ability to apply a concept through a traditional paper-and-pencil, crank-out-the-formulas kind of assessment," says Reeder, geometry teacher at Mountlake Terrace High School, Washington.  

This brings me to believe a 21st century assessment should be a menu of options for our students.  It must allow students to pick and choose the best method for showcasing a specific skill.  Every day, in every class, students must be encouraged and expected to demonstrate what they're learning so that we as educators can capture a true reflection of understanding.

The following three minute video clip is found on in which students share tutorials with the world.  In this clip, Bob (anonymous name to protect identity) is a 6th grade student who demonstrates prime factorization using a factor tree.  As you watch the video, I want you to assess Bob's understanding of prime factorization.  Is it difficult to determine Bob's mastery of this concept?  Ask yourself this question as you watch the video, If a student made a mistake during a tutorial, would you be able to identify the problem immediately? 

Many of the tutorials on are one minute or less.  Most of these tutorials are created at home.  This is one idea on how we can upgrade our assessment types to reach a true understanding of learning.  

What are some of your thoughts and ideas?  I understand it can be time consuming, therefore, what if you were to focus on the most important concepts within the subject matter in which you teach.  How could you match the assessment to our times?  Maybe in English, students are to write a screen play opposed to an essay, or read and study a piece of literature and then being able to engage in a thoughtful conversation about it, or in history, students are required to argue a case before a mock Supreme Court, or in science, students are expected to design and conduct an original science experiment to demonstrate a specific concept.  I look forward to your comments on innovative ways to gauge student mastery and understanding.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Making Real World Problems A Reality

Authentic Learning? Real World Problems?  How can we make this become an everyday reality in our classrooms?  Recently I was visiting with a colleague about the importance of relating concepts to real world experiences.  He told me a story that paints a vivid picture of the mathematicians we are producing in many of our classrooms.
A friend of mine and I were in the beginning stages of building a well house. My friend, age 30, asked me to begin measuring to create a square corner. I quickly grabbed a measuring tape and went to work. After only a few minutes, my friend came over to supervise my progress. "Do you know what you are doing?," he asked. "Yes, I'm simply using basic geometry", I answered. "You know.... A2 + B2 = C2. I measured and squared the sum of both sides resulting in the length of the hypotenuse." With a confused look, he replied, "That's not how you do it. In the construction world, we use the 3 4 5 Rule. You measure 3 feet from the corner in one direction and make a mark. You then measure 4 feet from the corner in the other direction and make a mark. Now, you simply measure the distance between your marks. If your corner is square, the distance will be 5 feet." With the same confused look, I replied, "That is exactly what I said.... the pythagorean theorem!" I went on to ask, "What if you were building something much smaller. Could you use the 3 4 5 method in inches?" Without hesitation, he quickly shook his head and said, "No. I'm pretty sure it only works in feet."

Many of our students fail to see the relationship between specific concepts that we teach in our classrooms and how it is used in the real world.  In the following video, Dan Myer does a fantastic job explaining how we can make authentic learning a reality.

Preparing For and Reflecting Upon

My favorite part about summer is having time to reflect and begin thinking about the possibilities of the upcoming school year. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Preparation is essential to a strong beginning especially if you plan to implement any fresh new ideas.

Preparing for requires reflecting upon what has worked and what hasn't in the classroom, despite how painful it can sometimes be. When I was a physical education instructor, I thought of a terrific idea. I would ask students to write me a letter after each unit simply answering two simple questions. What did you like most about this unit and what was something that you did not understand or would like to know more about during this unit? First of all, you must prepare yourself for very honest answers and most importantly, be willing to learn and make adjustments accordingly.

“There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is limitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest.” - Confucius

Without exerting genuine effort and real intention into your self-reflection, you are wasting your time. The unexamined teacher can lead to ineffective and outdated lessons year after year. Times change, technologies change, best practices change, and you must change in order to adapt and remain relevant in the ever-changing world of education.
REFLECT ON WHAT? Ask Yourself These Tough Questions - And Be Honest!
What can I do to make my teaching more authentic while adding to my students' learning and enjoyment?
Which lessons or units am I only continuing to perform out of habit or laziness?
What changes can I make to my instructional delivery in order to directly increase my students' learning?
What assessment types am I utilizing with every student, every day, to make sure they have mastered the instructional goal? What are you doing with the results of your assessments to adjust instruction to ensure student learning? 
Are there any aspects of the profession that I am ignoring out of fear of change or lack of knowledge? (i.e. technology)
What can I do to be more proactive in my professional development?
How can I increase valuable parental involvement?

One of the best things about teaching is that every school year offers a fresh, new start. We owe it to our students to reflect, prepare, and make student learning inescapable!