Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Tale of Two Classrooms -- Kids Question

 This is the fourth in a ten-part series based on the poster: A Tale of Two Classrooms.


Kids Question

       The typical, tradition classroom has the teacher doing most of the talking.  The teacher asks questions, the teacher gives information (verbally), the teacher decides if the answers are correct or incorrect.  And the students do very little talking.  In the traditional classroom, student talk is for answering the teacher's questions and that's about it.

       But in the Learning Classroom, students do a lot of talking.  They ask questions.  They offer solutions and ideas.  They consider alternatives, shortcuts, more efficient pathways to learning.  There are lots of great benefits to student talk in the classroom.   Here's a list of ten such benefits:

  1. Participation adds interest
  2. Participation engages students
  3. Participation provides the teacher feedback
  4. Participation provides the students feedback
  5. Participation can be used to promote preparation
  6. Participation can be used to control what’s happening in class
  7. Participation can be used to balance who’s contributing in class and how much
  8. Participation encourages dialogue among and between students
  9. Participation can be used to develop important speaking skills
  10. Participation gives students the opportunity to practice using the language of the discipline

       We want students to ask questions because real learning requires more than just memorizing what the teacher says.  It requires thinking and reasoning and trying and failing and trying again.  Real learning encounters road blocks from time to time and students to ask questions about how to navigate around these obstacles.   When students ask questions that are engaged in learning and they learn better and more deeply when they are engaged.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Tale of Two Classrooms -- Mistakes = Learning

 This is the third in a ten-part series based on the poster: A Tale of Two Classrooms.


Mistakes = Learning

       So here's a situation that happens everyday.  A teacher is teaching something new.  He or she asks a question and nobody responds.  Or maybe you're an adult and you go to a meeting of some sort and the presenter asks a question and nobody responds.  Why does this happen?  Why is this so common?

       Just like adults, students don't want to give the wrong the answer.  They don't want to offer a suggestion or an idea or a possible answer for fear that they may be wrong.  Wrong answers are viewed in a very negative way.  Wrong answers are bad.  Wrong answers are frowned upon.  So rather than risk embarrassment and possibly a scolding of some sort from the teacher, students (and adults) prefer to stay silent.

       Now imagine being in a class in which mistakes are viewed as great opportunities for learning.  When a students asks a question or offers a solution or an idea, it doesn't matter if he/she is right or wrong.  Instead, the comment is considered part of the classroom discourse.  It enables others students to hear different ideas and they can respond to these ideas.  In fact, we now know that mistakes help our brains to grow and help all of us to learn (no matter our age).

       When you are learning something new, you're not expected to know it right away.  Most new learning takes time and effort and mistakes and correcting mistakes and then more mistakes before you really understand it well--perhaps especially when learning math and science concepts.  It's not only "OK" to make mistakes, it should be expected (and respected) to make mistakes when you are learning something new.

       We want our students to be in classes in which mistakes are viewed as a nature part of the learning process.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Tale of Two Classrooms - Teacher as Learner

       This is the second in a ten-part series based on the poster: A Tale of Two Classrooms.


Teacher as Learner

       Every teacher will tell you that they have learned so much more about the subject and content that they teach once they began teaching.  People have this belief that teachers know everything their is to know about their content.  While teachers may be considered "experts" about the content that they teach, it is probably impossible to actually know everything about a particular content.

       We now know that our best teachers are the people who are continually learning about there subject(s).  More importantly, our best teachers are continually learning about the best way to help their (many and diverse) students to learn.  The science of how students learn is a growing industry.  Brain science and cognitive science is constantly informing education about how students think and learn and retain information.  Teachers who do their best to continually grow and improve are spending time learning about the best ways to reach their students.  Teaching strategies, engaging activities, better communication with students, and encouraging more student discourse all fall into the category of improving the classroom atmosphere for better learning.

       A learning teacher is also a person who asks good questions of him- or herself as well as of their students.  A learning teacher doesn't mind if a student asks a question that they cannot answer right away.  It is not seen as a weakness, but instead as a learning opportunity for the teacher.  (And isn't it great to have students in your class that ask such deep, and high-level questions?)  A learning teacher models for students that learning is ongoing; it never ends.  Even this adult in the room who has been teaching for ten years is still learning.

       A learning teacher invites questions and ideas and suggestions.  A teacher that knows everything and spends the entire class time reciting information discourages participation because students assume that he/she will tell them what they need to know; so there is no reason to explore or think or question.

       I want my children to have teachers that are constantly learning because I want my children to become adults who are constantly learning.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Tale of Two Classrooms

       I saw this great graphic on Twitter today.

       Classroom A is the old, traditional classroom; and Classroom B is the way we (educators) want classrooms to be today.

       Of course, what I call "old" and "traditional", a lot of people would call "normal" and "expected".  It is the way school was when they were kids and it is perfectly OK with them now.  But today we know that that old system just didn't work for a lot of students--and it's not working for even more students today.

       If our goal is Learning, than we simply must conduct our classrooms in a way that facilitates learning.  We can't expect students to just sit and listen and learn everything.  We know now that that is not effective for most students.  I could write a blog post on everyone line in the Classroom B...maybe I will!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

First Day of School

       May 3 million teachers and 50 million students have a great First Day of School this year.  Our country is counting on you to do your best to teach and to learn and to be good people.  We need you; we value you; we love you.  You are our future, our hope, our promise.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The First Day of School

       The first day of school is filled with excitement for students and teachers.  New clothes (maybe), sharp pencils, backpack, re-connecting with friends, searching for the new classroom, new teacher, making new friends, first day in the new grade.  Clean slate, new school year, ice-breaker/get-to-know-you activities, setting goals.  Of course, there's also the tentative side of the first day of school.  "Will I make friends?"  "Will the teacher be nice?"  "Can I do the work?"

       The first day of school is a whole lot of "new" all at once.  It's exciting, but it can be scary too.  In fact, the first day of school is like many "firsts" that students experience.  The first day in a new Social Studies chapter after a test.  The first day of the new marking period.  The first day after Christmas vacation.  The first day of the soccer season.  Students experience a lot of firsts and (just like many life events) the more you practice, the better you get.  So it's OK if your child is experiencing a little excitement mixed with a little nervousness.  This is good practice for all of the firsts that will come later.

       All the best for a great first day of school!  It will a wonderful, emotional day--but mostly wonderful.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Do You Want to "Go" to College, or to "Graduate" from College?

     Lots of people "go" to college.  But not a lot of people "graduate" from college.

       According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 36% of 25 - 29 year old people in the United States had a bachelor's degree in 2015.  This number represents approximately half of the people in this age group who began college at some point after their high school graduation.  Why are so many people able to graduate from high school and not able to graduate from college?

       A report from Complete College America provides some answers.  Part-time students rarely graduate.  While full-time students graduate at a (dismal) rate of 60.6% completing their 4-year program within 8 years; the equivalent statistic for part-time students is only 24.3%.  Another problem is students taking more credits that they need due to poor advice or odd policies that steer them to unnecessary and extra (unneeded) credits.  A bachelor degree should require just 120 credits, but the average student earning a bachelor degree completes 136.5 credits and the average time to earn all of those credits is more than four years.

     So here is my list of ideas to help students to graduate from college.  (Spoiler Alert:  These are pretty basic ideas.  But like everything else in life, students have to learn them at some point.  If no one every teaches these things to our college students and they don't develop these skills on their own, then we can't expect them to have these skills.)

  1. You are responsible for your college success.
       It's not the professor's fault; it's not your parent's fault; it's not "the colleges" fault.  You, the student, have to take on the responsibility for your college success.  You have to get the correct information about courses you need to graduate.  You have to know the deadlines for signing up for courses, for completing course work and projects.  You have to ask for help if you need help in a course.  You can blame others if you want to, but in the end it is you that does or does not get the diploma.

     2.  Make a plan.

       Number of credits needed per semester.  Courses needed; pre-requisites needed.  Materials needed.  How much time do I need to study?  What is a good, quiet place for me to study?  Do I have time for sleeping and eating and hanging out with friends.  You can't always to everything you want to do when you're working on your bachelor's degree.  But be sure to allow some down time along with your school work time.  But Make A Plan.  It won't magically fall into place; you need to plan accordingly.

     3. Don't give up when it gets difficult.

       It's OK to struggle a little bit when you are learning new things.  And it is certainly OK to get a "B" or a "C" once in a while.  But don't convince yourself that you can't do something just because you don't get it the first time.  You are a student; you're learning.  It's OK to work hard toward your goal of graduating from college--everyone does.

       I don't mean to suggest that college students are lazy and that's why they don't graduate.  There are lots of reasons why college students don't graduate.  I just think that a lot of students aren't prepared for the varied responsibilities of college and it hurts them in the long run.  I also believe that most high school graduates can complete college with the necessary supports along the way.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Parent's Role in Improving Student Achievement

       If you have a child in elementary, middle, or high school, then your main concern is helping your child to do well in school.  You have a person or persons in your household that is a member of the most important cliental in the educational community--the students.  And as a parent, you have influence over your children.  Your attitudes and actions toward school matter.

       We need your help!

       So here is my short list of the three top things that parents can do to help their children to do well in school.

  1. Healthy relationships all around.  
Help your child to make friends with classmates and to get to know the teacher or teachers.  You (the parent) should try to get to know your child's teacher(s) too.  Communication is the key to all healthy relationships.  So try to discover the best way to contact the teacher.  Make sure that your child knows that you have a relationship with the teacher and a way to make contact on an as-needed basis.  This shows that you care about your child's education.  

   2.  Emphasize "learning" over "getting-a-good-grade".

The point of school is learning, not getting a good grade.  There are lots of ways to get good grades without learning much.  We want students to learn how to learn; to read; to study; to try and fail and try again; and ask for help.  Your child's grade should reflect his or her ability; but sometimes it just reflects his or her ability to do what they're told.  Remember that the goal of school is learning.  It's the "Do you best." philosophy (that your parents probably said to you).

    3. Don't help your children too much.

Let's face it...nobody likes to see their children struggling.  But if everything is easy and can be obtained without effort then you have to ask, "Is my child really learning anything?"  Real learning comes from a little struggle from time to time.  Just because your child doesn't "get it" the first time doesn't mean they will never get it.  They just haven't gotten it yet.  If you tell them the answer or do the work for them, they will get the right answer, but they haven't learned anything.  Remember, the goal of school is learning.  Instead of telling them the answer, ask questions.  "What do you know?"  "What don't you know?"  "What do you need to know?"  "What questions should you ask the teacher?"  We want students to learn how to deal with struggle; we want them to problem solve when the problem is difficult.

       School means a lot of things to a lot of people.  Clubs, sports, friends, activities, requirements, homework, pens, paper, teachers,....  It can be hard to remember that it is all about learning.  As the parent, you can help your child to focus on the important parts of school.

       Have a great school year!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What Is Your Hope?

       I saw a great 3-minute video today from +Parkway Schools called What Is Your Hope.

       They place a chalkboard outside as the students walked into school on the first day of school.  The chalkboard had the question, "What is your hope?" written on it.  And the students wrote whatever came to their mind.  Here is the Facebook link:


       Their answers were simple and sweet and might make you cry.  They were human answers:

- that people will like me
- that I will make new friends
- that my teachers are nice
- that school will feel like home
- to be included
- to do well

       It's all about relationships.  Students want to feel valued and important.  They want their teachers to care about them as people.  They want to connect with other's in their classes.

       What do you hope?

Public Schools and Choice

       Is it true that public school kids and their public school parents don't have choices?  I'm sure that I will expose my igno...

Teach100 blog