Planning for Misunderstanding

Over the three day weekend Amy and I flew up to Jakarta to stay with some friends of ours.  Getting from the airport to their house required a ride with a Grab driver who, seemingly, was very helpful and polite.  However, the next morning I received a phone call from a Grab representative inquiring about some extra charges that the driver had added onto our fare (I paid with credit card.)  I was very impressed that this huge company was being proactive about something they could’ve easily just missed or decided to ignore.  It became clear to me that they’ve spent time anticipating potential problems or trouble areas for their clients and can now respond proactively when situations arise.

Recently I’ve been listening to a really interesting podcast by Craig Barton, a Math teacher in the UK.  On the last episode I heard, he interviewed former teacher and author of Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov.  During their conversation they discussed the idea of planning for misunderstanding, as I was reflecting on my interactions with the Grab representative I realized that this was a very similar situation – Grab had planned for my misunderstanding.

While we’re planning units and lessons for our students it’s important that we take the time to stop and think through their potential misunderstandings before we teach the lesson.  By taking the time to process the material from our students’ perspective we are able to proactively trouble shoot the challenges our students may face as learners.  By anticipating potential problems we move from being responsive teachers to proactive facilitators of learning, a huge step forward on behalf of our students.  

Over the next two weeks you’ll be very busy writing comments, marking assessments, and providing quality feedback to your students.  However, when it comes time to think about those first units of semester two, take some time to plan for misunderstandings.  Grab had the foresight to realize that extra charges added onto a ride need a little investigation and dedicated time and effort to ensure that my experience was the best it could be.  What can you do as an educator to make the experience of learning in your classroom the best it can possibly be for your students?  

Planning for misunderstandings might just be the most effective strategy you can use to help your students, take the time to do this before teaching a lesson.

Upgrading Our Practice

Recently Amy and I had the chance to stay in a nice hotel for a night and were excited for a wonderful room, atmosphere, and a glorious night’s sleep.  Unfortunately we were awoken bright and early by the sounds of hammers, saws, and drills working on a renovation project in a nearby section of the hotel.  As I lie awake, frustrated with this early wake-up call, I began thinking about how this connected in some way to my life.

I soon recognized that this renovation was very similar to what we’re trying to do as educators. See, just like in a school, this hotel couldn’t shut itself down for a year while it did upgrades to the whole building all at the same time.  Instead, they chose to improve small sections, one at a time, over the course of a longer period.  Similarly, as educators we can’t just close the door to our classroom, forget about the kids, and work on improving.

The kids keep coming, day after day, for an entire school year.  So, if we want to improve as educators, it is a simple fact that we’re going to have to do just as this hotel and upgrade as we go along.  The hotel had chosen a small focus area to improve while continuing to run the rest of the hotel as usual.  As educators there is always something to improve and, in fact, there are usually many things to improve.  However, with limited time and energy due to the fact that students need the vast majority of our attention, the best thing for us to do is choose one small area and focus on upgrading that skill set.

If you’re anything like me when I was in the classroom, you can see multiple target areas for growth in your own practice.  However, you can’t tackle all of those areas at once, it’s time to focus in and choose one specific thing to work on for the short-term.  Perhaps, for you, this small focus area has to do with your use of formative assessment, classroom management strategies, or curriculum planning.  Maybe it is questioning strategies, creating more engaging lessons, or including opportunities for student reflection.  Whatever you decide as your area of focus, set all those other areas of growth aside for the time being and focus on that one specific skill set.

As we come to the end of the first semester I want to encourage you to be reflective about how the first half of the year has gone.  Examine your practice as a teacher and work to identify one area of growth for the second semester.  Remember, you can’t renovate the whole hotel all at once, pick an area of focus and stick with it.  Work to improve in this one area.  When you see the growth you’re looking for, then you can move on to another area of focus, one at a time, slowly upgrading your practice.

Students Aren’t Robots

Students aren’t robots, in fact they’re exactly the opposite – they’re humans.

Not only are they humans, they are teenage humans.  Hormone filled, emotional, impressionable teenagers…eeek!  There couldn’t be anything less predictable wandering our halls than 600+ teens.  Nothing could be more different from a predictable and programmable robot than a teenage human being.

This is why, recently, I’ve asked our Year Level Managers to start scheduling parent meetings with all of our students (and their parents) who’ve shown a pattern of arriving late to school.  See, up until now, we’ve sent each student the same exact “agreement” letter once they’ve reached a certain amount of ‘late to school’ infractions.  The problem, once again, is that our students aren’t robots.

If our students were robots then ‘agreements’, lessons, and consequences that were exactly the same for each student would work perfectly for all of them.  It would be glorious, we’d find the perfect lesson and consequence that helped all students arrive to school on time and our problem would be solved.  However, as I’ve mentioned, our students aren’t robots.

So, back to the meetings…my theory (that our students aren’t robots) proved to be true right out of the gates.  The first set of meetings were all completely different situations.  The first student was having a hard time arriving to school on time because she would wake up and look at social media on her phone for such a long time that she ended up leaving the house late every day.  The next student just couldn’t get out of bed because he was staying up until two or three in the morning each night.  The third student was doing everything right but her older sister was so slow in the morning that she ended up being late herself too often.  How effective is the same ‘agreement’ letter for these three kids and can you really apply any fair consequence to all three students?  

Our rationally developed and 95% effective Behavior Expectation System just wasn’t doing the trick for that remaining 5% of our students.  The reason it didn’t work for everyone…well, I think you’ve figured it out by now, ‘our students aren’t robots’.  We needed a touch of the human side to get involved in the process and, from what we’ve seen so far, it was very necessary.

I’m sharing this today because I want to encourage you to work on responding to the individual needs of our students more appropriately.  Sometimes it seems more efficient for the entire class to go through the same lesson, lab, or assessment but is that actually the most effective way of learning for each student?  Being ‘late to school’ is no different from trying to learn academics in the grand sense that our students all have different stories.  One student may learn very differently than their peers.  Most students, in fact, don’t learn the same way as those sitting next to them…they are humans.  

Our students aren’t robots.  I know that’s obvious but I think the exaggeration of the point allows us to realize that, sometimes, we operate as though they are very much the same person.  Even if we could take away the crazy swings that hormones cause in our students we’d still be faced with 600+ individual and unique human beings.  Perhaps 95% of students fit the molds we’ve created, but what are we doing in our classrooms, with our Behavior Expectation System, and every other aspect of education to make sure that all 100% of our students are receiving the best education possible?

Seeing Ourselves as Models

It’s hard to believe that we’re already in the second week of the second term, this year is flying by at a breakneck pace.  However, before it gets too far ahead of us I wanted to slow down and come back to something that I really believe to be the most important thing we can do as educators…model.

I’ve written about modeling our life as ‘learners’ for our students before but this goes beyond that, this is bigger, and is easier to forget.  At the beginning of the year, before we hit full stride, it’s easier to keep the small things in mind.  Modeling for our students, as important as it is, often seems like one of those small things.  It’s something that is easily overlooked as the year goes on.  We see our students’ true colors and they get to see ours…what are they seeing?

Recently I discovered Jennifer Gonzalez and her amazing website, The Cult of Pedagogy.  If you have some time it’s most definitely worth a look, she’s got great stuff to share about education.  I also began following her on Twitter, and over the weekend she shared one of her past blog posts.  As I read it, I realized that it was perfect timing for this piece at our school.  It came as a wonderful reminder to me and I believe you’ll find it as a great reminder as well.  

The post is titled, Lessons in Personhood: 10 Ways to Truly Lead in Your Classroom, and it is outstanding.  In fact, you should stop right now and read that post.

Jennifer’s 10 lessons are as follows but you’ll have to read the post to get the details…if you haven’t already read it, you should really do it now…

  1. Lead with imperfection.
  2. Lead with assertiveness.
  3. Lead with relationships.
  4. Lead with language.
  5. Lead with self-control.
  6. Lead with manners.
  7. Lead with quality.
  8. Lead with humor.
  9. Lead with enthusiasm.
  10. Lead with humility.

Over the last 12 weeks I’d like to think that I’ve done my best to lead in this way but I will continue being mindful of these 10 “Lessons in Personhood”.  Similarly, I hope that you take these lessons to heart and stop to think for a minute about what it is that you’re modeling for our students.  These lessons go beyond education, management, or business.  These truly are lessons for how to be a better person.

Week 12, hard to believe…enjoy it 🙂

Lessons From the Fairway

I’ve been playing golf for a long time, but since I starting teaching I’ve had the school year and the golf season.  By only playing golf in the summers it has remained separate in my brain from teaching, very compartmentalized.  However, for the first time I’ve actually started to blend the two together and recently I realized that golf and teaching are actually very similar challenges.  

If you’ve never played golf, don’t worry, I’ll do my best to keep the technical golf-speak out of the conversation.  Teacher-speak, as a fair warning, I’ll have a hard time avoiding! 

Golf separates itself from most other sports by being, at the same time, one of the most frustrating and enjoyable games in the world.  One day you’ll absolutely love every second of the game and the next you’ll swear that you’ll never play again.  In fact, those sentiments frequently occur multiple times within the same round of golf.  Whether it’s day-by-day or lesson-by-lesson, teaching is also full of ups and downs.  Just as in golf, with teaching we know that even on the worst days, during the worst lessons, there will always be something that reminds you of why you love what you’re doing with your students.  In golf there’s always that really good shot, even on your worst day, that excites you to the point that you want to go through it all again.  Even on your longest day at school, what is it that excites you and gives you the energy to do it all again?

While anyone can play, golf isn’t easy and it takes a lot of time and energy to be good.  Think back to your first year(s) of teaching and imagine how much you’ve improved since those early days.  It takes time, making mistakes (lots of them), practice, coaching, and dedication to become a good teacher.  The same is true of golf.  Hours and hours of practice to develop just the right plan for your swing, costly mistakes that ruin an otherwise great round, and your patience being tested by the same annoying bad shot over and over again.  Does any of that sound familiar to you as a teacher?  Unit and lesson plans, taking risks and trying new teaching strategies (some work, others don’t), and students who do the same things no matter how many times you ask them not to.  Every golfer has areas of growth, even the #1 ranked player in the world isn’t perfect on the course…I encouraged you to reflect on your practice last week, have you identified your target area(s) of growth?

In golf it’s important to know yourself and where your strengths lie.  Occasionally it is important, or even necessary, to try new things.  You might decide to try a new putting grip, new golf clubs, or even a new mental approach.  Sometimes these things work and end up becoming an important part of your overall game.  However, it’s important to know your major strengths and remain focused on maximizing those parts of your game; trying too many new things will lead to a loss of focus and wasted energy.  The same is true in teaching.  Over the years we’ve all developed skills and strategies that work for us in the planning process and in the classroom.  In order to keep growing we need to be open to trying new ideas but it’s important to know our strongest skills and ensure that they are being maximized.  Just as it’s important to reflect and identify areas for growth, the same is true for your strengths – identify your strengths and utilize them to maximum benefit.  

Whether you’re on the golf course or in the classroom you’re on an amazing roller coaster ride.  You’ll scream and shout, you’ll laugh and cry, but at the end of it all you’ll pull into the station and (most likely, hopefully) want to ride again.  By pinpointing what, exactly, it is that excites you about teaching, you’ll tap into a source of energy that will get you through the low points and give you the drive and determination to push forward.  Identifying areas for growth will provide you with the opportunity to continue growing as a professional and allow you to feel the impact that even the smallest changes can have on your students’ learning.  Through it all, riding the tide of your strengths as a teacher will carry you, and your students, to great success despite the inevitable ups and downs you’ll experience.  

We may not beat Jack Nicklaus or Annika Sorenstam on the golf course and people probably won’t confuse any of us with Anne Sullivan or Ron Clark in the classroom but there’s no reason that we can’t move a little bit closer each day.  To be the best we have to aspire to grow and improve, we have to practice and reflect, and we have to enjoy the ride.  Take a few moments today to think about the three points above and see if you can’t answer these questions:

What excites me about teaching?

What is one, high-leverage, area of growth for my teaching?

What are my strengths as a teacher and how do I use them to drive my teaching?

 

Passion Wins

Passion, it drives us in everything we do (especially the things we do well!)  Over the years educators have worked hard to figure out how to engage students in the classroom.  I don’t want to take the credit away from all the educators over the years who’ve worked so hard but it might just be the case that the business world deserves some of the credit for finding the best solution.  Way back in 1948, Spencer Silver at 3M, a major American corporation, came up with the idea of “15 percent time”.  This was paid time given over to employees “to chase rainbows and hatch their own ideas.”  For years “15 percent time” was little known, until a man named Art Fry took his idea for an adhesive bookmark and created the product we all know and love today, the “Post-It Note”.  Talk about a success story!  

As time went on, other corporations took up the idea and began to implement similar programs to give their employees a chance to follow their passions and pursue creative projects.  Google implemented “20 Time”, upping the ante from 3M’s “15 percent time”.  Gmail is perhaps the most famous product created from Google’s “20 Time” but many other creations have made an impact as well:  Google News, AdSense, Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Talk just to name a few that you may have heard of before.  The opportunity to take paid time to work on something you’re passionate about sounds like a pretty awesome concept and, in fact, it has proven to be a very helpful recruiting tool for companies who’ve implemented such plans.

These are awesome ideas for corporations but what about schools?  Many teachers are still working hard to engage their kids in creative ways and it’s working!  Conversely, there are many teachers who continue to work at engaging their classes with little success.  Then there’s a group of teachers (and even whole schools) who’ve taken the concept of “20 Time” and found a way to apply it to the student experience.  Here at AC our Elementary School (grades 3-5) completely revamped the “homework policy” from lots of worksheets and stressful tasks to one of no “homework” with the option for kids to pursue “Inspiration Projects” at home.  These kids have had the regular (3-4 times already this year) opportunity to show off their Inspiration Projects at a showcase day, the final showcase happens June 9th…come check it out!!  There is no question that when our kids dive into these projects they are 100% engaged and committed to their work, they are not only inspired but they are passionate!

My real inspiration for writing this week was not the Lower School but rather the work of our High School English department and their students.  On Monday night we had a beautiful night of presentations as students from 10th, 11th, and 12th grades presented their year-long efforts on their “20 Time” projects.  All year long our English teachers have turned over the time from one out of every six class periods for kids to work on their “20 Time” projects.  This project was guided and not just a free-for-all for our students, maybe some day 🙂  This year, students had to follow a six step process including these steps:  Topic proposal, research, mentorship (they needed to find a mentor to guide them), elevator pitch (selling their idea in 60 seconds or less), implement the project and reflect, and finally present.  For many kids it was a long journey but for all kids it was enlightening and rewarding.

As this was the first year that our High School students participated in a “20 Time” project there was bound to be a mixed bag of results.  There were failures, which were great!  Students may have learned more from their mis-steps and errors than from anything.  There were also some tremendous successes, which also came with their fair share of hiccups and bumps in the road.  Overall the process and journey were the real rewards for most of these kids.  Be that as it may, I wanted to share some of the final products.  I’ve included below the final products from a selection of our students, including their “blurb” from the presentation program as well as links to their final products.  I chose these specific kids for two reasons:  First, they had an actual digital product I could share.  Secondly, they were the kids who granted me permission to share with the whole wide world (most were very excited and proud to share!)  As I’ve alluded to, these projects were totally inspired and clearly showed the passion these students had for the topics they chose.  There is a wide range here in both topics as well as quality.  I’ll let you be the judge of the results but no matter what you think of the final product, remember that the journey was the true learning experience for these kids!!

Enjoy…

Rosie – Music in Pieces:

From songwriting to the recording process, Rosie wanted to create music and understand what it takes to make a finished song.  Growing up with music as a major influence in her life, Rosie taught herself both piano and guitar and figured it was only a matter of time before her own songs came to life.  Her passion for music and the lessons she learned along the way, as well as where the project will keep going, are what she takes from this experience.  And, of course, a finished song!

Paula – Cooking with Paula!:

In her 20Time Project, Paula decided to explore the world of professional baking.  With the help of a family friend who owns a bakery, Paula created her own pastries to be sold in the store, and got to experience the gratification of seeing her work generate a profit.  Her experience was documented on her website.

**Note:  Paula’s website is overall very impressive, she has a better profile than most adults I’ve seen!

Cole – Your Advocate for Religious Understanding:

Many people have heard false misconceptions on world religions given by society, such as “Muslims are terrorists” and that “Jews are rich and greedy.”  Cole, as a Mormon, has faced many misconceptions about his own religion and has seen other people have to live in a world of religious intolerance.  In his 20Time project, he set out to fix this problem on a small scale by creating a blog that shares the truth about these faiths.  You can view his blog and see how he writes about the truth behind the Mormon church and its misconceptions and features other world religions to help bring the world to be more religiously understanding, the key to tolerance.

Saleem and Luis – Feel the Music:

In relation to the flourishing industry that EDM/House music has become in the last lustrum, Saleem and Luis with their 20Time Project set out to explore this vast and exciting world of electronic music.  They created their own mixes in hope of shining a light onto this growing industry and the high involvement it has with our upcoming generation.

Suzy – Cooking Healthy Food

For her 20Time Project, Suzy chose to dedicate herself to the challenge of creating simple, healthy meals for one person, in an attempt to reduce individual food waste.  For this, she created a website to help provide the nutritional value of the meals she was cooking, as well as posted videos to teach you how to make them.

Nour – Khamisetas:

Ever since she could hold a pencil, Nour was in love with creating art.  Now, at the age of sixteen, she believes it is time to share her art with the world.  Throughout this experience she has explored the world of online merchandising and other ways to implement her art into products (such as t-shirts).  In Nour’s 20Time presentation, she will reveal the struggles and achievements encountered in her artistic journey.  Visit Nour’s Red Bubble page her to see the merchandise available.

Junilly and Valeria – It’s Time to Cook!:

Bringing exquisite platters from the most famous regions in Brazil and savory dishes from the heart of Venezuela, Junilly and Valeria are going to put it all on the table and display their culture and passion for cooking – and eating – on their own Instagram account dedicated for these recipes.  In their 20Time Project, these dedicated girls posted the recipes, in their native languages and in English, of their favorite dishes.

Martin – Quito Documentary:

In his 20Time Project, Martin, being a Quiteño citizen, wanted to illuminate people about his city and all of the people and sceneries that are present within it  For his project, he set out to film in this beautiful city and make a short documentary about it.  He prepared for the execution of his movie by practicing in school and investigating about movie making.  Martin finalized his project by creating a stunning movie with Quito’s most beautiful views and scenery.  He didn’t want to tell a story, or inform people about the city, but capture the essence of the city.

The Power of Positive Relationships

We had a lot of conversations at the beginning of the year about the importance of relationships, especially in our school community.  I’ve been having a lot more of these conversations recently, both here at AC and on my visit to Indonesia, and then I came across a fantastic blog post this week…I’m not sure I could’ve stressed the importance of relationships any more than Joe Robinson, a Middle School teacher in Alaska.  Here are a few highlights of the blog post and then a link to the actual post, go have a look, it’s outstanding!

“While most educators would acknowledge the importance of relationships, I think there is often  a lack of understanding as to the power relationship creates.”

 

“As a teacher, the environment you create for students within your classroom is the single greatest tool you have for engagement, empowerment, and growth.”

 

“It is imperative that teachers leverage this truth and use it to create environments that students WANT to be in.”

 

“The teacher who still views their role as “delivering content” because they are the “professional educator” is in danger of fracturing relationships with students that cannot afford to be fractured.”

 

“At the end of the day, students don’t learn from teachers they don’t like.”
Go read this post…it’s wonderful!!!

26 Things You Forgot You Knew

We’ve had a busy last week and it took until the end of it to finally start feeling some continuity and flow around here.  Student Goals Conferences on Wednesday aided to the feeling of disjointedness but I hope they were as valuable for you as they were for me.  On Wednesday and I had a lot of great conversations with students, parents, and teachers.  Many of those discussions came back around to things we’ve talked about before.  If it wasn’t me saying it, then is was usually the other person in the conversation, something to the effect of “this is a good reminder of what we need to be doing.”   

How easy it is for us to lose sight of things that we’ve previously viewed as priorities.  At the beginning of the year we talked a lot about building positive relationships with our students, we’ve come back to this at various times throughout the year but it seems to be one of those things that we overlook or assume has already happened and therefore can be forgotten.  However, those relationships don’t end…ever…especially when we are talking about teenagers!!  In fact, it is probably even more crucial to focus on relationships when you consider the culture our students come from, one that is very social and relationship focused.

I was once again reminded of the importance of these relationships when I came across a great piece called “26 Research-Based Tips You Can Use in the Classroom Tomorrow”.  I’m a huge fan of “ready to use” tools and these 26 tips are just that!  Some of them may be more relevant to you than others but there are a few that I think everyone would really benefit from thinking about and prioritizing (for more information on these select examples, click the link above):

Tip #1:   Focusing on building positive relationships by greeting students at the door and starting off with a positive comment, research indicates that it can improve student engagement by as much as 27%!!  

Tip #3:  We’ve talked before about the value of trying new classroom arrangements and making seating a priority for learning.  The study referenced in “tip #3” discusses the benefits and disadvantages of different types of seating arrangements.  However, most importantly, it points out that no matter the arrangement, when moving kids from the “back” to the “front” of the classroom their academic achievement increases.  Obviously you can’t sit everyone in “front” all the time but consciously changing seating arrangements and groupings to rotate kids for their benefit can have a very positive impact.

Tip #12:  The classic “turn and talk” strategy strikes again.  In this ready to use tip we’re reminded that recalling and using information we’ve just learned can help us retain it.  Have your kids briefly discuss new information shortly after learning it to help imprint it more solidly in their minds.  Ever learned someone’s name and repeated it to yourself a few times…yup, you’re doing the same thing!

Tip #16:  Do you ever have the feeling that your students think they understand something better than they actually do?  Well, it’s true…most people actually experience this phenomenon.  For more complex topics (research doesn’t show positive results for more basic concepts) have students think or write about their understanding of the topic, this could be a good “exit ticket” prompt.  This will help them (and, in the case of the exit ticket, it will help you too) realize their gaps in the understanding…now the trick is getting them to fill in those gaps!!

Tip #20:  I found this tip especially interesting.  While many of these things felt like good reminders, this tip was new for me.  Don’t put text on your PowerPoint Slides!  The double input of reading and hearing the information creates something called “cognitive overload” and can prevent people from actually retaining the information.  This article is very interesting and definitely worth exploring a bit more, especially if you’re a frequent PowerPoint presenter!  

Tip #22:  Lastly, and again something new for me, comes this tip that seems a bit like plain, old common sense.  The use of multiple choice assessments may actually be causing your students to learn the wrong information.  By presenting them with wrong answers to consider they may be internalizing those wrong answers as correct.  Better to go with fill in the blank or short answer.  While more time consuming to create and assess these will help your students better learn and recall important information.  

Okay, my intention was to only share five tips but I got a little carried away (what’s new?!?)  This article is definitely worth a look as the other 20 tips are also very helpful and applicable to many of your contexts.

I wrote recently about re-prioritizing and focusing our efforts on what is most important.  This article is a helpful reminder about some of those things that may need to be prioritized in our classrooms.  Take a look and see what will work for you.  Just like the title of the article suggests, these are things you can start using tomorrow 🙂

 

Inspiration from Harvard Graduate School of Education

This week I had a whole other topic written out and then I came across some great stuff.  I was reading through a few of my older Marshall Memos when I stumbled upon some awesome videos.  If you follow this link you can see Eight 8-minute talks about education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education:  http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/14/09/8×8-hgse-faculty-share-their-bold-ideas-improve-education

I highly recommend any of the eight videos but these specific few may be more relevant to our context than the others.  Here are the relevant titles along with Kim Marshall’s brief summaries of each.  Do your students a favor and take 8 minutes to watch one of these (or more) videos.

Karen Brennan: Getting Unstuck – Helping students and teachers move beyond using social media and use computers more powerfully. Brennan describes using ScratchEd, a platform for creating projects, and students’ problem-solving strategies when they’re stuck.

Todd Rose: The End of Average (Bret’s personal favorite) – What neuroscientists have found about how differently people remember and process information, leading to the conclusion that we can’t understand individual brains by using group averages. The same goes for how we deal with students; we must treat them as individuals, which we now can do better with recent advances in classroom technology.

Karen Mapp: Linking Family Engagement to Learning – Relationships between schools and families have to be relational, interactive, collaborative, developmental, and linked to what students are learning, says Mapp, so that families can be more effective supporting learning at home. In particular, Mapp is critical of traditional open-house meetings in schools.

Howard Gardner: Beyond Wit and Grit  – Our understanding of “wit” has been expanded to include multiple intelligences, says Gardner, and we now realize the importance of “grit” – the cluster of non-cognitive skills. But these are not enough. Gardner believes we also need a moral dimension. “You can have plenty of grit, and multiple wits,” he says, “but they need to be directed towards becoming a good person, a good worker, and a good citizen… There’s a ‘triple helix’ of good work and good citizenship: excellence, ethics, and engagement.”

Trying it Myself: Doing what we ask the students to do

Last weekend I read a great blog post written by Grant Wiggins, who is a leader in the field of educational reform and is perhaps most well known for co-authoring Understanding by Design.  This blog post wasn’t about UbD though, it was actually Wiggins sharing a story of a teacher turned Learning Coach.  This Coach had done what many school leaders have been recommended to do but never find the time to try; she followed the schedule of a student for the whole day.  She experienced school from the student’s perspective, doing the work, taking the tests, and participating in class.  So I was motivated to try it myself…

This Coach made three key observations, disturbing observations in fact, about how kids were experiencing school.  Now, to be fair, she did this with High School students so it’s not exactly aligned to the Middle School context but I was a little scared just the same…I mean, her “Key Takeaways” were frightening.  So what did I find while I was a Middle School student for a day???

Let’s use her three takeaways to guide the discussion:

1.  “Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.”

First off, I won’t argue the point that sitting is exhausting.  It’s boring, your body starts to fall asleep, and your brain doesn’t get as much oxygen (think about how bad your kids, and maybe you, want to move – bouncing legs, rocking chairs, fidgeting and all!)  However, in my day as a Middle School student I most certainly didn’t sit all day!  In one class, I have to admit, we didn’t do much moving but I was still engaged in the lesson and didn’t feel too exhausted by the sitting.  In my other three classes I was moving a majority of the time.  I had a group project to work on with my four table mates which allowed me to get up and move around the room for about half the class.  I had a Science lab that had me moving around for almost the entire period and I had a music lesson that had me playing for almost the whole class period.  Honestly I was a bit tired, but not from sitting!

2.  “High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their day.”

Now, as I mentioned, this woman was a High School Coach, but I think the worry is still the same for us – we don’t want our kids sitting passively all day long.  So how was my day?  Well, as you saw in the first takeaway, I was active for a good portion of the day.  AND, even when I was sitting I wasn’t passive and listening the whole time.  In one class we were sitting in our seats but having a lively discussion about the Daily Question which engaged us in the day’s topic and got us off to a great start.  Overall I would say that I spent about 25% of my class time that day sitting passively and listening, a far cry from 90% and if spread out through the day in different classes then most certainly a tolerable amount.

3.  “You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.”

I’ll explain this a little bit first.  What she meant is that students are constantly being told “to be quiet and pay attention.”  She also talked about hearing a lot of “sarcasm and snark directed at students”.  These things are most definitely things to watch for and look to eliminate from your classroom.  However, during my day as a Middle School student I have to say that I didn’t feel like a nuisance at all.  This was actually an area that I was focusing on a lot; I was waiting to be told to be quiet but it didn’t happen once!  That is not to say that my classes were totally silent and obedient the entire time but the teachers all had good communication skills and were able to bring their class back to focus without making the kids feel like a nuisance.  I can honestly say, despite the fact that I was really looking hard at this point, I never once felt like the teacher was annoyed or found students to be a nuisance – it was a warm and welcoming environment all day long, something I know our kids appreciate!

So what does all this mean for you?  Obviously this is a very small sample size (I hope to continue this practice).  However, when you think about these three “Key Takeaways” and then think about your typical classroom, what do you realize?  Are your kids exhausted, are they sitting passively, or do they feel like a nuisance?  I strongly recommend that you take a look at this blog post and see some of the recommendations she makes to avoid these things from happening in your class.  It is an inspirational piece in that regard, it makes you question your classroom and what you’re doing to help the students’ learning environment.

http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/teachers-shadowing-students/