Posts filed under 'Classroom practice'

Blogstitute: What Yoda can Teach You About Engagement and Motivation

Well, it’s not really Yoda who is doing the teaching in today’s post, but the lesson remains the same: to keep your students motivated, you have to keep them engaged. Kim Yaris and Jan Burkins, authors of Reading Wellness, bring you a lesson in physics, Star Wars, and the art of making small adjustments to your teaching, that will have a big impact.

X-Wing Fighters, Superheroes, and the Difference Between Engagement and Motivation
By Kim Yaris and Jan Burkins

Always with you what cannot be done. . . . You must unlearn what you have learned.–Yoda

Randall Munroe—author, former NASA roboticist, and creator of a science and mathematics webcomic that has a cult following—volunteered to teach a weekend class at MIT on the physics of energy, which he talked about on NPR’s TED Radio Hour. The class was for interested high school students—students obviously motivated to learn science and math, since they were signing up for a weekend physics class. Midway through the lecture on the first day, as he was staring at students’ bored expressions during his explanation of how to calculate the joules of energy (x) required to move a five-kilogram weight, Munroe noticed that these highly interested students had checked out. Suddenly he realized that, even though these students were interested in physics, his explanation of the content had made it abstract and seemingly irrelevant to them.

In such a situation, with students leaning away and looking uninterested, it would have been easy for Munroe to default to blaming them for their lack of motivation. As we work in classrooms alongside teachers, literacy leaders, and administrators, it is not uncommon to hear educators talk about the low motivation levels of students. Inevitably, however, “unmotivated” students are being asked to sit through lessons that are heavy with teacher talk and light on engaging texts and reading experiences.

So what did Munroe do about his seemingly disengaged students in the weekend physics class? He asked a better question. Rather than talking about how to solve for x, which is completely abstract, Munroe told students that, using the formula for potential energy, they could figure out how much potential energy it took for Yoda to lift the X-wing fighter in a scene from The Empire Strikes Back.

Once Munroe told students that this X-wing problem was a relatively straightforward calculation—all you have to know is the mass of the X-wing, the distance Yoda lifted it, and the gravitational strength on Dagobah—the students were suddenly running ahead of him, figuring things out before he could even get to them. They immediately went to a Wikipedia article to find out the mass of the X-wing, and they used YouTube to estimate the distance it was lifted. Once Munroe asked a more engaging question, the seemingly unmotivated students were suddenly leaning into the math and science work, drawing from their energy, not the teacher’s. Munroe was able to watch them problem-solve as he gathered formative assessment data and scaffolded in ways that supported rather than supplanted their efforts.

In the end, of course, they learned a lot of science, because they were actively engaged in applying it in ways that were relevant to them. Since then, Munroe has made it his full-time job to draw comics that ask and answer interesting questions, making abstract mathematics and science relevant enough for people to engage themselves. Ask yourself, which text would you more likely engage with to learn about physics: this one:

physics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or this one?

physics2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This connection between student engagement and learning holds true beyond physics, of course. In fact, research from Gallup indicates that a 1 percent increase in student engagement is positively correlated with substantial increases in achievement scores.

Students are naturally curious and enthusiastic learners. If your students appear unmotivated, assume the best of them and look for ways to affect their motivation by making changes to the learning experience. For us, the bulk of the engagement work during a reading experience happens before the lesson, when we select a text. Text selection is to student engagement during reading instruction as interesting questions are to physics students.

Here are a few questions that may prove helpful as you explore ways to engage (vs. motivate) students:

  • Are the texts you are using too difficult for students, requiring extensive teacher talk to scaffold them?
  • Are you spending weeks and weeks on books that should take only a day or two to read and understand?
  • How can you show more than you tell? Can you use visual art, video clips, or other images to engage students?
  • How much actual reading do students do? Is extensive time spent on teacher explanations and/or student documentation?
  • How much of the reading instruction is about aspects of the text—genre, structure, form, theme—rather than about responses to and connections with the text?
  • How much say do students have in what they read? Where can you give students more choice?
  • How relevant are the texts for students? If the marginally relevant texts are required, how can you make them more relevant?
  • How much are students moving? Do they sit for one long period after another, with little or no opportunity to get their blood circulating?
  • Do students know that you think of them as motivated, smart, and capable?

Just as Randall Munroe discovered that a simple shift in questioning could make a profound difference in the tenor of his learning environment, shifting your focus from motivation to engagement can lead to similar responses from your students. Even minor adjustments can have a powerful effect on learning.

May the force be with you!

8 comments July 8th, 2015

Building a Culture of Trust and Respect: One Police Officer and One Child at a Time

Assistant Principal Krista Venza and Officer Wayne

Assistant Principal Krista Venza and Officer Wayne Moreland

Today’s guest post comes from Krista Venza, assistant principal at a Pennsylvania middle school, and Wayne Moreland, a police officer. The two of them paired up to create the “Hello My Friend Project,” aimed at inspiring students — and teachers — to respect each other, to create a sense of community in their schools, and to reach outside of their schools to help those in need. You can find out more about the project on their website or their Facebook page.

Building a Culture of Trust and Respect: One Police Officer and One Child at a Time

By Wayne S.  Moreland, Police Officer and Krista M. Venza, Assistant Principal

When something negative is reported in the news, people tend to use generalizations such as, “All teachers . . .,” “All lawyers . . .,” “All police officers . . .,” and so on. Although there are some people in every field who can give the whole profession a bad name, most people are good and work very hard at their jobs. If we wait until a tragedy monopolizes the news and creates a culture of mistrust, we will miss the chance to build bridges between two institutions that share a vital role in every community: guiding children to become responsible and educated citizens.

As school and police leaders, we may seem an unlikely pair to join forces, but we realized we had a common desire to change perceptions and create a culture of trust and respect between schools and law enforcement. Wayne is a township police officer with eighteen years of experience in law enforcement, including the motorcycle patrol and training coordinator and team leader for a county SWAT team. Krista has eighteen years of experience in education as a special education teacher, instructional support facilitator, and school administrator.

Krista enrolled in a local citizen police academy, which helps the public learn about policing, Pennsylvania criminal law, and connections to the community. One of the key insights she gained was how quickly police officers must use their training, experience, and judgment to make decisions that can have lasting impacts on lives. The parallels to teaching are clear. Although educators do not normally have to make life-or-death decisions, they do need to react quickly and effectively to a number of different situations throughout the day that impact students’ lives.

Meanwhile, Wayne was searching for a way to show children a different side of law enforcement. He recalled an incident when he had volunteered to read to a local third-grade class. After the teacher introduced him, he was startled when a child walked up to him and asked if he was going to kill her. Wayne immediately knelt down beside the girl, placed his hand on her shoulder, and said, “Honey, I am here to read a book to you and your classmates. The police are here to help you, not hurt you.” But the moment stung.

After much discussion, we decided to supplement the work of the DARE program, in which police officers teach school students good decision-making skills, by creating a middle school program called PEACE Crew. The letters in PEACE represent the following:

P – Practicing self-control through

E – Exercise, discussion, and reflection of

A – Attitude and

C – Choices while always valuing

E – Each other

The after-school program is voluntary, and attendance fluctuates between five and twenty students each week. The structured sessions include focus and meditation activities, discussion of current topics, personal reflection, viewing of inspirational video clips, and physical exercise. Students are guided through a meditation session to help them to clear their minds and let go of any issues that may be distracting them. Topics discussed include bullying, friendship/relationship issues, academics, social media, and family dynamics. Students spend time writing about something that made them smile, something that made them upset, and something they learned that day. They then share these with the group. We model and practice active listening, showing empathy for others, and providing appropriate feedback during this time. We also feed them; usually we order a few pizzas and eat while we watch TED Talks, Kid President YouTube videos, and other video clips featuring inspirational people. The session is wrapped up by engaging in physical activity such as running sprints, stretching, working out in the weight room, or playing organized games.

The biggest surprise we’ve observed is that, when others see the positive interactions taking place within our crew, they are inspired and want to get involved. One of our mathematics teachers, who is also the high school football coach, volunteered to share a video clip of an NFL coach’s motivational speech to his players and then spoke frankly with students, encouraging them to be people with integrity who can be counted on. We have faculty members lined up to lead students in yoga and Zumba workouts, and we plan to invite other administrators, faculty members, and members of the community—such as business owners, judges, and police officers—to be guest speakers.

Another great outcome is how quickly we’ve gotten to know the students on a personal level. They have become comfortable talking openly with us and approaching us when they need support or someone to listen. Being available to them and making connections is so important when teaching them about trust and respect. As teen advocate Josh Shipp says, “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.”

The students have expressed interest in spending time volunteering at a nursing home, cooking a meal for their teachers, holding a coat drive, and helping clean the school. They have plans to become ambassadors of good in our school and encourage others to become responsible, caring individuals.

Their first outreach activity is holding a food drive to benefit our local food bank. Crew members will go to each homeroom and speak to their peers about the food drive and the competition they’ve developed to encourage participation. This will be the first opportunity for many of our members to try out a leadership role where their peers are looking to them for information and instruction. They are taking this new role very seriously, and we are providing them time to work together to decide what they will say and to practice delivering this message before having to do it for real. We are excited to help them see this project through and for them to experience something they planned successfully come to fruition.

These students have ideas about how to reach out to others in need, how to stop bullying, and how to simply be kind to one another, but some of them continue to say and do things that test our patience and question our will to continue giving of ourselves and our time. Still, we do continue—it takes a lot more than just creating a club and asking kids to show up to effect real change. Expectations and skills need to be strategically taught, especially those having to do with becoming a contributing member of a community that values a partnership between its citizens and law enforcement. These skills need to be modeled by everyone the students interact with, and the students need to be given the opportunity to practice the skills in a safe, supportive atmosphere.

How can we help make that happen? It simply comes down to caring and doing it. Lots of people have good ideas and good intentions; we’ve decided to jump in with two feet and all our hearts to make a difference. Our group is special because we are giving students opportunities they may not otherwise have, and people want to be a part of it. It is human nature to internalize what we experience, hear about, and read about, and to make it our personal reality. Our hope is that this program bridges the divide and that our reality becomes a culture of trust and respect among individuals, the community, and law enforcement.

This is all about people deciding to step up and create opportunities to make connections so our students—and, we hope, the entire community—know that someone cares about them and believes in them. In life, the stars don’t always align, and we don’t always hit every green light. It’s up to individuals to choose to make things happen, so why not an unlikely pair like a police officer and an assistant principal? Who’s with us?

Add comment April 14th, 2015

In The Schoolyard: Spring is the Perfect Time to Encourage Observation

We continue our series on outdoor education with another post from Herb Broda. Now that true spring weather is surely just around the corner, he gives us some ideas on how to encourage students to be more observant of nature around them.

IMG_4215Although change always occurs in nature, the shift from winter to spring is for me one of the greatest shows on earth! From a curricular standpoint, this amazing spectacle of renewal provides a great backdrop for teaching the critical skill of careful observation. The process skill of observation is integral to most content areas, including literacy, science, mathematics, the social sciences and the arts.

Now is a great time to think about how the dramatic change of seasons can be woven into your literacy curriculum. For example, observing the shift from winter to spring can be incorporated into many writing genres. Descriptive and expository writing are the most obvious, but journals and poetry are easily fueled by the changes seen in nature. Even narrative and persuasive writing can be sparked by close observation of changes outside.

Teachers repeatedly mention that a primary goal of outdoor learning is to make children more observant. Improved observation skills transfer outside of the classroom also. One teacher shared how a student burst into his classroom and said, “I saw tracks on my way to school today!” Although the child had probably passed tracks dozens of times before, a lesson about tracks on the schoolyard had made this child more alert even when he wasn’t in school.

Careful observation of seasonal changes is a great introduction to the study of phenology, which Webster defines as “periodic biological phenomena that are correlated with climatic conditions.” Observing changes and the conditions that surround transitions fosters strong observation skills, and also emphasizes the interconnectedness of the natural world. The USA National Phenology Network has an excellent website that includes resources and activities for fostering observation skills through the lens of phenology. I encourage you to take a look at their material.

With the low cost of digital cameras, students can use their observations to create scrapbooks, posters and phenology wheels with pictures that they have taken. By observing a small area closely over time students become amazingly adept at detecting even slight changes. Excitement erupted at one Pennsylvania school when students saw a tiny patch of grass emerge as the winter snow began to melt. In a world dominated by computer imagery and electronic beeps, how refreshing to have students thrilled to see a few blades of grass emerging from under the snow!

In Wisconsin, Georgia Gόmez-Ibáñez helps her students become better observers of nature by creating a “phenology wheel” with her students. Each year she has the students pick a spot where they stand and take a picture each month and arrange the pictures in a circle. She also has another wheel that is divided by month and students keep track of what they notice as seasons change. To guide the observations, she has a checklist that identifies characteristic changes that can be easily spotted in each season, such as certain plants and animals that are evident at various times.

If it’s still snowy in your area, go outside to look for “track stories” after a fresh snowfall. It’s great fun and encourages careful observation, attention to detail and speculation. Tracks after a snowfall can show evidence of animal homes, feeding patterns, and even signs of predator-prey interaction. Wisconsin teacher Matt Tiller takes advantage of the “thaw” that usually occurs in snowy areas, and has students look for the mazes of little tunnels that are uncovered when snow melts in an open field. Matt calls it looking for mouse condominiums. This great sign-of-life activity is based upon a description found in Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac.

Take advantage of the enthusiasm that is sure to erupt as we emerge from a long winter and begin to see the reassuring signs of spring. Getting students to observe nature closely will never be easier or more rewarding!

Add comment March 27th, 2015

Free Webinar with The Sisters!

SistersAuthorPhoto200Join us for a free online webinar with Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, “The 2 Sisters” on Wednesday, February 25, at 3:30 p.m. EST.

Whether you’re new to the Daily 5 literacy classroom management structure or have been using it for years, this informative webinar will give you practical ideas that you can use immediately to build student independence and success.

Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (“The 2 Sisters”), authors of the Daily 5, will present live on-camera, and the webinar will feature an exclusive clip from their new video, Up & Running with the Daily 5. At the end of the presentation, Gail & Joan will answer questions from attendees submitted in advance or during the webinar. You’ll get tips on introducing Daily 5 tasks, teaching behaviors, building student independence, and more. Space for this free webinar is limited, so register now! @StenhousePub will be live tweeting the event using #Daily5Tips.

1 comment February 11th, 2015

Now Online: Sharing the Blue Crayon

sharing-the-blue-crayonTo teach and reinforce the building blocks of literacy, we must show our students how to interact with others, develop self- control and persistence, and find their own voices as well as value the contributions of peers. But how do you find the time to explicitly teach these skills within a crowded curriculum?

In Sharing the Blue Crayon, accomplished primary teacher Mary Anne Buckley gives you a flexible, practical program for teaching the interpersonal and emotional skills that your students need to succeed as they learn to read and write.

Using a workshop model, lessons are integrated throughout school day and week–not as add-ons–and will help you build and sustain a caring, supportive classroom community that learns and grows together. You’ll discover how to reframe your reactions to student behaviors to understand and address the underlying social/emotional needs, ultimately leading to better academic outcomes. Throughout the book you will find real classroom examples and literacy connections that allow lessons to do double duty, giving kids the language to learn.

Sharing the Blue Crayon improves your classroom management and helps you build the kind of skills that students will use throughout their school years and beyond.

Preview the entire book online!

Add comment January 30th, 2015

Preview now: Up & Running with the Daily 5


In their new video, Up & Running with the Daily 5, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser (“The 2 Sisters”) take you and your staff into real classrooms where they work with teachers to demonstrate key components of the Daily 5 literacy structure, including:

• the 10 Steps to Independence;
• brain & body breaks;
• differentiating student choices;
• Math Daily 3; and
• strategies for “barometer students.”

The perfect companion to the second edition of The Daily 5, Up & Running with the Daily 5 is essential for any school starting or sustaining the structure used by hundreds of thousands of teachers to help students achieve literacy independence. And you can get five three-month subscriptions to The 2 Sisters’ Daily CAFE website for each video ordered by using the code 5FREE (valid through 3/31).

You can now purchase this video and all Stenhouse videos in streaming format in addition to DVD. Streaming offers access for an entire school from any online device, enables you to embed clips and/or playlists into your learning management system, and provides tracking/reporting features for PD leaders. Get details and a free 48-hour trial here!

Add comment January 7th, 2015

Preview the full text of 5 new books

We just posted the full preview for five new books from our Canadian publishing partner, Pembroke Publishers. They are all available in print and e-book formats!
8301Q-Tasks
How to Empower Students to Ask Questions and Care About the Answers (Second Edition)
Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan
Grades 4-12 • 160 pp • Available now
$24.00 print • $21.60 e-book • $34.00 print/e-book bundle
Helps you develop a questioning culture and empower students to think critically, with 103 activities on curiosity, question types, building good questions, comprehension, opinions, interviews, surveys, writing, and more. The new edition incorporates technology tools and collaborative learning.
 

8299Exploding the Reading
Building a World of Responses from One Small Story, 50 Interactive Strategies for Increasing Comprehension
David Booth
Grades K-8 • 160 pp • Available now
$24.00 print • $21.60 e-book • $34.00 print/e-book bundle
A fascinating look at how hundreds of students respond to the same story, and how a variety of teachers at different grade levels tailor instruction using different modes of response such as text talk, role play, writing, and technology to improve comprehension.
 

 

82953-Minute Motivators
(Revised Edition)
Kathy Paterson
Grades K-12 • 160 pp • Available now
$24.00 print • $21.60 e-book • $34.00 print/e-book bundle
More than 200 simple, fun activities for any grade that will help you use “a little magic” to take a quick break, engage students, and refocus them on the task at hand. 150 of the motivators are new to this edition.
 

 

8298Stop the Stress in Schools
Mental Health Strategies Teachers Can Use to Build a Kinder, Gentler Classroom
Joey Mandel
Grades K-6 • 128 pp • Available now
$24.00 print • $21.60 e-book • $34.00 print/e-book bundle
You may not always be able to remove the source of your students’ worries, but you can employ the strategies in this book to respond in the most positive way and help kids calm themselves, become more resilient, and build their confidence, even during the most difficult moments.
 

 

8300Dramathemes
Classroom Literacy that Will Excite, Surprise, and Stimulate Learning
Larry Swartz
Grades 4-12 • 160 pp • Available now
$24.00 print • $21.60 e-book • $34.00 print/e-book bundle
Presents a set of games, activities, and resources based on 10 themes such as identity, bullying, fantasy worlds, and the immigrant experience. Each unit uses games and drama to make connections to a variety of literary genres and enrich your literacy instruction.

Add comment December 8th, 2014

Six ways to motivate middle schoolers

rick“When it comes to fostering cognitive perseverance, carrots and sticks don’t work,” writes Rick Wormeli in the September issue of ASCD’s Educational Leadership. Access his article, “Motivating Young Adolescents,” for six effective motivational approaches (as well as the “Top 12 Demotivators”).

Add comment October 27th, 2014

Now Online: 3-Minute Motivators

What do you do when you “lose” your students? How can you become more attuned to their needs and respond in ways that improve your classroom mood, increase harmony, and lead to more productive learning?

The revised and expanded edition of the popular book 3‑Minute Motivators has 200 simple, fun activities for any grade that will help you use “a little magic” to take a quick break, engage students, and refocus them on the task at hand. 150 of the activities are new to this edition, which is conveniently organized into sections for “At your Desks,” “Up and At ‘Em,” and “Let’s Communicate,” and includes a handy subject-area index.

Add comment October 16th, 2014

Daily 5 blog tour wrap-up

Thanks to all of you who participated in this week’s Daily 5 blog tour! We hope that you were able to get a better idea about the second edition of this landmark book and share your excitement with your fellow teachers.

Here are some of the highlights from the tour:

Ruminate and Invigorate with Laura
“Even if you aren’t currently using the Daily Five in your classroom, so many of the strategies can be applied! Joan and Gail pride themselves on keeping up with current brain research, best practices, and connecting with both students and teachers. They’ve built the Daily Five on the foundation of a workshop structure and continue to improve upon it as their learning grows.”

Read Laura’s Q&A with The Sisters

Enjoy and Embrace Learning with Mandy
“You know you’ve read a good book when it sticks with you for a few days and you find yourself thinking about it while doing dishes and the house is all a buzz. The girls are coming and going, asking questions, telling me information and I keep thinking about CHOICE in the Daily 5. My mind kept wandering and thinking about choice because I have always had my literacy block as a reading workshop. I love the hum of the classroom when everyone is reading at the same time. It is Read to Self but everyone is doing it at the same time. As I washed the dishes I wondered, why am I doing it this way? It’s the one component I haven’t been able to try differently even after reading The Daily Five at the beginning of each year. Sometimes our roots hold us firmly in place. However, I’m rethinking this now and will continue to explore my thinking for next year.”

Read Mandy’s initial thoughts and then her Q&A with The Sisters

Reading by Example with Matt
“When we give students time to practice the skills we have explicitly taught them, it is only then that we allow them to become readers and writers. Teachers need to stop apologizing for taking a step back and allowing our kids to walk on their own path toward proficiency. Guiding students to become independent, lifelong learners should be the ultimate goal in any classroom. The Daily 5 framework gives structure and purpose when striving for this laudable goal.”

Read Matt’s post on how principals can support effective literacy instruction

Read, Write, Reflect with Katherine
“Just recently I read the new edition. I had assumed that just a few tweaks would have been made, but there was so much more. I read, folding down pages as I went, highlighting passages, and emailing colleagues my thoughts. Since finishing I have recommended it to many teachers, and shared my copy with friends in my building.”

Katherine is an upper-elementary teacher. Read her take on the book.

Winners of the free signed copy of The Daily 5, Second Edition, will be announced soon!

3 comments May 9th, 2014

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