Archive for the ‘Theory’ Category

Upon a great recommendation from a fantastic friend, I am in process of getting a hold of the book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. In the meantime, in order to quench my thirst, I found a cool (animated) video that seems to sum up the ideas in a very broad way (perhaps a “Cliff Notes” version). The drawing is super fun (although it makes my hand tired, even though I realize it is fast-forwarded). Check it out…

While you watch, here are the questions I’m pondering/wondering about:

  1. Does “monetary incentive” equate to grades in the classroom? If so, what does this tell us about grades?
  2. How can I allow kids to be more self-directed?
  3. I have seen the need for Mastery and Purpose in students within a foreign language as they strive toward satisfaction… how can I let them be thoughtful about this?

Thanks, MIKD, for the Vorschlag! I’m excited to read/listen to the whole book and ponder even more…

Lately I have had a number of experiences that have reaffirmed much of my educational philosophy. I will be documenting some of the other recent philosophical inspirations as the next few days go by, but I wanted to share this one while it’s still going on. I want to remember, as the school year begins, what my expectations for myself are, and to continue working on cultivating these abilities.

Today on the Midday program on NPR, they are playing a panel discussion that happened at the Aspen Ideas Festival. There was so much glory that I sat in the car to listen and then had my daughter run in to turn it on in the house so that I wouldn’t have to miss anything.

“There is a moral, and ethical and almost spiritual element of becoming a great teacher for all kids.” -Linda Darling-Hammond

The panel started by talking about remembering fantastic teachers they had (once upon a time) and what was special about those teachers. I really appreciated their conversations about the teachers that were/are fantastic. A few that I remember right off hand that made me a little verklempt and I totally want to remember.

John Deasy was talking about how his first swim instructor was really fantastic. She let everyone know that no one is going to drown, and “no one in this room is going to learn how to swim without first getting wet”.  In other words, first and foremost, you are safe. Next, there are high expectations and you will meet them, and finally, in order to learn it, you get to immerse yourself in it… or you won’t learn it.

Another was a quote from the Talmud that apparently begins the book, Push (the book upon which the movie Precious was based):

“Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow.” – The Talmud

They said that beyond just saying, “Grow, grow.”, a great teacher also whispers, “You can. You can.” They stick with you, almost “imprinting on the inside of my forehead” that story of you being the successful protagonist who can do it.

The panel also spoke about being a “Great Teacher” means being good for all kids. This is a tough calling, but also a worthy one. It means we must be able to reach all students in the classroom, not just being “right” for some (specifically the “easy”) kids, and disastrous for others. It is important to learn to love every child you teach. The panel does a great job of putting this into more realistic terms. “Loving” every kid just means being able to say “I understand you; I see you; I find a way to appreciate you as a human being and to connect to you to teach you.”

There is so much more, but these are just some of the highlights. The podcast is available! Listen to it! It is a fantastic reminder of the things we do well and need to continue to cultivate within ourselves.

I recently had a class that I affectionately referred to as “The Jerry Springer Class”. The Jerry Springer Class could sometimes get a little out of hand. Classes like The Jerry Springer Class often have a few extra kids who are dealing with more than any kid should ever have to… however their behaviors are definitely affecting the class. It’s times likes these when I  pull out my plan to deal with the “out-of-hand” class.

Step One: Identify the 1-3 kids that are really making the difference in the class. We all know that it is often just a weird mix of kids that makes all the difference. So figure out what that mix is. I know I’ve found the right kid if he/she might fit the description of, “Boy, when <Billy Bob/Janie Sue> is gone, the class runs so much smoother and everything is so much quieter!”

Step Two: Divide and conquer. Find a way to talk with each kid. Choices, choices, choices:

  • The Locker Talker”: my personal least favorite. Everyone knows that the kid being talked to outside the classroom up against the lockers is clearly in trouble. It’s never a good posture and never a good conversation. It’s a lot of teacher talking, and the kid mumbling “mm-hmmm” or whatever while their eyes dart around, wondering who is watching this go down.
  • “Delayed gratification”: talking to them after class is a tough one for me. On the positive side, it might give them some privacy as the classroom empties out, and it’s nice to just have them there instead of the influence of their friends hanging over their shoulder. On the negative side, it often copies the posture and conversation of the locker. It also disrupts their schedule (how else are they going to meet up with their girlfriend in the hall if they’re not precisely at the corner 1.23 minutes after the bell rings?), so their mind is set on getting the conversation over as quickly as possible. I also have a hard time figuring out how to get them to stay after without “outing” them in front of the whole class.
  • “In-class en-couragement”: a quick conversation in class, whether it be me kneeling down and chatting quietly with them or having the reason of calling each kid up to me to discuss something (grades and incomplete work) and having the conversation there.
  • Walk-and-Talk“: this is my absolute favorite if/when the scheduling works out.I find that whenever I can take a quick walk with the student, the “walk-and-talk” opens up discussion possibilities much more than any other way of talking. I’ve had kids deep in the spectrum release their stress in a calm, logical way and I’ve had kids with anger problems be able to work things out themselves with this. It is head-and-shoulders above the stuck-against-the-locker talk… which is clearly a “I’m in trouble” posture to have to stand in. When walking together, we’re equals: trying to solve the problem as one.

Step Three: Conversational Oreo: I like to sandwich the bad between two goods. (This analogy might not work out for many of you who find the center of the Oreo to be the best… but I’m sure you get the picture.) I usually start off by telling them that they really are a very smart kid. I can tell. (And, no, this isn’t a lie.) So, I say, I think it’s crazy that their grade/behavior/whatever is not a true indicator of who they really are. I let them know quickly what, precisely, I’m seeing grade/behavior/whatever-wise, and then I move back to the good. Because, I say, I really enjoy having you in class and because you can do this, I need your help. I need you to just do these two things and then we’ll be on the right track again. (The two things depend on what the situation is, but I try to keep them bite-sized… not something like “be nice” but instead something like “help so-and-so because I see they are struggling”.) Give them a chance to be a positive leader. Tell them how. Sometimes they just don’t know how.

Often just getting that kid to know that you do really care about them and aren’t just interested in them “shutting up for the betterment of the class” makes all the difference.

Being a nerdy-dabbling-sociologist at heart, I love to look at seating charts as a way to use student’s strengths, forge friendships, and create a feeling of family in the classroom.

As I was entering some quiz grades today, I noticed that one of my German 1 classes has a few kids with significantly lower scores than any kids in the other German 1 class. It looks like time for a new seating situation.

Step One: Rearrange the desks. I like to rearrange the desks whenever I have a new seating chart because it does a couple of things. First, it gives a clear, visual reason, that students will be changing seats. They’re so busy thinking about how the classroom looks different that they don’t even think about the fact that I’m moving them away from where they were. Second, whenever possible, I do it for each chapter, thus giving a new brain state for the new learning.

Step Two: Seat students as per their strengths and needs. Instead of just first placing all the “bad” students and then creating buffer zones around them (I totally used to do that), I try to think about what each student needs and/or what his/her strengths are. For instance, I might have a student who likes to talk… all the time… and it might, just might, be making me crazy.

Step 2A: Assess the student’s situation: find the student’s strengths and needs. The example student talks a lot, yet did pretty well on the most recent quiz. Preliminary hypothesis: this student seems friendly, understands the information, and might be ready to move forward.

Step 2B: Proximity: Just how much of my own assistance/proximity does this student need in order to maintain the necessary focus in order to do well? The answer to this places the student generally near the front, in the middle, near the back, outside, inside, etc.

Step 2C: Who could this student benefit? Who could this student benefit from? Do I have a student who is a little shy but does well when others initiate conversation and may be having a few slight misunderstandings? I wouldn’t put the talkative student next to another student who clearly hates people who draw attention to themselves all of the time… but my talker might be the perfect fit for someone else.

I guess I go through steps 2A and 2B with an eraser very nearby until I find what I think will be the right “flow” for the class. I want kids to get to know others, appreciate each other for what they bring to the class, and grow/maintain that sense of family… all while learning and using/finding/refining their strengths.

Is seating the be-all and end-all for those things? Wow. No way. That’s a pretty tall order, pal. I do, however, think that finding the Qi in a seating arrangement (instead of just using it as a punishment system) brings me a few strides closer.

In my entry-level class, I have a student. Let’s call him Gonzo (no actual resemblance). Gonzo is that kid. He is the one who must be off in another world, well, all of the time. I explain something to a (finally) quiet classroom. Heads are nodding, kids are smiling. Directions stop and, like a shotgun start, heads snap down, pencils pop up and the “work” of education continues. Gonzo’s hand comes up. “Okay, so what are we supposed to do?”

Those around Gonzo (and even those on the other side of the room from Gonzo) groan. An audible heave of the “Oh, Gonzo” emotion. Some days it takes all they have to not spout off some snide remark.

Gonzo is not stupid. He’s not even a blue kid. He just sometimes needs to be spoken to directly (one-on-one) when giving directions, and sometimes, even then, even after a one-on-one session with head nodding and eye tracking, I turn to walk away and leave him to his now-guided work, and the hand shoots up again. “Okay, so wait. Now what am I supposed to do?”

A sigh breathes past my lips and I hold back a snide remark, but I turn around and go back because it’s my job to teach… not to give him a hard time.

And this is where I caught myself last week. This is where I had to change.

Another student asks a question, also not listening. I smile, jaunt over and cover what they missed with a sparkle in my eye and enthusiasm in my voice.

Did I probably treat Gonzo exactly the same way the first, second, third, twenty-third time that he asked the question? Yes. I might even put money on that. But when that enthusiasm stopped started to wane, I didn’t even notice. I didn’t notice until last week when I found myself refraining from my snide remark. That’s also when I noticed my squinty, tired eyes, my Bueller voice, and my slumped posture as I spoke with him. It was the tired me that sometimes slips by the attitude-bouncer, but it’s also the me I don’t like seeing.

They say kids know the real truth about people and what we are feeling, the truth that can be hidden from many adults. Our children are watchers. They watch us to see if they can trust us. They watch us to see how much we care. They watch us to see who we really are. They watch us in the times when we are most tired and dealing with people who may not be the easiest to deal with. Perhaps they watch us most at that time because it shows some of our true character. It shows them how we might react to them someday.

I often have conversations with students about how ethics aren’t really meaningful until they’re tried and tested in the tough situations, and last week I caught myself not living up to my own standards.

There is a story in the book of Matthew (25) about the end-of-times as Jesus says to those on his right, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

The people respond that they didn’t remember ever having fed or clothed him, to which he responds, “40I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

I think our students see the same. They see how we treat the kids who are the most outrageous, the kids who are the most persistent, the kids who are the least respectful, the kids who just don’t listen, and somewhere inside, they take it to heart: all the more reason to not start slipping down that slippery slope.

This week I made a renewing effort to wipe clean, to be excited, and to share that excitement with everyone, but especially Gonzo. I’m doing it for Gonzo, I’m doing it for the Gonzo watchers, but mostly I need to be doing it because I think it’s right and it’s who I believe I really am… and I need to be that no matter the circumstance.

Regarding the Rivalry

Posted: October 6, 2009 in Theory

Tonight is the big Vikings/Packers game  on  Monday Night Football. The night that Favre plays  in the dome against the Packers. Granted, it’s not Lambeau field, but it’s  a pretty  big deal. I  got plenty of comments from  my beloved students today while I was wearing my Packers jersey.

On a (somewhat) related note, the other day we were asked to talk  about one thing we really enjoyed/were good at. Being funny (and not wanting to waste a bunch of time talking about myself), I said that I love to watch and cheer for the Packers.  After everyone shared, the leader  then asked us to make the connection between the thing we  do well and ourselves as a teacher. (i.e. if you like gardening, perhaps it shows itself as you carefully tend to the needs of students to help them grow.) I started to put it together, but today,  wearing the jersey in the middle of this rivalry, it became even more clear.

I am a die hard fan. I will cheer you on in the best of times and in the worst of times. I will wait and support through the losses so we can all enjoy the wins. I am a die hard fan and, I have to admit, I have little time  for fair-weather fans.

So I made a PowerPoint to explain this to my kids… and to talk about integrity. We talked about fair-weather fans, fair-weather friends, and fair-weather everything else.  It was a quick 5 minute talk, but a nice segue  into the (even more brief) note that I am here for them if they need something… even if it’s just to be a connector to the person/people/help they really need.

It’s crazy where educational philosophy can pop up in life. I love football.

As part of an answer to a struggling class, I put together a plan that incorporates learning styles into our chapter (clothing). I feel like this could be a tool for them to use… and one that might help them find success. I put together the weekly plan, including worksheets. This plan is pretty open… meaning that it should fit with many/any different unit.

If you take a look at it and have some fantastic ideas for improvement, please let me know! If you take a look at it and can use it/modify it for your use, go for it!

Unit- Learning through Learning Styles

Much of this came out of the idea to give students support, empowerment, and a commitment to learning: all developmental assets that kids need to succeed. More inspiring information about this at The Search Institute.

Up next week? Learning through Multiple Intelligences