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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

Happy Friday!

Or Saturday, depending on when you read this.

As school draws closer (or maybe already back to the grind?), teachers and administrators experience a renewed sense of purpose. We reflect on how to start the year off right and how we can do things better.

I have an ironic, but very true answer for doing things better. It involves making mistakes. Lots of mistakes!

I took a screenshot of something I found on Pinterest a while ago and decided to make it into a poster you, I, and the rest of the Universe can print and use in their classroom, office, or spaceship.

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

Without a doubt the first few days of school are the most critical ones in helping to create the foundation of good human relationships with your students. Even the most skilled teacher in the pedagogical sciences of education will be less than effective if the kids don't "like" them, yes, I said, "like them". Now I am not talking about making lots of young friends but I am talking about creating a relationship with your students that is built on mutual respect and a kinship, a kinship that forms your stove of learning. So here are six tips, teachertips, to build a strong, effective stove of learning for your classroom. 

1. Please don't go over the syllabus on day one. I know, it's expected, and that is exactly the reason I strongly advise against doing it. Your first impression, is just that, your first and only first impression, you get no do-overs, so make it magnificent. I am not here to tell you what to do on day one, you can go google that, but if you see your first day as the first blind date into a forced marriage, it takes on a more powerful significance. I used to start a video project on day one, a DV quilt, where all the students were responsible for coming up with a finish to the sentence, "America is __________" and one visual. We then patched them together for a class film that we could analyze and use to springboard ourselves into a discussion of the nation. It wasn't the tech or the fancy final product that made them want to come back for more, it was the engagement. So ENGAGE them, make them want to be in the forced marriage, otherwise you may be on the road to a difficult and long, painful divorce. If you are interested in developing your own DV quilt, check out the tutorial below to start marinating. 

 

2. Use the magic word. What is the magic word? It's their name of course! I understand it's a difficult task, especially if you teach secondary, there literally could be 150 names or more. But the point is not to memorize all of their names quickly, it's to convey the message to your kids, that their name is important, it's important to you. Make it a point in the beginning of the year that you are on a mission to learn their names, I would make a bet that if I didn't know their name in two weeks I would give them a point on their next test. It was this act, this act of good faith, that I believe, earned the respect from my students. You may make mistakes, no, you will make mistakes, but make no mistake about it, one's own name is truly the most magical word in the human language. So learn them and use them to make magic in your classroom of learning. 

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

I have a confession to make. I've become obsessed with Design Thinking. It's gotten to the point where I "Design Thinking" everything. How do I Design Thinking my lunch? How do I Design Thinking my classroom phone policy? How do I Design Thinking teaching?

Teaching? Yep. Let's do that.

What I love about Design Thinking is that it's flexible. There are teaching approaches out there that tell us what to do, but it makes more sense for every teacher to teach differently every year, because we each get different students.

Think about it. We don't treat all our friends and family the same. Our interactions with them are largely based on our experience of who they are and what makes them tick. Teaching is the same way. One size fits all approaches do not work.

The challenge is that, in the grand scheme of things, we only know our students for a short time. However, personalization of education is not a fad; it's a thing. So. let's use the Design Thinking Cycle (Empathy, Definition, Ideation, Prototyping, Testing) to improve Teaching, shall we?

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

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Cognitive Overload. Unfortunately, we do that a lot. We often overwhelm students with information when we present it to them. What's worse, we teach them to do the same to others when they present. We are killing them. Well... We're killing their learning...

So, it is only fair we call the police on ourselves... Or stop the insanity...

Talk About 1 To 3 Key Points And Expand On Them

One way you may be killing your students is by doing too much. They say: Say Less! They mean it. So never, ever spend the entire class period presenting. Such practice is questionable even in college. And, it's NEVER student centered.

This is what most of my college experience was. Presentations were meant to be interactive, but usually only a small percentage of students asked questions or commented.

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

If you are of a Certain Age, this how you were taught writing--

1) Learn the parts of speech, sentence parts, and the rest of grammar.
2) Learn how to construct a sentence.
3) Learn how to write several sentences to make a paragraph.
4) Learn how to write several paragraphs to make an essay.

That's how we were taught to write. Mind you, it is not how anybody actually learned to write-- okay, I can't say nobody learned that way because the first rule of actual writing is that everybody uses their own methods and one person's Functional Approach To Writing is another person's Unspeakably Awful Idea. But the number of people who actually learned to write by the above traditional method is tiny, like the number of people who learned how to play jazz trombone by watching Led Zeppelin videos.


The persistence of traditional grammar instruction in the English teaching world is an ongoing mystery, like the number of people who think vouchers would improve education. Some teachers do it because well, of course, that's what English teachers do. Some teachers do it because it's easier than taking calls from parents that include the phrase, "Well, back in my day..."

Grammar instruction has its place. It's a lot easier to fix things, and a lot a lot easier to talk about fixing things, if you can call those things something other than "things." It's hard to talk about the nuts and bolts of improving a piece of writing if we don't have the words "nuts" or "bolts."

But we know-- have known for years-- that simple instruction of grammar with grammar exercises and grammar drills and all the traditional things does not improve writing. You can read a good recap of the research here, and while I'm highly dubious about any research that claims it has measured the quality of student writing, the fancy big-time research matches what I've learned in my own class-sized laboratory over the past may decades. Drilling students all day on nouns and verbs and participials and dependent adverb clauses will not make them better writer, and bombarding their writing with the Red Pen of Doom deployed over every grammatical misstep (not to mention all the usage "mistakes" which are not grammatical issues at all no matter how many people insist on conflating the two
) will probably make them worse writers. Not that I'm an advocate for the loose anything-goes technique of just letting any kind of mess hit the page-- but if your basic foundation for writing is a bunch of grammar rules, your students are probably not getting any better at writing.
This truth is sometimes masked by volume. The best way to get better at writing is to write, and if you have your students writing regularly, that will help-- maybe even if you give them lousy feedback. God save us all from the "We only do writing for three weeks in April" approach.

But the basic unit of any piece of writing is not a word or a sentence or a paragraph or a rhetorical technique. The basic unit of writing is an idea.

The vast majority of writing problems are actually thinking problems. If you don't know what you want to say, you will have a hard time saying it. And in the modern test-centered education era, we have compounded the problem by teaching students that their central question should be "What am I supposed to write for this?"

Not "what do I want to say" or even "what idea could I construct a good essay out of" but "what am I supposed to write."

That question shifts the foundation of writing to a new skill set-- psychic powers. Can you discern what the teacher or the test manufacturer wants you to say? Try to say that. In this model of writing, what should be central to the writing process-- the ideas in the student's head-- actually becomes an obstacle-- in your search for the essay you're supposed to write, don't be distracted by your own individual ideas.

Messing up that first question of writing automatically interfered with the second question-- after you know what you want to say, you must next figure out how to say it. But test-centered standardized writing has a required set of "how" before you even get to what. In real writing, however, the "how" flows directly out of the "what." For emerging writers, we may provide a pre-fab "how," (looking at you, five paragraph essay) so that they can focus on their "what" and not freak out about how to express it. But once the "how" is coming before the "what," we're in trouble, because now we're not asking "what do I want to say," but "what could I say to fill in these five paragraphs."

There is another level to this problem with assigned student writing-- finding an answer for the student whose answer to "what do I want to say" is "I want to say that I don't care about this topic and have nothing to say about it." That is where a teacher's heavy lifting comes in, with discussion and conversation and maybe research and sometimes a song and dance. It can be a hard bridge to build, but that doesn't change the writing fundamentals-

The center of every piece of writing should be the what, the idea, the thing that the writer wants to say. Any other foundation results in a building that is shaky and unstable, a house in which nothing useful can live.

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