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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

Hi!

Earlier this year I created a new resource we all can use to help kids focus. And let's be real. Many adults, myself included, lose focus from time to time (that's a vague way of saying often). As we're not robots, we all need a reminder from time to time (same as above :).

Working with teens for 180 days each year for the last 14, I noticed that many flat out don't know how to focus, need help with focus, or simply lack focus. The reasons why kids might have a hard time focusing are many; lack of sleep, lack of movement, a surge of emotions, mental health etc. They are all valid.

The infographic below is about achieving deep work and insane productivity in the moment. It is to be used during those home or classroom moments when your kids have a hard time getting going on a task or project. It is a system anyone can use to achieve laser focus and to get things done. And, I plan on putting it up and using it often with my high school students this year.

Check it out.

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

It's January, and I am still confronting the junk left in the wake of the dreaded Five Paragraph Essay.

Mind you, I have danced with the Five Paragraph Essay on more than few occasions. Early in my career there were few teachers I my building teaching composition at all, and it seemed like a good place to start. And the Fiver is still an improvement for those students whose preferred format is the Uniblob-- a mass of untethered words and sentences that spreads out across the page with no regard for order or sense.

To my students, I compare the FPE to training wheels-- they may be useful when you're starting out, but leave them on too long and they become a hindrance rather than a help.

The problem with the Fiver is that it leads a student to approach writing exactly backward. Instead of asking "What do I have to say and what's the best way to say it," the student says, "Okay, I have these five paragraph-shaped blanks to fill up-- what can I fill them up with." And that backwardness infects the entire process. As I slogged through my students' last paper (about symbolism and theme in The Awakening), I can see plainly that they did not ask "Have I made my point and buttressed it with solid support and evidence." Instead they have asked, "Does that paragraph look full enough yet? It does. Okay, then on to the next one."

Structure in writing needs to flow from the function. Start talking about an idea, a part of an idea, a step in setting up the discussion of an idea, and then when you're completed that task, start a new paragraph. It's simple.

But for all my decades of teaching, I have had to keep answering versions of the question "How long does this have to be?" (which is itself a version of the question "What's the least I can get away with doing on this assignment?"). The only answer is "Long enough to get the job done."

You don't measure a nutritional value of a meal by measuring how many minutes you spent eating it.You don't turn to your romantic partner and ask, "How many minutes do I have to talk to you in order for this thing to work?" And you don't determine the quality of a piece of writing based on how many pages you filled up with words.

You cannot put structure ahead of function-- unless, of course, the only thing you feel comfortable evaluating is structure. In which case you are not teaching writing at all-- you're teaching Making Marks on Paper. And you are contributing to the students' sense that school is some sort of Kafkaesque exercise in following odd instructions that are unrelated to life on planet Earth. Oh-- and you're also preparing students to do well on the Big Standardized Test, which also does not know how to evaluate good writing. So I guess there's that.

So, die, five paragraph essay. Die painfully or quietly, with a bang or with a whimper, but just die. And let's fill the space left behind with the goal of saying something clearly, effectively, and vigorously, according to the structure that best suits what we have to say.

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies
“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”
— William Butler Yeats

I had a conversation with Jim the other day. He was frustrated that his students weren't understanding how to do a chemistry lab. He actually said: We make them too dependent. I think he's right, but perhaps the question we should be asking is:

“How do we help our students become independent learners?”

and

“What can we, the teachers do to empower them to learn independently TODAY?”

3 Before Me

I recently chatted with a couple of teacher tweeps @MitchIsFair and @WilsonAtOCDSB who use a version of the 3 Before Me strategy in their classrooms. After many threats and much arm twisting, they gave me the thumbs up to steal and put my own twist on what they do. And though the strategy has been around, I am forever grateful for all the learning and growth I experience as a result of my PLN. You guys rock!

The basic idea of 3 Before Me is to empower students to seek answers to questions and solutions to problems in three independent ways before asking the teacher. As it is impossible for students to put us in their backpacks or even contact us 24/7, it is our duty to help them become independent learners capable of learning on their own.

So, from now on whenever my students are learning, I'll promote inquiry and independence by asking them to seek their own answers and solutions. I'll ask them to collaborate with their own Crew first. If unsuccessful, they can spread their wings and seek help from the Crowd, or someone outside their group. Additionally, they'll access the World Wide Web, or the Cyberspace for help before seeking mine.

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

Remember the story of Icarus?

Here's my take...

Icarus died, because his father Daedalus was a bad teacher. The youngster flew too close to the sun, causing the wax binding his wings to melt and his body experience terminal velocity before it hit the sea.

But his father warned him! you may be thinking. He sure did, but the problem is that Daedalus did not teach his boy the secret methods to understanding the power he possessed. Without the understanding, Icarus did not learn. He did not learn, so he perished.

The legend of Icarus reminds me of education today. Fortunately, most of our students don't perish as a result of it. Unfortunately, many fall victim to miseducation. This is what Sir Ken Robinson suggests when describing a shortage of skills and abilities in the workforce needed to fill today's industry needs. To combat this, he emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning, which, I conceive, requires knowing how to process information effectively to understand, learn, and apply it in new ways.

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

There is nothing wrong with your screen. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. I am controlling the image. I control the horizontal and I control the vertical. I can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next 10 minutes, sit quietly and I will control all that you see and perceive. You're a subject in my experiment. You're about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to the outer limits.

Follow the directions below carefully.

  1. Imagine you are Picasso, Elizabeth I, Michelangelo, Maya Angelou, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Jackie Kennedy, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams or whoever that one extraordinary person you aspire most to be like is. Imagine what their life is/was like. How do they look? What clothes are they wearing? Where are they? What world changing thing are they doing right now? Are you inspired?
  2. Imagine that you are surrounded by plants and flowers. Stand up and walk toward them. Focus on them. If something has been on your mind today, forget about it. Forget about everything. Let your mind wonder. How do you feel now?
  3. Think about a big goal you have. Conjure up images associated with it; the more the better. Think of words that represent it; the more the better. Is there a phrase or two or a quote it brings to mind? If you have not made one before, but are compelled right now, step away and do it. Grab a big sheet of paper, put your goal down in the center, gather the images, write down the words and phrases and quotes, and connect them to the goal. If you've ever created a mind map such as this you know the feeling. It's important to look at it often.

It's also important to control your students' minds without them knowing it.

PrimingStudentsForCreativityInfographic.png

Alter the environment. Imagine it. Model it. Help students achieve the right mindset first so they will be more creative later. Abracadabra!

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