Saturday, 06 February 2016 01:04

A Super Bowl-Themed Tip (Teaching Tip #127)

Before the kickoff to today's big game, you are likely to hear the announcers discuss each team's "Keys to Victory." For example, Phil Simms of CBS may describe how the Broncos need to run the ball effectively, protect Peyton Manning so he has time to pass, and play tough defense against Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

In the classroom, children have their own keys to victory. Over the past couple years, I've discussed this idea with my students before important assessments. Before an end-of-unit math assessment, for example, I ask everyone to identify the single most important thing they need to do to earn a high score. For some kids, it's paying close attention to detail. For others, it's reading the directions carefully, making sure they show all their work, or checking their work carefully at the end.

Once the kids have each identified their individual key to victory, I encourage them to write or sketch that idea at the top of their papers before they begin working. That visual reminder has made a significant difference for many students, providing a quick, simple form of motivation and inspiration and serving as another way to personalize the learning process. Plus, this process helps children understand themselves better as learners and promotes reflective thinking. Many kids like to sketch the "D-fence" sign shown in the accompanying image. In last year's Super-Bowl themed teaching tip, I described how this sign has become an important symbol in our class and represents our team's commitment to paying attention to detail.
 


 

Published in Blog
Saturday, 19 September 2015 01:07

7 NEW Teaching Visuals on Pinterest

During my teaching career I have noticed that there are a small number of “high-leverage” behaviors that all kids can learn and all teachers and parents can nurture and develop. With time, effort, and consistent attention paid to these areas, every child can become a highly successful student and experience the greater confidence, higher self-esteem, and greater learning gains that result from this success. I describe the quest to help children develop these behaviors as “The Drive for 5.”

Recently, I posted 7 new visuals on Pinterest to help teachers and parents share these traits with children. The first visual provides an introduction to "The Drive for 5," the second displays the acronym featured in this post, and the other five focus on the individual traits that comprise "The Drive for 5." I hope you find these visuals useful.

Click here to see these visuals on Pinterest.

Published in Blog

It takes a team effort for children to be highly successful in school. Parents, teachers, and the students themselves all have a critical role to play. The teacher’s role is carried out primarily at school, while parents’ real impact happens mostly at home. This article focuses on what research has shown to be the most important actions parents can take to help their children maximize their amazing potential.

Emphasize that education is a serious quest. For children to be successful in school, they must “buy in” to the purposes of education. They need to be dedicated to their daily learning and embrace the importance of rigor. Children need to know that school is where they are expected to learn complex material and develop higher-level thinking skills so they can thrive in the world.

See yourself as a coach. Take a hands-on approach throughout your child’s elementary years. Read to or with your child frequently. Quiz them on their multiplication tables during dinner. Work with them on difficult concepts. Encourage them to try harder and do better. Try to speed the learning at home. Give them autonomy for methods; hold them accountable for results. This develops driven, self-sufficient kids who know how to adapt.

Foster an intellectual culture at home. Parents who discuss movies, books, news, the events of the day, and current affairs have teenagers who perform better in reading. Engaging kids in conversation about things larger than themselves helps them become strong thinkers. Ask kids about their days. Take genuine interest in what they are learning. Discuss what they like about school.

Develop the habits that matter most. Two of the best predictors of academic performance are self-discipline and conscientiousness. Children can develop self-discipline by doing household chores and by taking as much responsibility as possible for their own learning. Children are resilient. They are smarter and tougher than many adults often assume. Their psyches aren’t fragile. Rigorous work frequently involves failure, and kids need to experience failure when they are young to develop self-discipline, endurance, and grit. These experiences matter as much as or more than academic skills. Let your child make mistakes and then get back to work. The goal is to create a mindset of high expectations and success.

Aim to be warm, responsive, and strict. Recognize your child’s progress, but don’t praise excessively. When given, praise needs to be specific, authentic, and focused on effort, not intelligence. Kids need clear, bright limits; they need to know that there are rules you don’t negotiate. Being consistent will gain your child’s trust and respect.

Reinforce the importance of reading. Read for pleasure at home. Children are more likely to enjoy and value reading when they see their parents reading. Set aside time with your child to discuss what you’re reading and what your child is reading. Even if you haven’t read your child’s book, you can ask questions that encourage kids to think for themselves. Being a reading role model sends a strong message to your child that you value reading and value learning about all kinds of new things. As adults, what we do is always more powerful than what we say.

Make math a top priority. Math has a way of predicting kids’ futures. Teenagers who master higher-level math classes are far more likely to graduate from college and earn more money after college. This is partially due to the fact that more and more jobs require familiarity with probability, statistics, and geometry. In addition, math is not just math. It is a language of logic. It’s a disciplined, organized way of thinking. There are right answers and rules that must be followed. Math is the essence of rigor. It builds perseverance and grit. Mastering the language of logic helps to develop higher-order habits: the ability to reason, to detect patterns, to make informed guesses. These kinds of skills have rising value in a world where information is so accessible.

This year, focus on the following math-related goals:

1) Help your child master his/her basic facts (if (s)he has reached the middle grades). When kids are automatic with their facts, their brains are freed up to do the harder work.

2) Present a favorable view of math. A child should never hear a parent say, “I can’t do math” or “I’m not a math person” or “Math was never my thing.” Parents who hold a positive view of math and its importance are more likely to have children who enjoy and value math.

3) Reinforce the message that math is about effort. Many kids think that math is something that people either “get” or “don’t get.” Dispel this notion by encouraging consistent effort during moments of difficulty. Math can be mastered with time, hard work, and persistence.

Published in Blog
Saturday, 25 July 2015 01:18

9 Ways to Build Kids' Confidence

At the beginning of this past school year, I was conferring with a student about her newly published Writing Workshop project. On the rubrics we used for self-evaluation purposes, she gave herself consistently low scores. When I asked her about this, she told me that she always got low scores in school and naturally thought her scores on this project would be low, too. At this moment, I realized that even though our conference was supposed to be about writing, discussing specific skills, strategies, and techniques wasn’t the right approach to take. Instead, we needed to have a conversation about something larger—namely, her overall outlook on school and how she viewed her own capabilities. Until her perspective changed, it was unlikely that she would make significant academic progress. I needed to help her build her confidence and expect more from herself. This article features a set of tips that we, as parents and teachers, can use anytime we face this situation.

See the big picture. Children need to know that just because they may be going through a difficult period now, it doesn’t mean things will always be this way. Progress may not happen right away, but it will happen if we focus our attention in the right places. We need to adopt a long-term view. This leads into the next two tips.

Focus on consistent effort. Children tend to view less than satisfactory school performance as a reflection of their intelligence and may think they’re simply not smart enough to do well academically. We must dispel this belief as strongly as possibly. Effort, not intelligence, is the key to success, and we must encourage kids to work hard and persevere on a daily basis.

Set higher personal standards. As human beings, we typically perform at the level we expect from ourselves. At the gym, for example, I am more likely to complete twenty pushups if I expect myself to do that many. I am unlikely to do twenty if I expect to do five. Children will perform better in school and be more confident when they begin to expect more from themselves.

Be patient. Part of adopting a long-term view involves understanding that improvement, at least at first, will likely be incremental. Children who usually score in the 70’s on math assessments probably aren’t going to start earning scores in the 90’s right away. Small steps will ultimately add up to large leaps.

Celebrate the positive. Call attention the first time your child or student makes noticeable progress on an assessment or piece of schoolwork. Recognizing children’s effort will boost their confidence and increase their motivation to keep working hard. One success will lead to another. Keep recognizing progress as the child’s performance continues to improve. As the old saying goes, nothing motivates like success.

Provide unconditional support and encouragement. In any improvement process there will likely be ups and downs. No matter how well children may do on any given piece of work, it’s important to reinforce the message, unwaveringly, that they are incredibly capable and can accomplish anything to which they set their minds. This type of encouragement will help build resilience, as well as confidence.

Understand the limits of talk. While encouraging children and providing unconditional support are crucial, talk, by itself, will only take us so far. Confidence is an earned commodity and can’t be transmitted or given to children via talking. Confidence will only grow when children see themselves earning higher scores and feel an increasing sense of mastery with their schoolwork.  

Share stories of others who have made significant progress. When we find ourselves going through a difficult time, it’s easy to think that we’re the only ones who have ever experienced this type of struggle. Sharing stories with children about yourself, family members, and well-known people can help them understand that they’re not alone and that others have met challenges and overcome obstacles similar to the ones they may be facing now. The main reason I wrote 2-Minute Biographies for Kids was to help children draw inspiration from others whose life stories may resonate with their life stories.

Consider involving peers. In my experience, I have noticed that many children work harder and perform far better on a piece of work or project when they are paired with high-achieving students. Working with a super capable peer brings out the best in these children and can have a lasting effect. If you believe this strategy may benefit your child, consider scheduling a homework “play date” after school one day with a high-achieving classmate.

Published in Blog

In this post I describe the fifth of what I consider to be the five most important traits needed for success in school. By giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors and nurturing their development over time, teachers and parents can empower children to maximize their amazing potential.

Of course, no two children are alike, and not all high-achieving students will display the traits I am about to describe in the same way. Some of the following details may not be true of every successful student. My goal, then, is not to paint a picture of a single, rigid "type" that all children must emulate. Rather, it's to share the specific behaviors that, in my experience, have the greatest impact on a child's success. Focusing on these behaviors gives teachers and parents the greatest bang for our buck in our efforts to help children become better students.


  E - Engage in Energetic Listening
Successful students are attentive listeners. Many kids listen closely when their teachers present lessons or give important directions, yet they tend to tune out when their classmates are sharing information and asking and answering questions. Successful students listen closely to everyone; they don’t miss a thing. You can see it in the posture they take during instructional lessons and in the eye contact they consistently make with the speaker. They want to absorb as much information as much as possible during lessons and discussions, and they participate frequently. Furthermore, they involve themselves in the conversation, enthusiastically and confidently.

The trait of energetic listening is tightly connected to many of the other traits featured in this blog series. For example, one of the main reasons these children listen so well is because they hold themselves to such high standards with their learning and have such a strong desire to understand the content they encounter. These high standards also explain why successful students ask for help so freely when they don't initially understand something presented during a lesson. By listening well during instructional lessons, these students are prepared for the independent practice that usually follows the lessons. Showing drive and determination as a listener enables kids to show drive and determination as independent workers. Listening well during lessons, working with drive and determination during independent work time, asking for help whenever it's needed, and maintaining high personal standards along the way is a recipe for unparalleled success.

Published in Blog
Wednesday, 08 April 2015 00:19

Join the Chase!

Become a Member of the Chase Manning Detective Club!
 

If you're a young reader who enjoys the Chase Manning Mystery Series, then join the Chase Manning Detective Club today. (It's absolutely free.) With your family's permission and help, simply click here to e-mail Steve. Be sure to send your name and home state or country. Once you join the club, you will receive periodic newsletter updates that will let you know how you can:

* Get free, signed bookmarks for your friends and teachers.

* Win a chance to have a character in a future book named after you.

* Help choose the name of the next Chase Manning mystery.

* See sneak previews of future books.

* Earn a chance to write a review that appears on the back cover of a future book.



Click here to Join the Chase.


(Note: Because of some technical difficulties with the "Contact" button that have recently been fixed, if you have tried to e-mail Steve over the past few weeks to "Join the Chase," your message may not have gotten through. Please try again. Sorry for the inconvenience.)


Published in Blog

In this post I describe the fourth of what I consider to be the five most important traits needed for success in school. By giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors and nurturing their development over time, teachers and parents can empower children to maximize their amazing potential.

Of course, no two children are alike, and not all high-achieving students will display the traits I am about to describe in the same way. Some of the following details may not be true of every successful student. My goal, then, is not to paint a picture of a single, rigid "type" that all children must emulate. Rather, it's to share the specific behaviors that, in my experience, have the greatest impact on a child's success. Focusing on these behaviors gives teachers and parents the greatest bang for our buck in our efforts to help children become better students.


  V - Venture Toward Important Purposes
Successful students have a strong understanding of why they're in school and why it's important to work hard and do well academically. They know that doing well in school matters, both now and in the future. These kids understand the link between today's successes and tomorrow's opportunities. They think about such things as what type of careers they might want to pursue and what areas they might want to study in college. Understanding the multiple purposes of doing well in school increases students' intrinsic motivation to learn, leads to higher levels of maturity, and positively impacts the other four traits featured in this blog series.

As I describe in the First Month of School, I believe that one of our highest priorities in the classroom at the beginning of each school year is to establish a sense of purpose with our students to help every one of them develop this type of strong understanding. We invest time to write a class mission statement that identifies the reasons why it's important to come to school each day and work hard, and we review that statement at least once a week to ensure that these critical ideas remain in the hearts and minds of our students. Later in the year, we provide children with the opportunity to write their own personal mission statements so they can further develop an understanding of why it's important to commit themselves to education. We also use tools such as The Tower of Opportunity to help our students make daily connections between what they study in school and the life roles that we all fulfill throughout our lives. As often as possible, we point out and discuss why we are studying class content. The better children understand the purposes of their learning, the more motivated and successful they will be.

Published in Blog

In this post I describe the third of what I consider to be the five most important traits needed for success in school. By giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors and nurturing their development over time, teachers and parents can empower children to maximize their amazing potential.

Of course, no two children are alike, and not all high-achieving students will display the traits I am about to describe in the same way. Some of the following details may not be true of every successful student. My goal, then, is not to paint a picture of a single, rigid "type" that all children must emulate. Rather, it's to share the specific behaviors that, in my experience, have the greatest impact on a child's success. Focusing on these behaviors gives teachers and parents the greatest bang for our buck in our efforts to help children become better students.


  I - Immediately Ask for Help When They Need It
In my previous post I described how successful students hold themselves to impressively high personal standards with regard to their work, effort, and behavior. These high personal standards also come into play when students encounter new material during instructional lessons and while reading. These children expect to understand academic content, and when they don't, it's as if an alarm bell goes off in their heads, and they immediately raise their hands to ask questions and gain clarity.

There are, of course, many reasons why children choose not to notify the teacher when they are confused. In my experience, I have found that the three most common reasons are that 1) kids may be shy, 2) they may be worried that their classmates will judge them, or 3) they may not be engaged enough in the lesson to identify what they "get" and don't yet get. Early in the school year, it's important to build with our students the type of classroom culture where everyone feels comfortable asking questions and seeking clarity without fear of embarrassment. As teachers, we model this for our students by openly admitting when there's something we don't understand and sharing times when we've needed to ask for help. If some kids are too shy to raise their hand in front of the whole class, then they definitely need to signal our attention during independent work time or some other time when they can interact with us one-on-one, away from the spotlight that's a part of whole-class lessons.

I believe that this trait may be the single most powerful differentiator between highly successful students and those who have yet to achieve consistent academic success. Everyone gets stuck at one point or another during class lessons, yet I find that it's almost always the most successful students who ask the vast majority of the questions. Not only do these kids ask the most questions, but also they ask the most specific ones. Their understanding of class concepts is usually very solid, and their need to achieve full understanding is so strong that they will ask questions to clarify highly specific points and close even the smallest gaps between their current understanding and full understanding. At the same time, children whose understanding is far less developed tend to be the least likely to raise their hands. I find this fascinating, and it's something that teachers need to address until everyone is comfortable asking for help freely. Successful students advocate for themselves.
 

Published in Blog

In this post I describe the second of what I consider to be the five most important traits needed for success in school. By giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors and nurturing their development over time, teachers and parents can empower children to maximize their amazing potential.

Of course, no two children are alike, and not all high-achieving students will display the traits I am about to describe in the same way. Some of the following details may not be true of every successful student. My goal, then, is not to paint a picture of a single, rigid "type" that all children must emulate. Rather, it's to share the specific behaviors that, in my experience, have the greatest impact on a child's success. Focusing on these behaviors gives teachers and parents the greatest bang for our buck in our efforts to help children become better students.


 R- Reach for the Stars
One morning last year, my students were creating bar graphs and other types of charts and tables to display the results of our Winter Enthusiasm Survey. After working for a very short time, one child raised her hand, and I was worried that she had rushed through the activity just to get done. Instead, she told me that she wasn't happy with how the paper looked and asked if she could start over. That action exemplifies the trait featured in this post.

Successful students hold themselves to impressively high personal standards with regard to their work, effort, and behavior. They care deeply about their schoolwork and don’t rush through it. Their goal isn't simply to finish. They take uncommon pride in what they do and only want to turn in work that represents their very best effort, even if it means putting in extra time. These kids believe that this extra time and effort are worth it. It's wonderful when parents and teachers hold high expectations for children, but the breakthrough moment occurs when these expectations are no longer adult expectations; they become a child's own personal standards. There is a well-known quote that says: "Every piece of work is a self-portrait of the person who did it." Highly successful students live this quote, and their daily actions show that they are committed to doing their very best each day and won't settle for anything less.

One critical area where a child's commitment to maintaining high personal standards can be clearly seen involves how well they pay attention to detail. Reading directions carefully, answering every part of multi-step math questions, and proofreading written work aren't typically the most interesting tasks students encounter, but how well they are done often determines the difference between quality work and work that cannot yet be considered quality work. Highly successful students understand the importance of paying attention to detail and do so consistently and independently, without needing adult reminders.

Published in Blog

In this post I describe the first of what I consider to be the five most important traits needed for success in school. By giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors and nurturing their development over time, teachers and parents can empower children to maximize their amazing potential.

Of course, no two children are alike, and not all high-achieving students will display the traits I am about to describe in the same way. Some of the following details may not be true of every successful student. My goal, then, is not to paint a picture of a single, rigid "type" that all children must emulate. Rather, it's to share the specific behaviors that, in my experience, have the greatest impact on a child's success. Focusing on these behaviors gives teachers and parents the greatest bang for our buck in our efforts to help children become better students.


D - Demonstrate Drive & Determination
Being a highly successful student begins with a commitment to education. Before becoming successful, children need to decide that doing well in school matters and that they are willing to do what it takes on a daily basis to live up to that commitment. Children display this commitment by working hard throughout the day. They don't repeatedly start and stop while completing a piece of work; they don't need teacher reminders to get their work done. They invest themselves completely in the task at hand and use their time well. It's easy to spot students who work with drive and determination. You can see it in their posture and how they carry themselves in the classroom and while doing homework. You can see it in the enthusiasm, energy, and passion they put into their work. Children who demonstrate drive and determination take responsibility for their learning and show strong self-discipline. When these children encounter difficulties, they don't quit or become distracted. Instead, they enjoy and embrace difficult challenges and persevere until the end.
 

Published in Blog
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