Displaying items by tag: teaching the whole child

Friday, 31 January 2014 00:35

A Super Bowl-Themed Teaching Tip (Tip #112)

Typically, the Teaching Tips I share on this site feature information and strategies that I have used with my students for many years. Every now and then, however, I like to present new ideas that I'm currently in the process of developing and that are still a bit raw. In these cases I welcome your feedback, and perhaps we can collaborate to strengthen the original idea. This past Tuesday I had a brainstorm, and since this idea happened to connect to the world of professional football, I thought this would be the perfect week to post it.

Broncos fans, please don't be alarmed. I come in peace. Though this tip does refer to an aspect of the Seattle Seahawks franchise, I am not promoting one team over the other. (In fact, Peyton Manning is one of my favorite players of all time.) If you follow professional football, you may know that over the past couple seasons Seattle has had the best home record in the NFL, and a huge part of this home-field advantage stems from the fact that Seahawk fans are incredibly loud during the games and make it very difficult for the visiting players to communicate with one another. Because of the advantage the fans provide, the crowd has been dubbed the "12th man." In other words, the fans are so important to the team's success and have such a strong presence, it's almost as if the Seahawks are fielding 12 players versus the other team's 11. There's even a "12th man" flag that flies over the field during the games.

Back to last Tuesday. My students had just started learning how to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators. In order to do this, of course, they need to find a common denominator. We were about to close out the day's lesson and head to recess. We had about three minutes left in the period. As I was working through one last problem on the board, I told them that finding a common denominator is also a helpful strategy when comparing and ordering fractions. Being new to teaching fourth grade this year, it dawned on me that this single skill of finding a common denominator has multiple uses and is an indispensable asset for young math students to possess. I wanted to make a big deal about just how important this skill was. I wanted to give it extra attention. A light bulb went off in my mind, and I stopped the lesson. Immediately, my mind traveled to Seattle, and I thought about the 12th man. Quickly, I told my kids a story about the meaning of the 12th man to the Seattle Seahawks organization, and I decided that our class needed its own version.

I then declared, dramatically, that the ability to find a common denominator is so valuable and will have such a strong presence in our classroom in the coming weeks that it's almost like having another person with us. That strategy is, you guessed it, our 31st student. The kids immediately liked this idea. My goal in establishing the "31st student" was to get kids' attention and call their attention to an important idea, and that's what it did. I learned a few years ago from my friend Jeff Haebig that emotions drive attention, and attention drives learning. The concept of the "31st student" created an emotional connection with my students and caused them to pay more attention to this week's math lessons. Of course, the kids still need to practice and master the ability to find a common denominator, but the stage had been set for that learning, and enthusiasm increased because of the novelty of the "31st student" concept.

After school that day, I realized that the "31st student" idea has the potential to help us all year because every few weeks we can change it to keep it fresh and focused on our current learning. Once our study of fractions concludes, I can pick another core academic skill to be our new 31st student. I could also make kindness, honesty, or another habit of character our 31st student anytime the need arises. The concept is flexible enough to meet a variety of needs that may present themselves over the remainder of the school year. We can even have a designated place on the wall to post that week's 31st student as a visual reminder.

I will keep you updated as the "31st student" idea grows. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. In the meantime, I need to find a website where I can purchase our "31" classroom flag.
Published in Blog
In this post I share an incredibly useful piece of teaching advice I learned from my friend and classroom management expert Angela Watson. (Check out her book The Cornerstone on amazon.) At the beginning of each school year, Watson tells her students that their actions and choices in the classroom influence her actions and choices as a teacher. In my experience, this announcement takes many children by surprise because they tend to think that all major class decisions are made by the teacher and that they really don't have a role in affecting those decisions. This approach to classroom management gives kids the incentive to show great judgment because the better judgment they show, the more responsibility they will have in determining the direction of the class.

For example, assume Katie and Allison wish to be desk partners. Using Watson's approach, we would let the kids give it a try. If they are able to focus on their work and use their time well, then they would be permitted to remain neighbors. In other words, we provide the opportunity, and the students have the incentive and the responsibility to make it work. Here's another example. Assume that students in my class work independently on all their class activities. One student, however, makes the suggestion that we should start working with partners during math time. Instead of saying no because we have never done this type of cooperative learning before, I would give it a shot to see how it goes, and their actions would determine the extent to which cooperative learning becomes a regular feature of classroom life.

For the past two years, during the first half hour of the first day of school, I have explicitly told my students that their actions and choices would influence mine. Pardon the pun, but this has become a "cornerstone" feature in my classroom, and the effect it has is immediate, positive, and lasting. Now, whenever my students have a suggestion about how our class should function, I (almost always) say yes and then give them the responsibility for making it work. Providing students with these opportunities is empowering and motivating.
Published in Blog
   As a general rule, I recommend that, as teachers, we try not to do things for children that they can do for themselves. Expecting students to do things for themselves develops independence and responsibility, and it furthers our efforts to develop self-directed learners. One example of this principle in action occurs each day when I walk with my students to the school cafeteria. When we arrive, I could easily grab our set of lunch cards and pass them out to the kids one at a time. Instead, I ask the first two students in line to get the cards and distribute them to their classmates. This may not seem like a big deal, but it encourages cooperation and promotes leadership, responsibility, and independence. When children do things like this throughout the day, these little moments add up to something substantial. Examples include cleaning the room thoroughly before they leave at the end of the day, carrying their own backpacks and other possessions to and from school, and managing their own supplies. Look for opportunities for your students to take on as much responsibility around the class as possible.
Published in Blog
Saturday, 14 December 2013 20:44

Leading By Example (Teaching Tip #109)

    During my graduate training at UCLA, an instructor once remarked to our class that no matter what subject any of us went on to teach, we would all impact our students most powerfully with the examples that we set. He cautioned us not to lose sight of the fact that though we may teach science or English, more than anything else, we are teaching ourselves; we are teaching who and what we are. Years later, when students look back on the time spent in our rooms, they might not remember all the content. They will remember us.   
    As classroom teachers, we need to pay very careful attention to the example we set for our students. This doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect or that we should hold ourselves to some unrealistic standard. It does, however, mean that we make every effort to model for our students the qualities and behaviors that we promote. When leaders walk their talk, they accomplish a great deal more than they do with words alone. For example, in the beginning of every school year, one of my main objectives is to create an environment of trust in my classroom. What is the most effective way for me to do that? Is it to establish a rule that everybody must trust everybody else? No. It is to be trustworthy. I must make and keep promises to my students so their trust in me grows. I show them how to play the role of trusted team member by playing it myself. Talking at my students will not achieve the same results. Leaders understand the power of a strong example.          
    Constantly look for ways to model the principles and attitudes you hold dear. Let your actions do the talking. For instance, to show how much you value physical fitness, change into your tennis shoes occasionally and participate in a class PE activity. Say “Please” and “Thank you” every chance you get in order to encourage the development of proper manners. Demonstrate the high priority you place on literacy by bringing in a book during silent reading time and joining in with the group. Share stories about your golf game or some other hobby to show your students how you apply the spirit of continuous improvement to your own life. Kids remember examples.
Published in Blog
An effective way to help students improve their ability to perform class routines is to use what educator Madeline Hunter calls “think-starters.” Imagine Randy has just handed me a paper with no name on it. If I said, “Put your name on it,” that would be a “think-stopper” because I am the one pointing out his mistake. On the other hand, if I asked him what he needed to do before handing me the paper, then I am helping Randy discover his own mistake. That would be a think-starter.

Asking him instead of telling him shifts the responsibility to Randy. Think-starters give students ownership of their behavior. By encouraging kids to reflect on their actions, think-starters help them internalize these habits and build their capacity for the future. While Randy may have forgotten to put his name on the paper this time, think-starters increase the likelihood that he will remember to do it next time.
Published in Blog
Saturday, 05 January 2013 17:39

5 Ways to Help Kids Become Better Spellers

This article presents a series of focus areas that comprise a comprehensive approach to helping children become better spellers. Traditionally, the weekly spelling test has been the primary vehicle for driving spelling instruction. The main problem with weekly spelling tests involves the issue of transfer. This simply means that students can study hard and earn high scores on the tests, yet continue to spell these words incorrectly in their daily writing, when it matters most. Instead of emphasizing scores on weekly spelling tests, teachers and parents are better served by addressing the following aspects of spelling instruction with children.

1) Encourage kids to immerse themselves in the language. By far, the number one way to help children become better spellers is to have them participate in a wide variety of authentic reading and writing projects. Research has shown that children who read at least 30 minutes per night encounter more than one million words over the course of a school year. Seeing these words spelled correctly in books provides strong modeling that increases kids’ spelling proficiency.

2) Build a foundation with high frequency words. Many schools have students learn the “High Frequency 100” or “High Frequency 500.” These lists feature the words that are used most commonly in books. I have heard that as many as sixty or seventy percent of the words we use in our daily writing can be found on these lists, and because of this fact, students need to invest time learning them. Ask around at your child’s school if you are interested in obtaining a copy of the high frequency words.

3) Invest time helping children learn common spelling rules and patterns. If you notice that children struggle in their attempts to spell words that include the “i before e except after c” rule or the “ight” or “ough” patterns, spend some time going over examples of these rules and patterns in action. Because learning a single rule can help kids spell as many as 10-15 new words correctly, mastering these features of the language delivers plenty of bang for our buck.

4) Hold kids accountable for spelling “accessible” words correctly. In my classroom when a word is written on the board or on a worksheet students are using, they are responsible for spelling that word correctly. This type of accountability encourages kids to pay extra attention to their spelling. I don’t, however, hold kids accountable for every word all the time because it can disrupt the flow of their writing, create a block, and cause them to play it safe with easy words rather than attempt to use new, more colorful words. There is a time and a place for thorough editing, and that leads to our fifth area.

5) Ask kids to edit selected projects for spelling at the end of the writing process. The beginning of a writing project (the drafting stage) is all about creativity, fluency, and free expression. Concerns about spelling can get in the way of these priorities. Once the drafting and revising stages are over, editing for spelling using a dictionary is important. I don’t want to burn my students out on using the dictionary, so I have them use one only at the conclusion of our major Writing Workshop projects. At home, parents can edit for spelling with their kids at the conclusion of nightly journal writing time or other writing projects that are part of the regular homework.

Published in For Parents
Friday, 04 January 2013 17:39

6 Ways to Help Kids Become Quality Readers

 bookAt the beginning of each school year, I have my students create a series of individual reading goals. We also set the overall class goal of becoming “Quality Readers.” This general goal focuses more on specific habits and dispositions than it does on achieving a certain skill level. As a result, everyone can reach this goal with sustained effort. When children consistently satisfy the following six criteria, we can say that they are truly quality readers.

In my class we have a chart containing these criteria. After reviewing this list over a period of days, we have a special signing ceremony in which the kids add their names, one at a time, to the bottom of the chart as a symbol of their commitment to reach this goal. I highly recommend reviewing this list in class with your students or at home with your children and then asking them to sign. Taking these steps will positively impact their approach to reading.  

1) Quality readers read every day. Research has shown that children who read at least 30 minutes a night will encounter more than one million words over the course of a school year. Reading every day, including weekends, will improve kids’ fluency and comprehension, lengthen their attention span, improve their spelling and writing skills, and increase their enthusiasm for reading. There is no short-cut to reading success. We all need to put in our time each and every day.

2) Quality readers think and talk about their books with other people. As frequently as possible, encourage children to discuss their books with family members and friends. Many kids even like to start Book Clubs to combine their love of reading with the joy of spending time with others. Discussing plot, character, and other aspects of their books deepens children’s comprehension and fosters their development as writers.

3) Quality readers take care of their books. Quality readers show respect for their books. They don’t throw, scratch, or mark up their books. Of particular importance is how they close their books. Many children fold back the front of the book to remember their current page, but this can damage the spine. Kids should use bookmarks or record their pages in a reading notebook to mark their page at the end of a reading session.

4) Quality readers read as much as they can. A great way to achieve this objective is to be sure that we always keep a book with us, such as in our backpack or car, because we never know when we will have a few extra minutes to read. This is especially true for children who need to wait for siblings after a sports practice or wait after school to be picked up by a family member.

5) Quality readers protect their reading time. If we plan to sit down to read for 30 minutes, we read for 30 minutes. We turn off our phones and computers, remove ourselves from any potential distractions, and ensure that nothing gets in our way during this time. If we need to move to a quiet corner of the room, wear noise canceling headphones, or take other similar steps, then that’s what we do.  

6) Quality readers get lost in their books. My students absolutely love hearing this expression, especially at the start of our daily silent reading period when I look them all in the eye with a serious expression on my face and tell them to get lost - in their books. When children get lost in their books, their bodies may still be in the room, but their minds are someplace else. They are in such a heightened state of focus that it is almost like they are in another world. In this state they do not notice anything or anybody around them.

Published in For Parents
Sunday, 14 July 2013 08:45

The Most Important 30 Days of School

“Back to School” time is approaching in many parts of the country, and once the new school year begins, I always emphasize to fellow educators the importance of focusing on four critical priorities. Giving these four priorities the time and attention they deserve will pay big dividends for you, your students, and their families. In this article I list these four priorities.

In this Teaching Tip I provide a link to a short YouTube video I created. The video features two effective strategies that help children become “unstuck” while they are writing. The first of these strategies is a familiar one, while the second is less well-known and a bit more novel. Try these ideas in class with your students or at home with your children.
In a few months my new book Rock Your Students’ World is scheduled to be released. The book includes over 100 classroom-tested ideas, activities, and strategies that incorporate music, movement, and storytelling to improve student learning. In this Teaching Tip I provide a link to a short YouTube video I created. The video features one of the book’s engaging stories, “The Story of Area.” The unique personality of Area (pronounced ah • ree • uh) helps children understand and remember the concept of area. Try sharing this story in class with your students or at home with your children.
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