Looking for ways to build your school community and engage students? Some schools are experimenting with announcements over their PA system, to kick off their day and move students between classes. From inspirational sayings to general reminders, schools want students to feel like we are all in this together, and approaching things from the same side. Check out this great list from Connections Academy:
Arts integration continues to receive big accolades when it comes to garnering student engagement in the classroom. Yet, it sounds intimidating to most teachers, especially when you don't consider yourself "artistic" or "creative".
At the end of the day, integrating arts into a lesson can be as simple or as complicated as you'd like. Simple might be using a graphic organizer or a famous painting to teach history, or something more involved as teaching a concept and having students demonstrate their understanding using poetry, or a skit.
This South Carolina school has taken it a step further (click the link to read the full story). “I chose to have a creative writer come to my class to help introduce the writing concept of poetry,” she says. “I was pretty sure this was not going to be a well-received project with my students.”
Arts integration isn't just "another thing for teachers to do". Research shows huge gains in both retention and recall of material, which bodes well for mastery of a topic. Check out this recent interview with Dr. Mariale Hardiman of Johns Hopkins School of Education.
Have you tried integrating arts into your lesson planning?
Join the conversation and comment below.
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To help your students successfully move information from short term memory, i.e.. what you taught today, into long term memory, i.e. retrieving it during another class, on a related subject, or for a test in a few weeks from now, try these:
Studies have shown, when art is incorporated into content, it increases retention, and retrieval. Think of it this way - you're offering your students a different way to remember the information. Maybe it's a flow chart to visualize process, or a funny comic strip (complete with stick figures) to map out complex sequences.
Still not sure where to start?
This list of graphic organizers might help. Graphic organizers help to organize content heavy instruction, into manageable, bite-sized pieces.
2. Consistent Note Taking
Taking notes is key. But what does it mean to have good notes? Start with giving your students a format for note taking, outlining the central idea at the beginning of the lesson and the goals for the section. This helps to narrow their focus and outline the expectations. Recommend a two column method - one column for making notes, and the second for the questions generated by the notes. Build in a few minutes where students can share their questions; this will help you to understand both their knowledge gaps and their perspective.
This format is from Cornell University and while it's recommended for high school and up, I think it's easily adapted to early elementary and middle school year.
3. Relevancy and Recall
The more you can connect information to real-world examples, or things that are relevant to your students, the greater the likelihood it will be remembered. Things make more sense when we have some degree of personal connection, we can discern a similarity, or connect it something we already know. That's why, when we are explaining something, we usually say, "It's kind of like...", in an attempt to connect the new, to the known.
In this clip, from the trailer of Grey Matters, at second 0:33, Zoe talks about wanting things to be more connected, to see the bigger picture.
4. Active Retrieval
Encourage students to quiz themselves. Whether it's covering up the information and trying to remember everything on a list or using flashcards where the definition is on one side and the vocabulary word on the other, or whatever the content lends itself. Additionally, work in quizzes into your instruction, as well as, review time.
Read more about active retrieval practices here.
When it comes to long term memory incorporate the visual arts into your lesson; offer students a choice of how they would like to demonstrate their knowledge in a visual format - maybe it's a graphic organizer of some kinds, a poem, or a drawing. Consistent note taking is key; ensure students know the objectives of the unit study. Following on this, illustrate the connection of what they are learning to what they already know. And finally, encourage active retrieval practices or quizzes.
Share your in-class practices in the comments.
Picture this: you’ve planned, what you think, is the perfect 6 week unit study, with an option to extend to 8 weeks, depending on how fast your students plow through the material. For the first time, you’ve tested the experiments, ahead of time,to ensure they work like they’re supposed to. You’ve also done a trial run on the crafts, for students to have a model.
Day 1 of the unit study, you’re feeling pretty good. Until you start teaching. And you realize your students love this topic so much, and they are so interested in it, that they have a lot of preexisting knowledge. And they all want to share it. Before you know it, you’ve plowed through portions of the first 3 “classes” and several tangents, that you hadn’t prepped, have arose.
First off, yay for engaged and participatory students. That's a huge win.
Now, it’s time for you to regroup.
One of the biggest challenges of teaching, (I think), is gauging the knowledge base of the students. There is always some degree of variation, and it’s rarely visible, until you start teaching.
Being able to reorganize your lesson plan, to meet your students where they are, increases your student’s engagement and positively impacts their academic outcomes.
Recently I overheard a student complain, "I hate Math!" followed by a large, dramatic sigh and an eye roll.
Remind you of anyone in your class?
Deciding to accept the discussion invitation, I responded, "Hmm, Math is a really large subject. Can you possibly narrow down what portion you find distasteful?"
"Fractions. I hate fractions...I just don't get it," she replied.
"Do you remember long division?" I pressed.
"I love long division. It's so easy," she responded.
"You love long division now...you didn't love it so much, when we first started doing it," I gently reminded the not-loving-fractions 5th grader.
"I didn't? Are you sure? I'm pretty sure I loved it as soon as I started doing it," she replied in a puzzled tone. "I'm really good at division," she continued.
"You're right, you are really good at division. And soon, you'll be great at fractions." I high-fived her as she headed to her seat.
Students often forget how they felt at the beginning of learning a new concept or subject area; focusing only on how they're doing in that moment. A portfolio illustrates early mistakes, the progress made, ultimately showing their overall grasp of the concepts, and in some cases, the time it took to fully grasp the concept.
For more on portfolios, check out: http://www.greymattersdocumentary.com/blog/grades-versus-growth
Recent podcasts on Teacher Isolation from BAM Radio and another from NPR’s OnPoint about Teacher Retention has me wondering if we’re asking the wrong questions, potentially missing the point all together.
Maybe it’s not about how teachers are feeling or why they’re leaving the profession, maybe it has to do with teacher efficacy and feeling like “Does what I do really matter?
Teacher efficacy, simply put, is what a teacher thinks of his or her abilities to bring about positive outcomes of student engagement and learning. That point when you feel like they are never going to get it, is the entry point to the rabbit hole of “Why bother”.
According to a 2015 teacher efficacy study, teacher efficacy is a key factor behind successful teaching and we need to consciously and deliberately build teacher efficacy, because it is constantly changing.
One of the big things that can influence teacher efficacy is understanding how the brain learns, in particular the role emotions play and the concept of plasticity.
Emotions and Learning
Mariale Hardiman, former teacher and principal, now interim dean at the Johns Hopkins School of Education and author of The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools, says, “Reducing stress and establishing a positive emotional classroom climate is an essential part of teaching.”
A key part of creating an emotionally safe learning environment is taking the time to connect with students.
Casey, a junior, featured in the documentary Grey Matters: Teaching The Way The Brain Learns says, “When I know a teacher knows me and cares about me, I care more about that class. If a student is stressed, they are not focused on learning.
Teachers often ask, especially in large classrooms, how to connect with each and every student. Maybe it’s inquiring about a sport, or acknowledging a loss by asking how they’re doing today/right now, or just a genuine hello. Do it in a way that feels authentic to you, even if students don’t always respond.
Jeremy Mettler, a teacher at Batavia High School (featured in www.greymattersdocumentary.com) tends to always have snacks, water, pens, pencils, paper, etc., “I want to remove any barriers the kids have to learning. If a kid’s worried about paper or pencils or whatever, they’re not paying attention to what I’m saying. So I just keep that stuff on hand, no questions asked.”
And when it’s you that stressed? If a teacher is stressed, they are not focused on connecting with students.
Understand the source of your stress. Is it student progress? Content time? Intervention challenges? Behavior issues? All of the above?
First off, you’re not alone. Every teacher feels some degree of stress on a daily basis. There are so many factors that impact on your students’ learning, that are beyond your control. And there are so many factors that impact on your teaching, also beyond your control.
Vicky Davis, over at Cool Cat Teacher, did a great 10 minute podcast on managing teacher stress.
For the teachers featured in the film, knowing how the brain learns, helped them to fine tune their teaching practice, which in turn lowered their stress.
Vicky Krug, an adjunct professor at Westmoreland County Community College, constantly reminds her students that they can change their brains, “I even give them foam brains at the beginning of every year to help them remember. The rainbow coloured brains are always a hit”
Krug would know. She survived an accident that left her with a traumatic brain injury and compromised brain function. When Krug says, “You can train your brain,” she’s speaking from experience.
Neuroscientist turned teacher, Judy Willis, explains plasticity as the selective organizing of connections between neurons in our brains. Simply put, what fires together, wires together, or practice makes perfect.
What does this look like in the classroom? Repeated exposure, in different ways, helps with retention and recall of concepts. Connecting it to what students already know and highlighting the relevancy, aids with mastery and moves students along the path of critical and creative thinking. Referencing concepts across the subject silos aids with relevancy and big picture thinking.
Understanding how the brain learns helps teachers fine tune their teaching practice, engage your students, and positively influence academic outcomes, ultimately fostering both collective and self teacher efficacy. It’s a win for teachers and students.
Next up: How the physical characteristics and features of your learning space influences learning
One of the biggest fears of teachers is not enough time to teach material, which is why they’ll often just cover the material.
What is the difference between teaching and covering materials? A lot of times it boils down to leaving room for the inevitable questions and tangents that will arise, after the material is presented.
Covering presents concepts, facts, and information; the main objective is retention for purposes of recall and testing. Teaching allows for processing the material, asking questions, and connecting it to known concepts; the objective is creative thinking where the information is used in new and different ways.
Both are key to student engagement and learning.
Excerpting from “The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools” by Mariale Hardiman, and quoting Ulrich Kraft, a physician and science writer, “Fresh solutions result from disassembling and reassembling the building blocks in an infinite number of ways. That means the problem solver must have thoroughly understand the blocks.”
Simply put, you’ve to have some knowledge before you can think creatively about something!
Here are 5 tips to move beyond covering material in your classroom, without killing your instruction time:
1. Give students a heads up
Let them know what the next unit study is going to be, and ask them to come in to class with 1 or 2 things they know about the subject, and 1 or 2 things they want to know about the subject. Do the same thing for yourself.
What are the big takeaways your students need? How does it fit in with previously units? Include review opportunities to illustrate the connected nature of knowledge and refresh concepts. Does it tie in to other classes? How does it relate to things, outside the classroom environment?
3. Have a running vocabulary sheet for the unit.
As you design your lesson plan, share words or concepts that were unfamiliar to you. It’s a great way to connect with your students and illustrate that everyone is learning, all the time, even teachers. Encourage students to go up and add to the sheet during class time; model this behavior as well.
4. Play detective.
Encourage students to write down their “I wonder” questions. It’s a great way for you to see how they are relating to the information, and explore potential extensions. Remember to model; not everyone feels comfortable sharing their inner musings.
5. Make it fun.
While you’re not there to entertain your students, fun engages learners and makes things memorable. The more pleasure or joy we feel doing something, the more we want to do it. Let’s find fun and interesting ways to present information. Find tie-ins where possible. Relate it to the known.
And remember, if they’re not getting it…it’s most likely the way in which the information is being communicated.
Read this for a 3 minute overview on how to enhance your teaching practice to engage your students and help them connect the knowledge: https://www.teachthought.com/learning/6-targets-teach-way-brain-learns/
Grades versus Growth
When I was a parent for the first time I noted every single thing the tiny human did…and drove my pediatrician nuts because the moment something seemed out of the ordinary, she would receive a phone call. And then she gave me a piece of advice that continues to resonate almost a decade later and extend to most aspects of of daily life. That sage bit of wisdom was to, “Observe over a three-day period rather than every single moment”. For example, in the case of the tiny humans and eating, her advice was, “Over the course of three days, they should have some protein, some vegetables, some fruit, some starches…” and, well, you get the idea.
I’ve extended this advice of looking over a period of time, rather than a single point in time, to teaching and assessment.
Brain Target 6: Evaluating Learning
Assessment is tough and a letter grade doesn’t always provide the full picture of a student’s knowledge. Vicky Krug, Assistant Professor at Westmoreland County Community College, featured in the documentary Grey Matters: Teaching The Way The Brain Learns aptly describes letter grades from tests as measuring “a single point in time” of the learning journey. Krug continues, “The tests are good tests, but it’s one instance”.
Jeremy Mettler, featured in the documentary Grey Matters: Teaching The Way The Brain Learns, makes the case for measuring growth as part of evaluating learning (Brain Target 6 of the Brain Targeted Teaching Model), “Growth can be many different things from speaking up in class to working through math problems and for Mettler, “It’s probably one of my favourite things to measure because it gives me a more holistic picture of a student’s progress.”
Portfolios can help.
Portfolios are a great way to capture progress over time, painting a more accurate picture of a student’s knowledge base. If you're interested in building a more complete picture of your students’ knowledge base consider these tips to get started using a portfolio:
1. Outline the goal of the portfolio.Are you using it to track short term student progress, such as a unit study, or more long-term progress?
2. Who’s the audience?
Is it for you, the teacher, to have a tangible representation of your students’ progress? Is this for parents to obtain a more detailed picture of their student’s work load? Will it go to a fellow teacher? Is this a student project? Outlining the audience will aid in how the student’s work is curated.
3. Will you grade it?
If you are grading it, who’s selecting the work to be included? Have you shown students the grading rubric? Is the rubric standardized?
For more reading on Portfolios, check out:
Purchase the film
If you would like to order Grey Matters: Teaching The Way The Brain Learns for professional development, please click here.
More about the model
For more information on the Brain Targeted Teaching Model, check out www.braintargetedteaching.org.
Get social with us
Yesterday morning I was chatting with the check out person at our local grocery store and asked after her daughter, who I knew was starting kindergarten. The mom said that she loved it so much, she would come home, eat dinner and ask if she could go back to school after dinner.
Then the mom said with a laugh, “That won’t last long. She’ll hate it. I hated school.”
“Not necessarily,” I said, “Great teachers help.”
That 90 second social interaction stuck with me for the rest of the day and got me thinking, “How much of how children feel about school is dictated by their parents’ attitude? After all, children model (unconsciously or consciously) their parents/parental figures attitudes and beliefs.
Why would you, as a parent, have the expectation that school is something that all kids will eventually hate?
Research studies indicate parents and parental involvement in school are the biggest contributors to students’ academic success. More than what school, how we teach, and what we teach. Parental involvement matters. Annie Murphy Paul, author of Brilliant: The Science of Smart writes more about this here: http://ideas.time.com/2012/10/24/the-single-largest-advantage-parents-can-give-their-kids/
And this isn’t just about showing up to the Parent-Teacher conference or jumping on the PTO; rather it’s about getting involved in your child’s learning journey - knowing what they are excited to learn and why, understanding the things that they are struggling with and directing them to extra resources. Helping them connect what they know to what they already know. And above all, continuing to talk to them about the process of learning.
Learning isn’t something that stops. It’s a continuous process, filled with moments of frustration, “I don’t get it”, “Oh this is kinda like”, and that beautiful moment of “I totally get this”.