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”.
If you believe the learning styles theory, you’re showing up to class with 3 different versions of your lesson plan - one for the kinesthetic learner, another for the visual, a third for the auditory, right?
No, you’re not doing that?
But…but what the different learning styles of your students??
Clearly, no one is showing up to class with three lesson plans. (Unless you are, in which case, please comment below…I’d love to talk about what you’ve found).
In 2008 four psychologists collaborated and cohesively studied the existing literature on learning styles; they concluded that there was no strong evidence to support the learning styles theory but they didn’t completely rule it out. You can read the paper by Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, here: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/PSPI_9_3.pdf
Yet we continue to talk about learning styles in education.
Veteran Baltimore City Public Schools educator, Dr. Mariale Hardiman, now Professor of Education at Johns Hopkins University, recommends teachers think big picture learning goals and let those learning goals drive the activities and assessments, “When teachers focus solely on the individual points students often miss the larger concepts or the “big picture” essential for deep understanding and memory.”
I look at it as giving the main idea rather than just the bulleted points, as in, “Here’s what you’re going to learning in this section/unit building on previous knowledge of x,y, and z.” I also like to outline the takeaways, as in, here’s what you’re really learning to do. If you’re more of a sports analogy person, think big play, instead of move by move.
But, what about my kinesthetic and auditory and visual learners, teachers will say at this point.
Vicky Krug, a college professor at Westmoreland County Community College, featured in Grey Matters, says, “I take a multi sensorial approach to what I teach and I design the learning experience using multiple senses. I know that getting students up and about in class helps their engagement and focus so I incorporate that. Some material naturally lends itself to movement and with other stuff, I find a way to work it in. I add visuals, I have students repeat things out loud”
Want to try a multi sensorial approach in your classroom? Try backwards planning. What are the key things your students need to master at the end of the unit? Then, think about the best ways to make that happen from both an activities and assessment perspective.
Invest in planning
When Jeremy Mettler planned a unit on the importance of the Suez Canal he started with an in class unit to give him an idea of the collective knowledge base of his students, incorporated flash cards with vocabulary cartoons to help students quickly grasp the basics, and then designed an experience that brought home the differences of travel pre-canal and post-canal. “The biggest thing fear for teachers is the lack of content time but when I invest in planning and using some kind of visual organizer to highlight the key concepts of the unit, it strengthens my teaching practice in class. I teach, instead of just covering content”.
Mix it up
Krug teaches college level developmental reading and writing; she often chooses different instruction materials to help her students grasp concepts simply because they’re more interesting. It’s not uncommon to hear Dr. Seuss or debates on the 14th Amendment in her classes. “I’m a big believer in fun and I give students multiple ways to experience the material so that they have multiple ways to retrieve the material”.
Incorporate Real Life
Justin Holbrook, a 4th grade STEM teacher at Roland Park Elementary, tries to show the real life applications of things, “When students see what I’m teaching them is applicable in the real world, they pay more attention. Place value translated nicely into pay cheques; calculating area was a great way to weigh in on some of the proposed changes to various spaces to our school”.
You can see Mettler, Krug, and Holbrook in the education documentary Grey Matters: Teaching The Way The Brain Learns.
Interested in purchasing for Professional Development? Click here and join teachers and school districts across the US who are using Grey Matters to engage their students and strengthen their teaching practice.
.Does time of day matter when it comes to planning instruction time?
Is it better to have Math in the morning and Language Arts in the afternoon?
Some research says it does, like this study: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/REST_a_00525 and this one from David Sousa, a renowned educator, advocate for neuroeducation, and author: https://howthebrainlearns.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/impact-of-circadian-rhythms-on-schools-and-classrooms/.
But there are others that suggest otherwise and students will advocate strongly for no early morning classes.
So what’s the deal anyway?
Circadian rhythms, our body’s 24-hour clock, drives the cycles of alertness and drowsiness. Most adults will experience the biggest energy dip in the middle of the night between 2:00-4:00 a.m and after lunch. Theoretically early elementary and middle school aged kids will have a similar pattern. Teens however are quite different, for a number of reasons from technology to anxiety. These two resources are worth a read:
If you have autonomy over planning your schedule, and you’re working with elementary to tween students, you may want to to organize your time blocks with subjects that require higher focus in the morning. That might look like math first thing in the morning, or math directly following recess.
If you don’t, and that’s the majority of teachers I know, or you're working with teens and college students, an alternative would be to schedule a two minute exercise activity to get your kids moving. John Medina, molecular biologist and author of Brain Rules, reminds us in brain rule #1: Exercise increases blood and oxygen flow in the body which makes our brain perform better. Check out more on this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ck-tQt0S0Os (cue in at 0:51).
Pediatric psychologist Dr. Lynne Kenney recommends 5 minutes of cognitive motor activity every 45 minutes.
Sample classroom workout:
Here’s an easy 2 minute exercise routine for you to try in your classroom: https://darebee.com/workouts/2minute-workout.html
Each exercise is 20 seconds long, with no rest in-between:
Side to Side lunges or regular lunges
Mountain Climbers, if space allows, or end with Jumping Jacks
You can laminate copies for your students to grab as they enter class.
I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.
Ideally, classrooms are busy, active, and stimulating places. There might be out loud reading, collaboration and brainstorming, a teacher guiding conversation and dialogue, and a number of other activities that keep the volume level high.
And on any given day, there might be a student who needs to take a moment to disconnect and regroup. The student who needs a moment is usually easy to spot - sometimes disruptive to their group or completely disengaged from the surrounding activity; body language is also a good indicator.
We’ve all had those moments and we’ve all had those students in our classrooms.
Consider having a space, in class, for students, (or teachers) to take a moment.
And no, this isn’t a new take on standing in the corner; it’s a space where a student can step back, by choice, without fear of judgement or punishment, and freely observe/acknowledge how they are feeling, use a calming down tool from the “I need a moment space” and decide after two minutes, if they need further discussion with a teacher or they can handle it on their own.
You can ask for students’ input on what they would like to have in the space or you can start it on your own.
Here are some suggestions for your “I need a moment” space:
- Make the space inviting and warm, a little piece of “home” in class. A small rug, pillows, maybe a meditation or a bean bag chair.
- Provide a journal for students to share how they are feeling or use this feeling chart (or something similar). Consider modifying to add a column where the student can check off if they’d like to talk with their teacher or another professional.
- Colouring books (and pencils) are a great, physical way to help a child temporarily disconnect and take control of their emotions.
- Stock your space with healthy snacks. Consider nut-free energy bars, trail mix, crackers, bottles of water. Jeremy Mettler, one of the teachers featured in the film, always has snacks on hand because, “If a kid is hungry, they’re not paying attention to my class.”
- Remind your students most emotions pass in 90 seconds.
- Most of all, model the behavior so students know that it’s really ok to utilize the space when needed.
Photo credit: http://at-riskyouth.org/wp-content/uploads/23148-90seconds.png
This year, the National Retail Federation estimates a total spend of $4.9 billion dollars (USD) on school supplies such as notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunch boxes, with an average of $114 per K-12 child.
$114 may not seem that bad. After all, that’s only $11 per month of school.
But, inevitably, there’s the ask from teachers for school supplies to be donated - the extra pencils, crayons, and the inevitable truck load of glue sticks (no, they’re not eating it).
Numerous conversations with parents reveal a resentment, tinged with shades of guilt, for the resentment. The conversation always goes back to school taxes, as in, “I pay my school taxes. I don’t understand why I need to donate school supplies. I’ve expenses just like everyone else and I’m not asking for anyone to help me pay them.”
Then I read the shocking news story about Teresa Danks, a Columbus, OH teacher, who decided to panhandle for the money she needed to purchase school supplies for her classroom.
Here’s the thing - you’re sending your child to school with the requisite supplies. Maybe someone else couldn’t. Maybe their child is one of the 51% of US public school students who live in poverty.
Buying extra supplies is one way to alleviate stress in the classroom, for teachers, and for students in need. If a student is stressed, they’re not learning. They’re thinking about whatever it is, that’s stressing them out. As in, “Crap. I don’t have any more paper. Gotta ask Mom to get me some. How much does paper cost anyway? She’ll probably say I was wasting it and she doesn’t have any money to buy it anyway. I wonder who I can borrow some from. Who haven’t I asked yet?”
Let’s keep our learners focused on learning. And let’s keep our teachers teaching.
So the next time you see that list come home with the extra supplies request, or you take a few tags from the giving tree at preschool/early elementary, relish the chance to be a good neighbor…think of it as your personal Santa Claus moment. You'll feel good and lower your stress.
And if your state participates in the tax free weekend for school supply shopping, take advantage. Here’s a list of the participating states and times: http://hip2save.com/2017/06/26/2017-tax-free-shopping-dates-save-on-back-to-school-shopping-select-states-only/
For more on how schools are funded, check out this piece from NPR; it is a complex and multifaceted story, subject to frequent changes.
One of the keys to helping information resonate or stick with students is to show how it applies in both theoretical and real life situations, as well as showing how it applies across disparate subject areas.
Give someone more ways to think about something, chances are, they’ll remember it.
And giving them ways to connect information, helps them see the world they live in for all of it’s nuances and “grey” areas.
Soft skills of inference and prediction are bolstered with the ability to make connections. If this, then maybe that, and that, because of x, y, and a, and b.
But how do you connect the knowledge taught in an Ancient History class with Social/Civic studies? Or Science with ELA Writing? Or ELA Reading ?
Curriculums are usually organized in silos, by subject, and offer only learning objectives for that specific subject area. Consider organizing teaching teams, by grade, and give teachers collaborative planning time.
If teachers, across a grade level, have a rudimentary understanding of what their students will be learning in other subjects, they can collaborate to find the tie-ins. This gives students multiple ways to understand concepts, appreciate relationships between subject areas, and helps teachers strengthen their teaching practice.
Studying New World Explorers? Take a moment to throw some place value math concepts in by having students figure out how long ago those events took place. And while you might already do this in class, identity it as place value to reinforce the concept. Looking at Ancient History, perhaps the early River Civilizations? Tie in Geography by identifying map features or trade routes, using geography vocabulary.
Try these tips to create an effective teaching team in your school:
1. Identify a vision or a goal for your team. If you don’t set the goal, how will you know when you’ve met it? For example, by the end of this school year, students will be able to link knowledge across different subject areas.
2. Create a graphic organizer for your class showing the concepts you’re going to cover for your class and share this with your team.
3. Create a vocabulary list on either a biweekly or monthly basis and give one or two examples of relevance to other classes. Do the same thing for key concepts - think outside your subject and your students will too.
4. Communicate with your students about the team. It will help to prime them for thinking across the subjects. Students are just as attached to keeping math in Math class or english in English class.
5. Check in with your team. Tangents from the curriculum happen. A student’s pace will often differ from the suggested instruction pace of the curriculum. Let your team know where you are in the learning process.
For more on cross-curricular teaching check out:
Here are what some schools have tried:
And here’s a teacher’s perspective:
And the R word…alongside the Y word.
Sir Ken Robinson is a brilliant communicator and educator. It’s almost impossible to not love his TED talks and this particular quote, ““Creativity is now as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
But what is creativity?
Beyond thinking differently?
Ulrich Kraft, a researcher and writer, frames it this way in his 2005 paper Unleashing Creativity (also featured in F.Bloom (Ed)., Best of the brain from Scientific American: Mind, matter, and tomorrow’s brain), “Fresh solutions result from dissassembling and reassembling the building blocks in an infinite number of ways. That means the problem solver must thoroughly understand the blocks.”
Dr. Mariale Hardiman, author of “The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools”, reframes for the classroom like this, “In order to think creatively about something you have to have mastered some knowledge about it.”
It’s the old adage of knowing the rules before you can break the rules.
Which is going to involve the F word.
When something doesn’t go quite as planned.
In the film, Jeremy Mettler talks about the push to encourage creativity in his classroom, “If you’re trying something new you’re probably going to fail because you’re just not going to get it on the first try. If you do, then it was too easy or it was a problem that was solved before.”
So the question isn’t so much teaching our kids to be creative, as it is teaching our kids to start over, in the face of failing.
Which brings up the R word.
Resilience is swiftly falling into the overused category in education. It’s up there with grit. But it demands examination. Why does one student, when faced with failure, tackle it with curiosity and inquisitiveness as in, “Hmm…I wonder why that happened,” versus another, who wilts, taking the failure as a personal defeat, personalizing and owning it, as in, “I am a failure.”
Jessica Lahey has written an entire book on failure so I won’t get into it too much, other than to recommend The Gift of Failure and this article she wrote for The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/08/when-success-leads-to-failure/400925/
The gist of it is that parents need to give their children a chance to work through obstacles. Mettler does the same thing in his classroom, “When kids ask me for help, chances are very good I’m not going to get there right away. It’s a class of 25 students. But I also want them to try it on their own first. It gives them a chance to test their abilities and a lot of times, they figure it out. Too often, students assume something is hard, and they haven’t even read the question.”
Angela Watson, from Cornerstone for Teachers, wrote a great post for when students say, “I don’t know.”
So what’s the Y word?
It’s three letters.
And it can make a world of difference to learners.
As in "You don’t know yet. But you'll figure it out."
So what will you do differently on your next try?
I’ve a love hate relationship with questions in class. As a student I was convinced I had the dumbest questions and there was no way I was going to ask them, because, in my head, I just knew everyone was going to fall out of their chairs laughing at me. A few decades later, as a parent and educator, I still have a love hate relationship with questions, only this time, it’s because I’m afraid of not knowing the answer, and also thinking, “What? You mean I don’t know everything?”
Imagine my astonishment when I was filming Jeremy Mettler in class, and he’d responded to a student’s question, with a very calm, “That’s a good question, I hadn’t thought of that,” during a discussion on the government shutdown from a few years ago. Or one of the students in Mr. Holbrook’s class who said “I don’t know” because he knew it was ok to own not knowing.
If educators are going to build creative thinkers then they have to be prepared for questions and they also have to be prepared to not know the answers to the questions.
That’s a lot to wrap your head around, especially when you’re used to being in charge and knowing the answers.
There’s also a very good chance you’re going to tangent from the original learning objective outlined in your lesson plan.
Which is awesome and terrifying at the same time.
Here are some ways to encourage questions in your classroom, and stay on track:
Who’re taking risks.
Who may fail.
And ultimately learn.