#IMMOOC #IMMOOCB1: A culture of yes!

So we say we want innovation in our schools, in our classrooms.  Many of us feel that this is the best way to get our students past the point of engagement, and moving to the level of empowerment.  But there is one little word that can kill that process – no.

In the past couple of years, we have had many opportunities to interview potential teachers.  Every time we bring an interview team together, we all agree that we are looking for people who are “go-getters” – people who will do whatever it takes to make the learning experiences for their students new and exciting.  They have helped to bring exciting new learning opportunities into our school.  At the same time, many of the teachers in our building continue to learn and evolve – trying new formats of teaching, new activities, new technologies.  This innovation continues to spread, and is so exciting to watch!

If you know much about improvisational comedy, you know that during a scene the key is to not say no.  The mindset has to be to have an attitude of “yes, and…”  This is what we’re seeking for innovation.  When there are new and exciting ideas that will make learning better for students, I strive to say “yes, and…”

My hope is that this culture of yes will allow us all to continue to learn and grow.  Ultimately, our growth will allow us to make learning more innovative for every student!  Isn’t that the goal?

#IMMOOC Week 2 – How did this work for our students?

As I was reading Part 1 of The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros this past week, one of the “Critical Questions for Educators” really struck a chord for me: “How did this work for our students?”  In the book Couros shares that he used to survey his students at the end of the year, and I often gave my students a similar survey at the end of every school year.  I would ask what their favorite lessons were, and what were the things that they didn’t enjoy as much.  I would analyze the results, and use it to improve my practice for the next school year.

In retrospect, I feel I may have been missing an important piece.  I valued my student’s opinions, and would use their responses to improve, but how did my survey help them?  It didn’t.

Think about it like this: When was the last time that you were out to eat with your family or friends and had poor service?  Or what about a time where you server was so awesome you just wanted to show love in more ways than just a good tip? How did you handle either of those situations?  Did you ask to speak to the manager?  Did you call the restaurant after you left?  Maybe they had comment cards, or a website where you could leave feedback.

Have you ever thought of your students as being kind of like the customers of your classroom?  How often do your students get a chance to leave you feedback about your lessons?  They are in your classroom on a daily basis.  Shouldn’t we all know what our students like or don’t like about our class?

In The Innovator’s Mindset we’re reminded that innovation isn’t just doing things that are new, but doing things that are new AND better.  These days through the use of Google/Microsoft Forms, SurveyMonkey, and other simple survey tools, we can always be seeking the feedback of our students.  Wouldn’t it be a learning experience to take a moment to reflect on your student’s opinion about that lesson you were so excited about?

Create a simple survey.  Make a QR code that students can scan that will take them to the survey.  Encourage students to provide anonymous feedback of what’s happening in your classroom, and take that feedback to grow as a teacher.  What a way to build student empowerment in your classroom – when they see you responding to your feedback in a way that model’s growth, they will see the value in a growth mindset of their own.

Have you ever surveyed your students before?  What kind of questions have you included?  Share your thought in the comments below!

#BookSnaps

This is a BookSnap I created while reading the second chapter of the book Launch by John Spencer and AJ Juliani
This is a BookSnap I created while reading the second chapter of the book Launch by John Spencer and AJ Juliani

If you are on Twitter and follow any of the same people that I do, you have probably noticed people posting pictures of text, sometimes with highlighting, adding emojis, bitmojis, or text, and then posting it on Twitter with their own comments.  Normally if you look at the comments, you will see the hashtag #BookSnaps linked to it.  Even if you aren’t on Twitter, you can see what people are posting by clicking this link: Twitter #BookSnaps

If you go to Twitter and check this out, you will probably notice that most of the posts here are educators who are sharing their personalized professional reading with their Twitter followers.  If you look closely though, some of what you will find is teachers sharing BookSnaps that students created in their classroom.  It got me started thinking about how some of you might be able to use them in your classroom.  Check out this student created BookSnap that the teacher then added some additional comments to:

This BookSnap was created by a student on SeeSaw and then shared by a teacher.
This BookSnap was created by a student on SeeSaw and then shared by a teacher.

Most of the ones that you see are using SnapChat in order to create and share.  For those of you that know what technology your students are using, SnapChat is a pretty popular app.  But here’s the thing, there are ways that BookSnaps could be created using other apps that don’t involve the social network aspect of SnapChat.  Any app that allows you to pull in your own pictures and add text, drawings, and emojis could be used in the same way.  The student created example to the left was created using SeeSaw.  Some other examples that come to mind are Skitch, Google Drawings, various PDF annotating apps, and even Instagram.

Think of the potential engagement for your students if you asked them to create their own BookSnaps.  Could you imagine what they would say if you told them to open SnapChat or Instagram in class?  In ELA classes, you could have students create a BookSnap when they run into a Notice and Note signpost.  You could have them create one to identify the climax in the book they’re reading, or create one based on their own writing, identifying specific plot points.

And don’t say “I’m not an ELA teacher, this doesn’t apply.”  I could see real potential for BookSnaps in nonfiction reading as well – identifying the main idea in a science article.  Sharing things that surprised them as they are reading about some historical figure.  Responding to the 3 Big Questions from Reading Nonfiction by Beers and Probst.

I could even see integration into math class – MathSnaps could be a thing (acutally I just checked, and it is a real thing on Twitter)!  You could have a kid snap a picture of the answer to a problem and then add text describing how they came to that answer.  Or there could be ArtSnapsMusicSnaps, or GymSnaps.  The limitations are only bound by the creativity of how to integrate this technology.

As for how to share, again, the options are probably endless.  If you’re already using SeeSaw, that’s an easy option.  Other ideas I’ve seen include Google Slide Decks, a class shared PowerPoint (these options allow everyone can see what BookSnaps other kids have created based on the same reading assignment), or even something as basic as emailing it to you (although a way to share with classmates would make the audience so much more authentic and meaningful).  Once kids have shared them with you, find a way to share beyond the walls of your classroom.  If you’re on Twitter, tweet it out with the #BookSnaps hashtag – others will see it.  You could also put it out on Instagram or Facebook – both have people actively using this hashtag.  If you don’t have social media, you could have students print them out and put on their locker, or create a BookSnaps bulletin board.

If you are still at a loss for how you even create a BookSnap, there are some great resources from Tara Martin.  You can find her on Twitter at @TaraMartinEDU or @BookSnapsREAL.

On Martin’s blog, she’s also created some how to videos that could be useful to see how she puts a BookSnap together.  Check it out here: http://www.tarammartin.com/resources/booksnaps-how-to-videos/

I know I’ve got some creative people in my audience.  If you have an idea for how BookSnaps could be used in the classroom, please share in the comments below.  My ideas above are simply ones that have come to me in the past couple of days.  You might have something that I haven’t thought of – or possibly never would.  Let us know!

If you begin using BookSnaps in the classroom, please share them!  Use the #RSIHawks or #RSIReads hashtag in your post!

#IMMOOC Week 1: The Power of Ice Cream

This week is the beginning of The Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course.  For the next five weeks, I look forward to the opportunity to reread a great book and interact with educators during the weekly YouTube Live sessions as well as the Twitter chats!  I love this format of PD, and look forward to creating new connections and growing my Personal Learning Network!  If this sounds like something you would be interested in, you can still sign up here: IMMOOC

curiousAs I was reading the introduction to The Innovator’s Mindset this week, there was one line that really stood out to me: “if students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.”  Given the meaningfulness of that line, I was so glad that became a major topic during the YouTube Live event on Monday evening.  During this session, AJ Juliani talked about a self-audit based on 4 questions, and I felt that these questions could really help us think about what we do in the classroom that might encourage students to “play” school and take away some of their self-agency and curiosity.

  • What do I allow for in my classroom/school?
  • What do I make time for in my classroom/school?
  • What do I support in my classroom/school?
  • What do I praise, assess, look for in my classroom/school?

What intrigued me the most about these questions is that students who play school well get there not because of their own desires.  Instead they get there due to the things that the adults in their lives (both educators and family members) value.  Watch kids of any age, and you will see curiosity – whether it’s on the playground, with their friends, or while playing a video game, our students our naturally curious.  But for many, when we put them into a classroom and ask them what makes them curious, the response is “I don’t know.”  If this is happening in your class, then your students are probably well trained to play school.

If we want our students to create, we have to model creativity (or at least a willingness to try).  If we want our students to be problem finders and solvers, that spark has to be modeled through our actions.  All of us have our interests and desires.  A lot of us keep those interests and desires separate from what is happening in our classrooms.  If we want to ignite the fire of curiosity in our students, we need to show them that their interests matter.

Recently in our school building, a student noticed that our cafeteria never served ice cream at lunch.  She knew from talking with friends at other intermediate schools that ours was the only one in the school district that did not ever serve ice cream as part of the school lunch.  Instead of just complaining about it, or even accepting that’s just the way it is, she went into action.  She did research.  She got friends and classmates involved.  She met with our school’s cafeteria manager to understand why we didn’t serve ice cream.  She met with our district facilities manager to learn about options to make ice cream a possibility at our school.  She got the student council on board to do a fundraiser.  All of this started last year with the question of why.

The Creamsicle may not be the fanciest of all ice cream treats, but it was a huge step forward in a school that had not served ice cream at lunch ever before! The Creamsicle may not be the fanciest of all ice cream treats, but it was a huge step forward in a school that had not served ice cream at lunch ever before!

Last Friday at lunch, our school served ice cream for the first time.

I would argue that the learning that happened for this student, and her classmates who were part of this work, was some of the most meaningful learning in the past year.  All of this happened because the adults around this student saw the curiosity and the drive that this student had – for ice cream – and they let her run with it.

What are the ice cream moments that are happening in your classroom?  In your school?  How are you helping to ignite that curiosity?  What are the ice cream moments for you?  Are you modeling that curiosity with your students?  As the leaders of our classrooms and schools, we have the ability to choose a course for our students that inspires them, or we can choose a course that creates students who “play” school well.  Which course do you choose?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.  Keep the conversation about innovation in learning going here, or hit me up on Twitter @brian_behrman.

Successful adaptation

I’m not sure how many of you have read the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.  It’s a book that I have referenced in the past, and today I happened to be on his blog and came across a great post that I want to share.  Below you’ll find a link to his short post titled “Successful Adaptation.”  Click the link to check it out, and then come back here for some closing thoughts:

Successful Adaptation – by George Couros

How many of those contradictions are things that you’ve heard, or maybe even said, before?  I feel our steps with the HSE21 Best Practice Model have helped us to attack many of the contradictions, however I still see some of those contradictions within our building.

I know Couros shared his own remix of those contradictions written as questions, but I have a few more questions for us to think about:

What have you created in the past week?  Month?  Year?  Have you shared any of those things with your students?  How could our own efforts at creation model that expectation for our students?

What are some areas that you would be willing to give up the expectation of students asking for permission? (assuming they are acting responsibly)  How would this promote greater empowerment for our students?

What are the things that you have let go of this year in order to show more of a growth mindset?  What are the policies within our classroom or our building that get in the way of the growth mindset?

I want to say again, I am not asking you to change for change’s sake, rather I am asking you to think about how you might change in order to make your classroom a better learning environment for our students.  With that, I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Couros:

learner-centred

If you feel up to it, share your response to one (or more) of these questions, or one of the questions from the original quote by Couros in the comments below.

Civil discourse

It’s a fact that we cannot control what happens every moment of our student’s lives.  We can’t prevent poor choices in the hallway, unkind statements in the lunchroom, or hurtful words on the bus.  However, we can try to right the ship in our own classrooms.

As a member of our building’s diversity team, this message came through loud and clear during a presentation at our most recent Diversity Coaches Meeting.  During this meeting, we spent an hour with Janet Chandler discussing the concept of Civil Discourse.  During the most recent presidential election cycle we saw endless attacks from various candidates, and many were not living up to the decorum that we might hope for from our elected officials.  The facts are that this type of climate has been in existence for a much longer period of time than just the past couple of years.

“A supporter of Thomas Jefferson once called John Adams “a hideously hermaphroditical character.”  Former Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton called Vice President Aaron Burr “bankrupt by redemption except by the plunder of his country,” an attack so heinous that the men dueled, and Hamilton died.

Go through the nation’s history, and the noise and heat in public political discourse have always been there, rising with the cycles of economic distress, immigration and cultural upheaval.” – Ann Gerhart (The Washington Post, In Today’s Viral World, Who Keeps a Civil Tounge?, October 11, 2009).

Although uncivil discourse has been a part of our history, with today’s world of 24-hour news, social media, and technology, the noise of the less than civil statements seems to be nonstop.  So what are we to do when that spills over into our classroom?  Here are some tips that I took away from our conversation last week, as well as a link to a great resource from Teaching Tolerance (the link will be at the bottom of this post).  These tips are in no particular order, but hopefully will provide you with some ideas about how to handle discussions that may be a little difficult within your classroom.

If not us, who?

maslows-hierarchy-of-needsIt would be easy to say that these conversations on civil discourse are not our responsibility, but the fact is, there are uncivil things being said in our school building.  We simply cannot have the attitude of “it’s not my problem.”  When we become aware of issues, we have a responsibility to step in.  I can’t recall, nor can I find, where I first heard this, but the quote “we’ve got to take care of the Maslow stuff before you can ever hope to get to the Blooms stuff” comes to mind.  Our students can’t learn without their basic needs being met!

Set the example, not just the expectations!

It’s easy to talk about expectations.  We can say again and again what we expect.  But if, even once, we slip up, some of our students may follow our lead on this.  In a civil discussion we use titles: Mister, Misses, or Miss; President; Senator; Representative, etc.  If we refer to people without those terms, we diminish their role.  Just looking at my Facebook feed in the past couple of weeks, there have been a lot of people who aren’t using titles.  I’ve had people tell me that they won’t use certain titles because of a lack of respect in a person.  Isn’t that part of the issue here?  If you then read through Facebook comments on political posts, you see less than civil statements being made.  When you use a title, you add a level of civility and respect.  By modeling civility in your classroom discussions, you will help your students understand what that looks and sounds like.  Remember – kids act in a way they they see the adults in their lives behaving.  Modeling civil discourse will help lead to more civil conversations in the hallways.

Facts vs. Alternative Facts

I’ve referred to social media a couple of times, and I’m going to do so once again.  No matter your political beliefs, your party affiliation, etc., I think that any of us who have been on Facebook can agree that there are some outrageous statements being made.  The phrase fake news and alternative facts has become something of a joke.  Earlier this school year I posted a blog titled “Finding the author’s purpose” (if you want to go back to it, click here: http://wp.me/p6BRrr-6J).  In this post, I reminded you of the definition of nonfiction that Beers & Probst used in their book Reading Nonfiction:

“Nonfiction is that body of work in which the author purports to tell us about the real world, a real experience, a real person, an idea, or a belief.” (emphasis added)

In that post, I went on to encourage you to teach our students to have a questioning stance when reading nonfiction.  Every author has a purpose in what they have written – sometimes that purpose is not simply to inform.  Facts can be twisted and manipulated to support either side of the political spectrum, and social media is one of the most likely places to see this play out.  More often than not, the articles with the most extreme language seem to be coming from sites that are extremely liberal or conservative, or from sites you’ve never heard of before.

One important piece of a civil discussion is that it has to be based in fact (I could probably do a full post on the definition of the word fact…).  If you are having a civil discussion and someone shares a “fact” that is truly extreme, or is something that is not agreed on by most in the class, it’s time to talk about the idea of triangulating sources – can we find that fact from more than one source?  Do most people agree on this fact?  These conversations are so important because as Beers & Probst remind us that there is a greater purpose to teaching our kids the nonfiction signposts:

“Far more important than the ability to capture a teacher’s information and thoughts is the ability to acquire information on ones’ own, to test ideas against one another, and to decide for one’s self what notions have merit and which should be rejected or abandoned.”

If you read through the Teaching Tolerance link at the bottom, you’ll find a whole section on the three parts of an argument.  Here’s a quick breakdown:

  1. Assertion – The simple statement that is the basis or main point of the argument.
  2. Reasoning – This is the because part of an argument.
  3. Evidence – This is where you truly back your argument.  This may include statements from experts, statistics, data, or other research that supports you assertion and reasoning.

If you’re trying to have a civil conversation, encourage your students to include all three of these parts of an argument.  If you’d like more info on this, it can be found in Teaching Tolerance link below.

Respect

Probably the most important reason to work with our students on the concept of civil discourse is simply the idea of respect.  We are all entitled to our opinions, and we are all allowed to disagree with one another, but we have to make sure that these conversations are happening respectfully.  Our students need help to learn that it’s okay to agree to disagree.  Again, we can’t control what happens everywhere for our students, but we can do our best to make things right once they come in to our classrooms.

What experiences have you had in working with your students on civil discourse?  What has worked well?  What hasn’t?  Does the idea of having conversations like this in the classroom simply freak you out?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.  We can all learn from one another!

http://www.tolerance.org/publication/civil-discourse-classroom

This class just can’t handle it…

When I was in high school, I remember taking a physics class – I believe it was my sophomore year.  At my high school, physics classes were taught in the wing that had once been the area for “shop” classes.  My physics classroom was this huge open space.  One side had a large garage door that once allowed cars to come into the building for students to be able to learn how to work on them. By the time I was in high school, the “shop” classes had been shifted to the Hoosier Hills Career Center across town, and the shop classrooms had been converted for other uses.  On any given day, I would walk into this classroom, and around the outside of the class I would see various experiments in process.  There were large lab tables – at one point there were lasers on every table that were being used to make holograms.  Another time there were these air rails that were angled and allowed people to measure velocity and acceleration based on the time it took an object to travel across the rail.  In one corner, there was Newton’s Cradle built out of cable and bowling balls and hanging from the rafters high up in the room.  I could go on…largest-newtons-cradle2-500x334

As a sophomore, I would walk in and see these awesome experiments that would pique my curiosity.  I made it a point to arrive to physics class as early as possible to check out these things.  I remember wondering how you could use a laser to create a hologram, or just how the timing controllers worked on the air rails.  But then, the bell would ring, I would make my way over to my desk in the middle of the room in front of the chalk board, have a seat, and take out my textbook.  You see, as a sophomore, I was in the basic physics class.  Those experiments were not set up for our class, but were there for the AP Physics class that also met in the same classroom.  Now, I don’t want to imply that we never got to do experiments in my physics class that year, but it was nothing on the level of what the AP class was doing.

Thinking back to my experience as a sophomore in high school in my physics class, I know that some of those experiments probably were things that I did not yet have the true theoretical understanding to be able to carry out and understand, but that doesn’t take away how bummed I was to see cool things set up in my classroom and feel as though I could not participate.  The reality is though, there were probably variations on many of those experiments that would have tied to the standards that my basic physics class was expected to cover.  There were probably ways my teacher could have provided scaffolding and support to allow the students in my basic physics class to participate in those cool experiments.  Would we have gone as deep with the experiments?  No, but we would have had that hands-on experience that was sometimes lacking from my physics curriculum that year.

This memory comes to me when I occasionally hear teachers say things like “My regular class just isn’t ready for this.”  Or “this group is my resource group, so they may not be able to do that activity.”  (I’ll admit – I may have made statements like this when I was a classroom teacher).  That fear that students aren’t ready or aren’t capable can hold us back from such cool learning opportunities for our students.  If you’re worried about kids not being ready, you should know that there are some second-grade classes in this district that have been doing some of the same experiments that I have seen happening this year in some of our sixth-grade classrooms.  I’m sure there were adaptations to make the learning accessible for a second grader, but if a second grade student can successfully carry out activities that our sixth grade students are doing, isn’t it worth finding ways to adapt our activities so that all our fifth and sixth grade students can do them?

Whether we’re talking about a socrative seminar, a hands-on experience, an experiment, or a project, we need to makes sure that all our students have the opportunity to learn in exciting ways.  Think critically about how you might be able to adapt your class so that no matter what level your students are at, they have the opportunity to be challenged.  How could you scaffold and support those students that some might say just aren’t ready?  If you’re struggling to find ways to integrate some of these higher-level experiences into your classroom, find someone to collaborate with – it could be with a teammate, a teacher down the hall, a teacher in another grade level, a TDS, one of our resource teachers, or maybe it’s one of our related arts teachers.  We have lots of great people working in this building, and through working together, we can make sure that all our students are able to participate in amazing learning opportunities!

Also, just so that you aren’t too worried about my long-term well-being, I apparently liked that basic physics class enough to go on and take the AP Physics class the next year.  I was able to participate in all those cool experiments that I was so curious about as a sophomore.  I learned how to create a hologram of a die using a laser, I got to do those experiments with the air rails while learning about acceleration and velocity.  I also remember AP Physics as the most difficult class that I took that year, but at the same time it was the most interesting and rewarding because of the hands-on experiences that we had throughout the year.

The cool stuff, the fun stuff, those are the things that get students excited about learning.  Those are the things that students will talk to you about when they run into you in the future.  Those are the activities that stick with them as they get older, that they can go back to and recall what they learned while they were in your classroom.

Do you have memories similar to mine?  How did it make you feel to not be able to do some of the “cool” things that your teachers did with other classes?  Have you ever talked to your students who don’t get to do some of those things because they “just aren’t ready?”  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Self-Assessment

In the most recent post of the blog Teaching and Learning in HSE, Phil included a link to a short (under 2 minutes) video clip from Tom Guskey.  I’ll include the link below if you didn’t watch the clip yet.

guskeyThere were a couple of quotes that were intriguing to me.  At the very beginning, Guskey states “Every time an assessment is given…that is an opportunity to learn.”  However, he’s not talking only about an opportunity for the students to learn.  He’s also talking about the assessment as an opportunity for us to learn.  One of the best ways to assess the job that we are doing is on the consistent performance of our students.  Don’t just look at standardized scores like the ISTEP or NWEA, look at anything that you treat as an assessment, whether formative or summative, as something that is also assessing you.

I loved the strategy that he suggests of keeping a tally of the problems that students have missed.  He shares that “If every kid missed a question, that is not a kid learning problem.  That is a teacher problem.”

If you are using good planning methods, with backwards planning of your units of study, and you start with the end in mind, and you get to that end and the kids missed something that you feel you taught, take a moment to reflect on how you taught that skill.  The easy out is to say “the kids didn’t get it”.  The much harder reflection for any of us to make is to say “maybe I didn’t do a great job of teaching this”.  When that is the reflection we make, it allows us to use the assessment as a way to improve our own teaching.

hl-podcast-cover-large-1024x1024As I watched this clip from Guskey, the comments about self-assessment made me think of a recent episode of the Hack Learning Podcast titled How One Simple Tool Helps Uncover Your Biases (you can follow this link to go to a page where you can listen to this episode).  Hack Learning is a podcast that was created by Mark Barnes, a classroom teacher, author, and publisher of the Hack Learning Series.  While the topic in this podcast is a different form of self-assessment, I feel it is worth sharing.

As you know, we all have biases.  If you have never taken an implicit bias test, google it and give it a shot – you might be shocked by the results.  Our biases can creep into our conversations in the classroom with students.  What we have to remember though is that those biases can have an impact on the learning that happens in your classroom.

hacking-engagementIn this episode of Hack Learning, Barnes shares a portion of the book Hacking Engagement by Jim Sturtevant.  In the book Sturtevant shares a story from early in his teaching career where, as a world history teacher, he professed his position on what might be considered a controversial subject.  He felt that the majority of the class was on board with him, there were some head nods, and they agreed.  After the lesson, one student came up and said “You should be careful about promoting your views so passionately.  I don’t agree with you, and I’m not alone.”

Sturtevant’s initial reaction was that it was no big deal – this is the opinion of one student.  Who cares?  But as he reflected further, he came to the realization that by sharing his controversial beliefs, he was erecting barriers between himself and students.  As he goes on to say in the text “Why in the world would I want to alienate certain kids who may not agree with me on an issue.”

Think about your own interactions with peers, in person or on social media.  When someone expresses a bias that you don’t agree with, what do you do?  You might choose to avoid that person, you might end your friendship, or you might choose to block the person on social media (this is something that I definitely saw happening on Facebook during the most recent election cycle – I saw several friends share that they had blocked or unfriended everyone who’s beliefs opposed their own).  Our students will do the same things if we express our own biases, especially if they do not view things the same way as us.  We might even end up alienating the families of those students as well.

So, what can we do to help us identify our biases and avoid building those barriers between ourselves and our students?  What Sturtevant did was to create a Teacher Disposition Assessment (TDA).  As a world history teacher, there were several aspects of his curriculum that could be seen as controversial.  He identified those things that had the greatest potential to be controversial, and then created a statement from it.  Here is an example of one question on his TDA:

“Muslims should be restricted from entering the United States”

  1. Sturtevant strongly agrees
  2. Sturtevant somewhat agrees
  3. Sturtevant somewhat disagrees
  4. Sturtevant strongly disagrees
  5. Sturtevant’s opinions on this issue are unclear

Every statement included the same five options as a response.  He then took the statements and created a SurveyMonkey to be able to allow students to respond anonymously to the TDA.  As he says “It’s fine to be provocative; such statements will engage your audience.”  Sturtevant uses the TDA as an exit ticket at the end of the semester, but he feels that it could be used at any time of the year.

Sturtevant suggests debriefing after you receive the responses.  You can share the results with your class and ask students what it says about you and their perceptions of you.  He has even gone so far as to create an anonymous Google Form where students can give advice a feedback on times that biases pop up in the classroom.  Finally, Sturtevant asks his students to monitor their own actions moving forward.  He has found that completing the TDA has led students to think about their own actions and behaviors, and has led to some amazing in class conversations.

Talk about a strong self-assessment.  Asking your students to assess your biases based on statements and action in your class – that takes some guts.  But think about what that says to your students.  You are telling them that you are aware of the fact that you might have some biases, and based on your results, it may even lead you to make adjustments to your own statements and actions.  You are also showing them that you want to prevent the barriers that we might accidentally create when we let our biases creep into our teaching.  It’s important to remember that we all have biases, and those biases can impact teaching and learning.

I’m curious if there are any out there who have had issues with biases creating barriers.  Maybe it happened when you were a student and a teacher or professor said something that didn’t sit well with you.  Or maybe you realized later that something you had said or done had created a barrier between you and one of your own students.  If you’re willing, share your experience in the comments below.

How do we respond to student behaviors?

In last week’s post we discussed the role of trauma in student behaviors we see.  Each one of us can think of one or two students who manage to get under our skin and push our buttons.  What we have to remember is that for some of these students, they are acting out due to something that we cannot control – they have been through some type of trauma in their life.  It leads to behaviors we don’t understand, and that makes it difficult for us to respond in the appropriate way.  The goal of this post is to think carefully about how we respond to those students so that we are intervening in a way that offers support.

Imagine for a moment that you were to look up from your computer right now, and see this:

Imagine this bear walked into the room you’re in right now. What would you do?
Imagine this bear walked into the room you’re in right now. What would you do?

What would you do?  How would you react?

For our students who have been impacted by trauma, every adult that they meet is a bear like the one you see above.  That includes their teachers!  For these students, they are constantly watching for the dangerous bear.  They may not be able to interpret an innocent or neutral look, action, or touch from their teacher or others at school as being benign.  The brains of our traumatized youth lose the ability to understand the difference between safety and danger, and will falsely signal danger and hostility EVERYWHERE.  As a result, these students behave in ways that are not considered appropriate in the normal school environment.  They lack the language skills to be able to describe how they feel, so they act out in ways that we might describe as reactive, impulsive, aggressive, withdrawn, or defiant.  These challenging behaviors have become coping skills that help them survive in abusive or neglectful situations.  Remember from last week’s post, children who have dealt with trauma are living with their focus on the survival portion of the brain (fight, flight, or fright).  Since all of life is about survival for these students, they generalize the behavior to all other environments – even school where we think they should feel safe.

So when students are acting out, especially students that we believe (or possibly even know) have lived through one of the traumas addressed last week, we need to shift our perspective in how we react.  Oftentimes we see this behavior as willfully acting out or disrupting class, or consciously refusing to engage with learning.  Instead, we need to see that:

  1. These responses are based on personal experiences
  2. Students are seeking to meet their needs
  3. They have difficulty regulating emotions
  4. They lack some of the important skills to be successful in school
  5. They believe that adults cannot be trusted

troubled-childrenWe need to put into place supports and other interventions to address these issues.  Instead of seeing the behavior and asking (or even thinking) “What’s wrong with you?” we need to shift our mindset to “What happened and how can I help?”  In order to be sensitive to trauma, we must recognize the prevalence and impact of trauma in our students’ lives and create a framework that provides support, is sensitive to the unique needs of students, and is mindful of avoiding re-traumatization.  I’m sure that some of you are looking now for a list of exactly what to do in each situation.  It doesn’t exist.  Each child is different, their needs are different.  You must take the time to offer your support, your help, and let these children know that you truly care for them.  You do this through paraverbals (tone of voice, body language, volume, and cadence of speech).  Deliberately slow your speech, soften your voice, choose a kind tone, and be supportive of the student.  Students who feel supported are more likely to feel safe.

I think we can all agree that when students feel safe, they are more likely to act in ways that are safe, so how can we support that?  First, we need to ask ourselves if the student is fearful, anxious, frustrated, or tense.  Next, our responses to inappropriate behaviors need to be predictable, and our students who struggle need to have an agreed upon safe haven (maybe the resource room, maybe the counselor’s office, maybe with another teacher) where they can go to work through their complex emotions.  Finally, when that student is ready to return to class, we must find an opportunity to rebuild rapport with that student (this step is quite possibly the MOST important in helping students to feel supported).  Continue to let them know you care, and that you are here to help.  Ask them to let you know how you can help.  They may not have an answer today or tomorrow, but eventually they may have an idea that will support them.  We also have to remember – for students to behave appropriately, we must model and teach the behavior we want to see (this is not the same as telling students what we expect).

In order to help students feel connected in schools, we should work hard to build relationships – especially with the students who struggle the most.  Greet each student at the door of your classroom every day.  Be aware of your student’s likes and interests (these can be used as a distraction in times of crisis).  As I’ve said before, know your kids and love them for who they are.

While we can’t protect our students from all the evils of the world, we can be allies, mentors, and role models.  The relationships we build with our students will help them as they grow, recover, and begin to heal from their trauma.

What experiences have you had with students who have been through trauma?  Have you found strategies that seem to be successful?  Let us know what has worked for you in the comments below.

 

Incremental improvement

without-continual-growth-and-progress-such-words-as-improvement-achievement-and-success-have-no-meaning

If you were to draw a path to success, what do you think it might look like?  I recently saw this visual, and it made a lot of sense to me:3dd260bf-ecde-4bdd-b88d-ebdcd9bbc539

I think we all would agree that the path to success is not a straight line.  We’ve all had bumps in the road on our own path to where we are.  In the version of success that appears on the right, there are some ups, some downs, and some times in the totally opposite direction of where you want to go. When you understand that this is what the path to success looks like, you also understand the concept of incremental growth.  These are the small steps we take to get closer to our goals.  When we focus on incremental growth, we don’t care as much about the external factors, and instead focus on the things that we can control.  Hopefully you will see the benefit of the rest of this post if you hear questions like this in your classroom:

  • How many points is this worth?
  • Can I earn extra credit?
  • Did you grade the tests yet?

Questions like these are a sign that students care only for an extrinsic motivator – the grade.  The problem with our students having this mindset is that when students are motivated solely by a grade, they will find ways to get the work done and earn the credit, but they will completely miss the educational value of the lesson, and will not retain anything.  The best way to get them past these extrinsic motivators is to shift the mindset of your students.  Work to get them to focus less on the external motivation, and more on the internal motivators.

The first step – make sure that students understand that grades are just another data point, nothing more or less, that tells teachers and parents a little about where students are right now.  When you attach rewards or consequences to a grade, you train the students who do well to expect an external motivator, and you completely miss that kid who might be doing everything in their power just to keep their head above water, and never getting anything for it.  When you talk about report card grades, make sure students know that you are much more concerned with their day to day efforts than you are with their overall grade.

So what are some of the ways that you can give this message to your students?  Check out the points below:

Improving through effective feedback

If you want your students to value growth, you have to give them feedback that shows you recognize their growth.  Normally this can’t be shown just in the grade on a paper, but rather through the words you speak to a student.  During work time, be walking around, observing what students are doing, ask questions of them, and sharing your thoughts.  Since we all know that our students have a jagged learning profile (see the last post on “Average” students), we should also be aware that every child is at a different place, with different goals and different needs.  Our feedback should focus on what’s most important to THIS child at THIS time.

One of the other keys to effective feedback – focus on the future, not the past.  Instead of saying “You shouldn’t have done it this way; you should do it this way…” you might want to try saying “Next time, I’d like you to do it this way because…”  Our words totally change the feedback and focus on incremental growth moving forward.

Improving Results

One of the best ways for students to be able to see their improvement is to have a way to reflect on their learning process easily.  A great way to do this is through portfolios.  In this day and age, the portfolio can be totally digital, and easily viewed, shared, and managed.  Apps like SeeSaw, or a blog, can allow students to share their work and create a reflection in writing, audio, or video of what they have learned in their work.

Depending on the task, what you might ask students to include in their portfolio may vary, but some of the things that would probably be valuable to include would be:

  • A title that describes the Big Idea or concept
  • A picture or video of the process or final product from the activity
  • Answers to reflection and synthesis questions that guide each child to successfully demonstrate their understanding of the concept.

The reflection questions should vary depending on the activity and be based on your learning goals, but the idea is to get students to reflect on their learning.  If nothing else, ask them “What did you learn?”  If they can reflect and articulate that, their retention will be that much stronger.

If you feel that students are lacking in their answers to the reflection questions, there is a simple solution.  Follow up their answer with “Tell me more.”  This simple statement gets students to think a bit deeper, and if you model this enough, your students will eventually begin answering your questions in a more complete way without you having to ask.

Critical Peer Feedback

If you are the only person in the classroom who is able to provide feedback, some things might get missed.  We all know there’s only so much time in the day!  The key is to get students to understand that when they are looking at each others work, they are not being judgmental, rather they are looking for specific things that could be improved.  In order to help students understand how to do this, here are some steps you could introduce to them:

  1. Tell your peer that you have an idea of where they might improve. This way they know that you are just trying to help them make their work better.
  2. Start or end with a specific compliment! Let them know what you like and why you like it – when they know you appreciate something they have done, it’s easier to take some critical feedback.
  3. Give your suggestion as a question rather than a statement. Instead of telling your peer what to say, you could ask “have you thought about doing this…” or “I wonder if others might understand it better if you…”

Hopefully you see a couple of ideas here that you could implement in your classroom to help your students move towards an attitude of incremental improvement.  Maybe you noticed that a big key to incremental growth for students is feedback.  Meaningful feedback is the key to incremental growth for all of us!

If you decide to try out any of these strategies in your class, I’d love to hear how it goes!  If you’ve tried anything like this, tell us about it in the comments below.  What worked well?  What were your sticking points?