Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Friday, January 27, 2012

Inspiration for a Friday!!

Eye on Education has a series of inspirational videos for teachers and leaders.  One of mine made the top five list.  Scroll down for mine, but all are worth watching.  Enjoy!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Students Always Ask for Help!!

Do you have students who always ask you for help? Encountering new vocabulary was an issue for students in my Social Studies class.  Many of my students had one response for figuring out the new word: Ask me! So I developed a simple set of procedures for what to do when they didn’t know a new word. They quickly learned to try other options before they came to me.

What to Do When You Don’t Know a Vocabulary Word
  1. Try to figure it out on your own.
  2. Read the sentence or look at pictures to try to understand what it means.
  3. Check to see if the word is in the glossary or margin of the book.
  4. Look it up in the dictionary.
  5. Use a thesaurus.
  6. Ask three other students for help.
  7. If nothing else works, ask the teacher.
Using procedures helped my students become more independent and take more ownership for their learning.  It didn't happen overnight, but there was progress, and that is a good thing!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's All About MEE-Motivation, Engagement, and Expectations

Did you attend today's webinar?  I had a great time, and it was awesome to see the comments teachers and leaders contributed to the discussion.  Our main topic: three components to help students learn more effectively are motivation, engagement, expectations. Remember, you can connect with me through my e-newsletter (link to the right), Twitter (BarbBlackburn, #edrigor) or my website www.barbarablackburnonline.com.  Be sure to check out all the free resources on the site.

I promised a couple of follow-up pieces, which can be used whether you attending the webinar or not.  This blog post discusses motivation and ties it to rigor (high expectations)

Student motivation=value+success.
For success, it's important to scaffold learning.  Here's information and an activity that is perfect!
A great way to help students see the value of learning is through a scavenger hunt.  Here's an example from Chad Maguire (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools) for a math classroom:

Sample Scavenger Hunt Items
n Dimensions in inches (length and width) of the newspaper n An advertisement for 20% off
n An article from the sports page with some kind of statistic n A fraction printed in a newspaper or magazine
n A food nutrition label that shows 2 grams of protein  
n Picture of a dozen of something
n Title of a song with a number in it (and artist)
n Book with a number in the title (and author)
n Number of points a football team has if they score a touchdown, an extra point, a safety, and a field goal
n Sum of all the ages of the members of your immediate family
n The Roman numeral for 5,000
n Three nursery rhymes with the number 3 in the title
n The three-digit number in the Dewey decimal system for individual
n Number of squares on a standard checkerboard
n Number of fluid ounces in a gallon of milk
n Picture of a person wearing a shirt with a number on it
n Number of miles from your house to the school
n A coupon for 25% off
n A picture of an automobile license plate with the number 5 on it  
n A picture of a clock showing half-past the hour
n Picture of a speed limit sign with the number 5 on it.
n The number of pages in your math textbook. Count all pages! 

I'd probably add or substitute some internet or mobile learning devices application, but this gives you a starting point. 

We also discussed active engagement of learners.  We simply didn't have time to discuss this as deeply as I would have liked, so let me give you two more resources for more information.  Eye on Education offers free excerpts from my booksClassroom Instruction A to Z includes a full chapter on student engagement, including more examples!

Finally, high expectations for students.  Here are three blog posts on that very subject!
High Expectations for EACH or ALL 
High Expectations Part Two
High Expectations
Helping Students Develop High Expectations 

Thanks again to everyone who attended!  Have a fabulous day, knowing you are making a difference--even if you don't feel like it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Luck or Effort?

Ronita, one of my former students, generally struggled in class. One day, after much hard work and studying, she made an A on a project. I was so proud of her but was stunned at her response. First, she said she was “lucky.” After I assured her that wasn’t true, she thanked me for “giving” her an A. She just didn't get it; the A it wasn’t because of any outside force (luck or me), it was her; her efforts had earned the grade.

Unfortunately, many students are like Ronita. They don’t have a strong internal locus of control—an inner confidence that they have choices and are in control of their behavior. When comparing people who are successful in an area of life (business, sports, etc.), they have one thing in common: Each had a clear vision for their life and a strong belief that they could achieve their dreams, that they were in control of their own destiny.

Compare that to people who find themselves simply existing from day to day. At some point, they look back at their life and ask, “How did I end up here? When I was young, I dreamed of [insert example].” As you talk to them, they will say things such as, “I wanted to be a musician, but someone else won the competition.” “I tried to get the promotion, but my boss doesn’t like me.” “I could have been a pro athlete, but no one gave me a chance.”

You can tell from the language; it’s always about someone or something else. Theyview control as external, or outside themselves. It’s always about other peo- ple or circumstances. There are many societal elements that encourage this attitude. Did you get in a fight? The other person started it, so you didn’t have a choice. Did you miss out on a promotion? The system is unfair. Did you commit a crime? It was because you watch television. The excuses mentality un- dermines having an internal sense of control.

A key focus for a successful classroom is self-empowerment. It is about encouraging students to believe in themselves and to do that by telling students two things:
  1. You need to have a dream or vision that is the basis for your every- day choices and decisions.
  2. Whether you succeed or fail is up to you. Period.
Tapping into an internal sense of choice and control is one of the hardest things for us to do, even as adults. Is it any wonder that students struggle with it? As a teacher, you cannot make someone believe in herself or himself; but you can provide structures, activities, and modeling to facilitate those positive beliefs.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Success Reminders

I used my physical classroom as inspiration and motivation for my students.  I filled the walls with color, and posted motivational quotes in addition to basic information.  When I wanted to profile “authors”, in addition to posting famous authors, I posted profiles of all my students.  This included their favorite book, why reading and writing was important to them. and their favorite author.  You could adapt this for “math stars”, “invention creators”, “future artists”, etc. This sends a message to students that they are already successful.

Finally, here’s one of my favorite quotes, from a friend:
Never give anyone permission to take away your chance for success.
Sam Myers, Sumter 17 School District

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Motivating and Engaging Students

I'm so excited to do a one hour webinar Tuesday, January 24 from 4:30-5:30 for Eye on Education.  Topics? Two Keys to Student Motivation, 5 Lessons About Student Engagement, Having High Expectations, and a quick way to motivate yourself!  Want more information? Click here!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Scavenger Hunts

Another option is to do a Scavenger Hunt and let your students work in groups to discover key points together. You are still simply asking questions for them to answer, but framing it as a Scavenger Hunt and allowing them to work together adds some fun to heighten your students’ engagement. I used this to help students find resources in the classroom and to understand the structure of our textbook.  It's also ideal for guiding them through key internet resources.

A friend of mine is taking her first online course.  She was worried, because as she logged on, she didn't know where to find anything.  Her first assignment was a scavenger hunt, which guided her to the different resources and aspects of the site.  The teacher required each student to score 100 on a quick quiz about locations of items before they could move further in the class.

Interesting--they could take the test as often as they liked, and they could refer to the site.  So, she ensured success.  She also handled basic directions without taking time from her instruction.

How could you use scavenger hunts to streamline or enhance your instruction?

Building Student Success

Students need to set and achieve goals to build a sense of confidence, which leads to a willingness to try something else, which in turn begins a cycle that leads to higher levels of success. Success leads to success, and the achievements of small goals are building blocks to larger goals.
One of my former graduate students gave each student a file folder.  Each of the four panels represented a nine-week period.  At the beginning of the nine weeks, she talked about her goals for the class during that grading period, which included items such as, helping each student do his/her best, giving students opportunities to redo their work to be successful, and helping students to increase their learning (measured either by grades or scores on diagnostic learning tests).  Then, students listed their goals, with assistance from her. They could decorate their panel, illustrating success.  It was a visual reminder through the period reminding students of their goals.  Then, at the end of the nine weeks, they celebrated progress--even small steps.  Her students began to see their individual accomplishments, which built their confidence. 

You can use folders, vision posters, victory lists, Evernote, or any method you choose.  It’s also important to choose the time period that will work best for your students; sometimes you may need to start with one day or week at a time! 

Try it, and let me know how it works!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Resources for Teachers and Principals

We just relaunched my website, www.barbarablackburnonline.com.  If you click the free resources page, you will find a wealth of options, including activity templates for teachers from my books, planning templates for leaders from my leadership books, research-based white papers, podcasts, videos, guest blog entries, and transcripts from online chats.  By the way, you can contact me through the site, and I'm collecting ideas for my next book on rigor--a toolkit for teachers (separate volumes for elementary and middle/high school).  I love to share stories from teachers--click here to share an idea or strategy!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jumping to Conclusions

“Now will you tell me where we are?” asked Tock as he looked around the desolate island. “To be sure,” said Canby; “you’re on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You’re apt to be here for some time.” “But how did we get here?” asked Milo, who was still a bit puzzled by being there at all. “You jumped, of course,” explained Canby. “That’s the way most everyone gets here. It’s really quite simple; every time you decide something without having a good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not. It’s such an easy trip to make that I’ve been here hundreds of times.” “But this is such an unpleasant-looking place,” Milo remarked. “Yes, that’s true,” admitted Canby; “it does look much better from a distance.”  from The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I had a student who was a constant challenge, and I taught him for 21⁄2 years! Daniel came into my class with a reputation as a troublemaker, and in seventh grade he lived up to it. By the eighth grade, he was trying to improve, but he struggled to move beyond his past behavior patterns and others’ pre- conceived notions of him. The turning point in our student-teacher relationship came when I discovered he had a talent for drawing, and I arranged for him to do some artwork for a special project. I was amazed at the turnaround from a completely negative attitude in my class the prior year to a positive attitude. In fact, if other students tried to misbehave, he would tell them to stop and pay attention. By the end of the year, he asked to be on the school news- paper in grade nine, in part because I was the sponsor. Based on his reputation, our guidance counselor was reluctant to approve his placement, but I went to bat for him; and he was the best student editorial cartoonist I ever worked with.

The year Daniel went to high school was the year I left my public school teaching job. I returned home one day and received a call from one of his relatives. Daniel had been expelled because he had a gun at school. I remember not asking, “Why did he do that?” but saying, “Tell me what else happened, because I don’t think he would have brought a gun to school.” His aunt was surprised at my response and said I was the only person who didn’t assume his guilt. Another student brought the gun to school to shoot a third student, and Daniel took the gun away from the first student. When asked why he failed to bring this to the attention of an adult, he said he didn’t trust any of the teachers enough to go to them with the gun because they wouldn’t believe him, so he put it in his locker. When it was discovered, he was expelled.

I’m always reminded of Daniel’s story when I read my favorite children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. During their journey, Milo, Tock, and the Humbug end up jumping to the Island of Conclusions, which turns out to be a less-than-pleasant place. I jumped to conclusions about Dan- iel based on our first day of class together, and it took me two years to move past that and build a strong relationship. I regret the wasted time, because I could have made so much more progress with him if I had started our teacher-student relationship differently.

Have you ever jumped to a conclusion about a student or a situation? Did you later discover that you made an incorrect assumption?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Making Research Relevant

The new Common Core State Standards remind us of the importance of literacy across all curriculum areas.  Chad Maguire, a math teacher, asks his students to research and write about a famous mathematician. After giving students an overview of the project and sharing brief biographies of mathematicians, he randomly draws students’ names, and they hold a draft similar to a professional sports draft to select their subjects.

The finished report must include standard information about the person, but students also present the information in a creative way, such as role-playing the mathematician or creating a game. As a final incentive, students earn bonus points based on the number of things they have in common with the person they research. You may prefer to include this in the main grade, rather than using bonus points.

Helping students see relevance in research can be challenging.  Another option is to have students choose a topic on Wikipedia and research it using at least three other sources.  Then, they compare their information with the Wikipedia entry to see if it is accurate.  If there are mistakes, posting them to the Wikipedia site provides an authentic, immediate audience for their work.  It's also a great way to teach the importance of checking sources!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Motivating Students--Rewards or Not??

Do your students like to be rewarded?  Do you also wish your students were more motivated?  That's a hard balance, isn't it?  An overuse of rewards or other extrinsic motivators can have unintended consequences, including having to regularly increase the rewards to higher levels. If you've been reading my blog posts, you know my bias is toward creating an environment in which students are more motivated to succeed.  You can do that by tapping into two things:  value and success.

Although there are those who contend that extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are opposites and that teachers must choose one or the other, most teachers I meet take a middle-ground approach. They are opposites but not mutually exclusive. In a society that celebrates the value of rewards, a classroom that solely focuses on students’ self-motivation is likely the exception, not the rule. However, we should strive to create a classroom environment that minimizes temporary, external rewards and encourages students to become self-motivated. It is possible. As Jennifer, a student on a message board said, “No one can provide motivation for you, it must come from your core, from your inner self. If it doesn’t, then it’s not motivation.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Yes, But" or "Here's How"

In some ways, an attitude of low expectations sneaks up on us. I call it the yes (but) mentality. When I talk to teachers and principals about change and make a recommendation based on something I’ve seen in schools, many times I get the enthusiastic yes, we should hold all students to high expectations, then the cautious, “but that wouldn’t work here because....”

What I know is this: If there’s a but at the end of your comment about students, your expectations are lowered. Finding the buts is easy: “We can’t....” “Someone won’t let me....” “He or she doesn’t have whatever....” “I’ve tried that....” Recognize that but is just another word for failure. I’m recommending you monitor your own language, and every time there’s a but, replace it with the here’s how.

So, “Yes, we should have high expectations, and here’s how I’m going to try that today. Yes, we need to do more individualization with our students, and here’s how I think we could make that work given our circumstances. Yes, our kids don’t see many positive role models, and here's how we might increase that."

What is your "here's how" today?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Power of Our Perceptions

Here's one of my favorite poems by Annette Breaux.  It's a great reminder of the power of our perceptions and expectations.

I’m Not the One You Think You Know

If you could see what I can see 
Then you would see me differently 
I see from here, you see from there 
Perception differs everywhere 
I’m not the one you think you know 
So please let that perception go.
Annette Breaux

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A teacher's response to vision letters.....

Yesterday,I spoke with a teacher who was a bit disheartened. She had come back excited for a fresh start for the new year, especially with one student. They had clashed much of the fall, and nothing she did seemed to work. By December, she had discovered strategies that were truly making a difference, and this student was moving from a sullen, disrespective student into a reluctant, but willing learner. With this foundation, the new year looked promising.

On the first two days back, her student was withdrawn. He was not disruptive, but he wasn't engaged either. She approached him in positive ways, with no response. On the third day, she asked students to write a vision letter as I described in yesterday's post. While students shared their ideas,she shared hers:

My year was great because each student in my class knew that I believed in him or her, and the knew that no matter what, I was there for them.

At the end of the day, her student handed her his letter, and quickly left. And she read these words:

I didn't think it would be good when it started. My dad told me at Christmas that I wasn't any good and he wished I wasn't alive.

Then, he had scribbled a note at the bottom:

Do you really believe in me? I hope so.

I was reminded of a quote from a friend that I regularly share with teachers in my workshops:
On your worst day, you are someone's best hope. Please know you make a difference, even when you are struggling, and even when nothing is going right. You do make a difference, even when you don't feel like it....especially when you don't feel like it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Starting the New Year

How are you doing today?  Is this your first day back? Second? Third?  Sometimes, it's difficult to be enthused at the start of a new semester.  Monday, I had the privilege to work with a group of great teachers at Kleintzman Intermediate School in the Houston area.  We did this activity together, and it was amazing to see how energized the teachers were.  It's also great for leaders--just use teachers/school/district instead of students.  Try it for yourself!

For the rest of the school year, what is your vision for you and your students? Would you like your students to become independent learners? Would you like your students to learn at higher levels? Do you want to provide rigorous instruction and still have fun? The first step to a exciting classroom is setting your vision.  Project to  the last day of school and write a letter to a colleague or friend. Describe the second semester of the school year that just happened (remember, you are imagining that this school year has already happened). It was the best year ever....it far exceeded your expectations. What did you do? What happened with your students? How did they learn and grow and change? How did you?

You can write a letter, make a list, or draw a picture.  What is it that will make the rest of the year your best year ever?  And please share--I'd love to hear your thoughts!