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, February 27, 2015

Teachers Make a Difference

It's the end of February, and, for me, this was always a tough stretch.  Short days with little sunlight, lots of gray clouds, and my students sometimes were in a "blah" mood.  Everybody is ready for spring, but it doesn't seem to be coming.  I thought about this last night, since we had 6-8 inches of snow--and I live in North Carolina.  We don't get that much that often!  This is on top of a really bad ice storm last week.  I've been cooped up a lot, and it reminded me how I felt when I was a teacher.  But in the midst of the winter, remember--you still make a difference, everyday!  Make a difference today!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

What Is #Differentiation?

Differentiated instruction is a popular concept, and I have heard many interpretations of its meaning. For most teachers, it means creating lessons that include different elements to meet the needs of each individual student in a diverse classroom. According to the technical definition, in differentiated instruction, a teacher varies the content (what), process (how), or product (demonstration of learning) of instruction to enhance student understanding.

One concern I hear from teachers is that differentiation means some students will miss some aspects of learning. In sports, there are basic warm-up exercises and drills that every player does. But good coaches also work with each player during practice to increase strengths and bolster any weaknesses. During instruction, we need to do the same thing. We should teach the core information to everyone and adjust our lessons based on what we know about our students in order to help every individual reach his or her potential. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

What Excites Students?

On a recent trip to Washington, DC with my sisters and niece, we visited the Natural History
Museum at the Smithsonian.  In addition to enjoying the exhibits, I was fascinated watching the
children around me.  No matter their age, they were excited and running from exhibit to exhibit.  Of course, the preserved and replicated animals themselves were so different and motivating, it's easy to see why kids would be excited.  But it also made me wonder, how do we lose this in our classrooms?

I think part of it is that so much of what we do has little to do with students' curiosities.  We teach our standards, and don't always show the link between those standards and real life.  It's also easy to get so caught up in "keeping the pace" that we don't slow down and help students really understand what they are learning.  And, finally, I'm not sure we always create engaging activities for students.  I'm not talking about being a circus performer; I'm simply recommending we find ways for students to be involved, rather than just sitting and listening. So, here's my top three tips for exciting and engaging students:

1.  Show students value and they get excited.
2.  Help them understand and they feel successful.
3.  Get them engaged, and they stay out of trouble!

What are your tips?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

4 Resources to Help Parents Help Their Children Deal with Failure

Monday, I talked about whether parents should let their sons and daughters fail.  I finished my post by sharing how important it is to educate parents, as well as students, about the positive role of failure in learning.  Here are three resources to help you in this process:

Monday, February 16, 2015

Should Children Be Allowed to Fail?

Several weeks ago, I read an article on CNN directed toward parents asking, Is It OK to Let Your Children Fail? The author shares the story of her daughter's school project and whether or not she did the right thing by "helping".  Then she pulls in a variety of other perspectives on the subject.

It's an interesting subject, one that certainly brings out strong opinions.  One of the reasons I assigned most projects to be done in class was so that the projects were really completed by students, not parents.  However, that's not always practical.

As we continue to teach our students about grit and having a growth mindset, it's important to reinforce "failure" as a learning experience.  And we have to make sure we teach parents the same lesson.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Goal-Setting for Students

My newest article is up at teachers.net.  It's on Goal-Setting for Students.  Take a look:

I’m not going to say to quit teaching concepts students need later. What I am going to suggest is that we frame learning and goal setting in terms students can understand, and hopefully, in a way they can use to set personal learning goals. We also have to recognize that, for some students, our goals are not their goals. We may want them to love reading or make good grades, but they may be focused on impressing you, or making Mom and Dad happy, or being a rap star. To some degree, we are looking for a balance of our goals for them and their own personal goals. Teaching goal setting can start with even the youngest children (lining up quietly, listening quietly to a story), and it builds as they get older. Good goals provide direction and may help students make good choices, rather than leaving them susceptible to peer pressure and following the crowd. 

For the full article, click here.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pairing with #Parents

My newest e-newsletter is out and this month's topic is how to pair with parents to positively impact student learning.  If you aren't receiving it, sign up using the link on the right--I'll resend it each day for about a week.  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Great Source for Primary Source Information

Have you visited the Library of Congress online?  In addition to providing a wealth of lesson plans, there's a terrific section on primary sources.  You can search by topic, state, or most frequently taught themes.  If you are looking for some additional texts to use in your classroom, this is a great starting point.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

#Rigor and Failing?

Just finished participating in a Twitter chat on rigor with teachers in Volusia County.  I had a great time, and the best line of the night came from mmmccoy1:  FAIL=first attempt in learning.  What a great concept to teach to students.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Alternatives to Round Robin #Reading

When I was a student teacher, my supervising teacher used Round Robin Reading with our students.  Each student was assigned a paragraph, and they took turns reading.  It wasn't a big success--the students were so focused on their part, they didn't listen to anyone else.  Also, many of the students were embarrassed to be reading out loud, and they stumbled over the words.  In retrospect, we were
asking students to perform for their classmates, without having time to practice.

More recently, I visited a classroom where the teacher was using "waterfall reading".  It was round robin reading--only the students didn't know their parts in advance.  Although that solved part of the problem (students did listen better), they were still simply word calling when they read out loud--there was no comprehension.

So what are some alternatives?  Edutopia posted a great blog entry with 11 other options.  Here's the first two:

1. Choral Reading

The teacher and class read a passage aloud together, minimizing struggling readers' public exposure. In a 2011 study of over a hundred sixth graders (PDF, 232KB), David Paige found that 16 minutes of whole-class choral reading per week enhanced decoding and fluency. In another version, every time the instructor omits a word during her oral reading, students say the word all together.

2. Partner Reading

Two-person student teams alternate reading aloud, switching each time there is a new paragraph. Or they can read each section at the same time.