Extra! Extra! Read All About It

As I was perusing a recent issue in Education Week (March 1, 2017), a terrifying thought kept racing through my mind—the front page had five articles that were competing for my attention and only one of them was related to the educational process of students.  I reviewed the page to make sure that my eyes were not deceiving me.  Alas, my initial concerns were verified.

The front page introduced two articles that focused on social issues, one as it related to teachers and one as it related to students.  The top article on the page centered on the angst among many educators about the “scrapping” of the Affordable Care Act.  Yet another prominent front-page feature was devoted to efforts to prevent laws that could allow school staff to carry firearms on campus. The most obscure of the front-page articles featured the implementation of technology into civics instruction.

The cumulative effect of these attention-grabbers got me to thinking about what is really going on in a Christian school today.  More specifically, what is going on in each classroom within the school.  How about your classroom?  If a newspaper recounted the top five things that are happening in your classroom today, what would be the focus of the articles?  What kind of graphics would grab the reader?

Below are several considerations that might help as we edit a weekly front page for the classroom.

  • Academic Instruction – When I recently asked one teacher about his lesson plans, his response was “Overrated!” In other words, he did not value lesson planning.  However, lesson plans give a snapshot of what is going on in the classroom.  A group of these “photos” makes up each school day.  These lesson plans provide insight about what is important for that particular day.  After all, classrooms are epicenters of a school.  Schools should be focused on instruction—well-planned, sequential, rigorous instruction.
  • Biblical Worldview—Would a front-page review of your educational plan for this week include intentional inclusion of worldview instruction? Are you relying too heavily on the textbook for worldview instruction? Have you fallen into the trap of environmental worldview, believing like many parents that a change of environment is enough to significantly impact a student’s worldview? Research indicates that just placing students in Christian school classrooms does not make a significant difference.
  • Character Development—The 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines education as “the bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners.” However, Webster did not stop here.  A further explanation is included that reads:

Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations.  To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.

What article about character development is included on the front page for you this week?  A good teacher not only instructs the mind but also trains the will.

  • Innovation—That’s right! What are you doing that is fresh and new in the classroom this week.  I spoke with a teacher recently that complained that after many years of teaching the same grade level that her job had become mundane. Yep, just plain ole’ stale! As teachers it is our responsibility to not allow the classroom to become a rut (heard one person describe a rut as a “grave with the ends kicked out”).  I hope that your classroom’s front page would include some article or graphic showing excitement and a love for learning.

As you consider what would be included on your classroom’s weekly front page, spend a moment to measure the impact on the reader.  Parents, as well as other stakeholders, are looking and reading every week to see what your classroom is all about.  Does your front page make the reader exclaim Extra! Extra! Read All About It!?

Questions, Questions Everywhere

For some reason my recent reading has taken me to several selections that discuss the art of questioning.  Experience reminds me that questioning is often friend or foe, depending on who is asking the challenging question.  Even in reading the New Testament, I have again noticed that Jesus’ teaching included adept questioning.

Research shows us that questioning is closely linked to critical thinking.  For that reason, teachers should give attention to the questioning techniques implemented into the teaching process.  Observation reminds me that many times teachers carefully prepare to teach a lesson but that preparation does not include carefully crafted questions.

So when I happened upon an article in Education Update about questioning, my interest was piqued.  Jeanne Muzi, a teacher from New Jersey, began the article by connecting classroom questioning to critical thinking.  However, upon closer examination, I noted that she took a completely different tact than I had taken to that point.  Her article was entitled Five Ways to Strengthen Student Questioning (emphasis mine).

She offered apt reminders like “all students need to generate purposeful questions” and “a significant instructional shift takes place when a classroom culture is transformed from one where the teacher poses the majority of questions to one where a community of curious wonderers offer up their own.”

Improving Student Questions

What are you doing in your classroom to improve student questioning?  Muzi offered five classroom activities that a teacher can use to improve student questioning; I have shared on three below:

Pass-Arounds

Circulate a unique object (photograph, antique, item from nature, etc.) around the classroom.  Ask students to develop questions that “uncover more information about” the object, not identify it.  After students have put together their list of questions, discuss which questions will be most helpful in learning about the object.  Of course, take time to answer the questions.

Q-Stems

Using a set of sentence-stem cards developed by the teacher, students draw a stem card and try to generate as many questions as possible about a concept using a single Q-stem.  Stems could include starters like:  Why…? What is another way to describe…? Are there…? How…? Is it possible that …?  After questions are developed, take time to go back and answer the questions before moving on to another stem.

Whose Eyes?

Distribute or project a copy of a photograph (famous illustration, historic setting, current event) and allow students to thoughtfully look at the item.  The, ask students to develop a set of questions that might come from any character in the photo.  It could be a prominent character but might work better to choose a lesser character.  Then ask students to pose their question(s) to the class and provide a rationale for the question.

As teachers, we must continually hone our questioning skills.  Why?  Because effective questioning cannot be separated from the critical thinking.  However, as we seek to improve our questioning skills, let’s not forget to strengthen student questioning skills as well.

Can you share a technique that you use in your classroom to strengthen student questioning?

 

Muzi, J.  (2017, January).  Five ways to strengthen student questioning.  Education Update, Vol. 59, (1).  ASCD: Alexandria, VA.

A Teacher’s Soliloquy

“To be or not to be, that is the question”

This is the initial line in the third act of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The soliloquy is the most famous verbalization of a character thought used by the Bard of Avon, perhaps the most famous of all soliloquys.

Hey, teacher, do you recall your most recent soliloquy?  Perhaps no fellow laborer was within earshot or maybe even your verbalization was muddled and barely audible.  Perhaps you have not even found time to stop and re-think the musings of that moment.

So take a minute to review what might have been or not have been your most recent soliloquy.  Whether it was the most recent or perhaps some previous verbalization, every teacher grapples with motivating students.  Motivation is a common theme of teacher soliloquys—motivated or not motivated, that is the question.

I was reading recently in Kingdom Living in Your Classroom (McCullough, 2008).  The author presented a thought-provoking challenge for the reader (teacher)—is our focus on controlling students’ performance or stimulating students’ motivation?  While effective classroom teaching necessitates a measure of classroom “control,” the author suggests that often the teacher soliloquy does not ask the right question—am I effectively motivating my students?

Principles for Motivating Students

McCullough suggests eight (8) principles for motivating students; a brief summary indicates that teachers should:

After reviewing the suggestions of the author and considering her challenge to re-think the approach that most teachers take into the classroom, I am sure that many times the teacher soliloquy could be different if the approach to classroom management were different.

1)  Consider what motivates students to behave a certain way.

2)  Manage their classrooms to be efficient learning communities.

3)  Provide opportunities for student success at tasks they view as valuable and challenging.

4)  Focus learning activities around worthwhile academic objectives.

5)  Systematically encourage students to replace negative thinking about themselves with positive truths about themselves.

6)  Help students recognize the relationship between effort and outcome.

7)  Show moderation and variation when using motivational strategies.

8)  Develop lessons that are relative to students, model enthusiastic learning, and provide a variety of learning strategies.

A Motivating Soliloquy

So the next time you find yourself “talking to yourself” after a long day in the classroom, ask yourself if you were over-focused on classroom control to the detriment of student motivation.  Let me suggest that a healthy balance of these two will go a long way towards making your next soliloquy one you want to remember.  To control or to motivate, that is the questionHopefully the answer is a resounding YES!

McCullough, J. D.  (2008).  Kingdom living in your classroom.  Purposeful Design Publications:  Colorado Springs, CO.