Watch out for the Either/Or Trap

I continue to see articles comparing teacher-led and student-centered learning.  While not rising to the level of the chicken or egg, the discussion about how to structure the classroom learning environment continues.  Many educators fall prey to the temptation of either/or, failing to achieve balance in the classroom; research shows that classrooms need active student learning to improve achievement.  Are you intentionally seeking to improve student engagement and create an active learning environment in your classroom?

In the traditional classroom, information largely flowed from teacher to student. Students had a smaller portion of designated work time to absorb and apply the knowledge gleaned from the teacher.  The problem is the skew towards teacher-led instruction, with averages often above 75 to 80 percent of allotted class time devoted to teacher talk time.

The truth is that students only stay engaged in listening for short bursts of time. One study I saw recently noted that students could recall about three-fourths of what the teacher taught in the first 10 minutes of a class; however, retention dipped to 20 percent of material presented in the last 10 minutes.

Jensen (2005) noted in his Teaching with the Brain in Mind that appropriate amounts of direct instruction time for kindergarten to adults only varied from 5-18 minutes.  While lower grade levels obviously have much shorter attention spans, Jensen found that direct instruction time for new content even for high-school age students should not exceed 15 minutes.

So what are you doing to improve student engagement in your classroom?

Here are a few reminders as you plan upcoming lessons:

  • Plan multiple short bursts during the allotted instruction time. Research shows student achievement and retention increase when instruction is segmented into smaller, “bite-sized” time frames. Early childhood teachers should think in burst of 5-8 minutes, grades three to eight in segments of 8-12 minutes, and high school teachers 12-15 minutes.

 

  • Plan multiple types of activities designed to engage various learners. Like Peter in encouraging believers to “add” to their faith, virtue; to virtue, knowledge; etc., teachers should add to their verbal (linguistic) approach, visual (pictures, images, objects); and to visual, aural (auditory) or music; and to aural, kinesthetic (physical).

 

  • Plan multiple strategies to deliver important concepts. Teachers should remain aware of how students are grasping concepts so that concepts can be repeated, reinforced, or perhaps lessons can be accelerated when students “get it.”

Some say that “variety is the spice of life.” Some educators, however, seem to take refuge in “consistency;” change and variety seem to scare them.  Immutability is part of the nature of our God; however, it should not be part of our instructional model.

Are you intentionally structuring learning activities in your classroom to control the teacher speak time?  What learning activities are you including in your instructional planning to increase student engagement?  What instructional strategies do you find effective in reducing students entering a zombie state?

WHAT MAKES A SCHOOL A GREAT SCHOOL?

Part 2 of 4

What are the unique qualities all great schools share? We have observed that schools may appear to be organizations, but they are in fact organisms – living, breathing, dynamic, growing relationships between teachers and students, among teachers, among students, and so forth.  We can properly conclude that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  In other words, a great school is more than isolated great parts.  What makes up the glue that transforms the parts into a great whole?

The first is an overarching MANDATE – a vision that fuels and directs the activity of administrators and teachers. This should be reduced to a very short statement, such as “Know, Love, and Serve Christ”. If we fail to train our students to serve Christ and to lead in the workplace and the churchplace, the fundamentalist strain of Christianity will soon cease to be relevant or matter very much at all.

The second is a clear MISSION – to enroll, educate, and equip tomorrow’s leaders. Attracting these young people is a “marketing” strategy in business terminology: our students are the very best advertisement for our school and word-of-mouth is the most effective recruitment tool.  Providing incentives for our friends to recommend the school to others is appropriate and productive – as long as prospective parents see in our students what they desire for their own children: Godly people of inner character and outer kindness.

Once they enroll, we must provide a solid academic education, and that means something traditional at its core but relevant in its content and delivery. Students need a broad and deep liberal arts education, and the STEM courses are essential if the secondary and even the elementary schools are to be competitive. Upperclassmen, for example, expect dual enrollment offerings. Christian educators need to know what is available to students in the ever-expanding variety of public schools.

Of course we need to insure that our Bible curriculum teaches content and doctrines.   But we had better be emphasizing and integrating a Biblical worldview through which to understand the other courses we teach.  Kids can retrieve this and infinitely more with two clicks on an iPhone.  We must teach them to read critically and to discern Biblically.  Bible worldview must be integrated on every grade level and for every subject (the writer will share his “Blue Papers” upon request), including math, and should culminate in a capstone senior course.  Graduates need such training in order to defend their faith and to attack error.

The fine arts, in particular music, are ministry tools and life skills. We must provide all the instruction possible on every grade level.  Additionally, intramural and interscholastic competition teach Christian conduct in a pressure-cooker unavailable in the classroom.  We need to do more with younger children.  Arts and athletics contribute mightily to a well-rounded, useful graduate.  They help us complete our mission.

Part 1: Mandate (Feb.21)         Part 2: Mission (April 18)          Part 3: Method (Coming soon)         Part 4: Remember the children (Coming soon)

Presentation Does Matter! Go for the Garnish!

Kids growing up today live in a…600-channel television universe, 10,000-station radio universe, 1,000,000,000,000 page internet.

“Constant exposure to digital media has changed the way the digital generation processes, interacts, and uses information. As a result, they think and communicate in fundamentally different ways than any previous generation” (Jukes, McCain, Crockett 2010). How have teachers adjusted their teaching style to engage this new type of student? Many teachers still teach and assess the same way they always have. “As a result, the digital generation, who are accustom to the twitch-speed, multitasking, random-access, graphics-first, active, connected, fun, fantasy, quick-payoff world of their video games, MTV, and the internet, are incredibly bored by most of today’s education” (Jukes, McCain, Crockett 2010).

Each teacher has a style. A teacher is in complete control of his or her teaching style; therefore, a teaching style can be changed. Take a look at the teaching style of Jesus. Jesus’ messages were “common yet classic, plain yet complex, simple yet revolutionary, childlike yet ageless, ordinary yet multifaceted, and familiar yet unforgettable” (Scarborough, 2007). How do your lessons match up to His?

Presentation matters! Students need to be engaged in the lessons. Every lesson needs a lure to ensure a student is attracted and lured into the lesson. Lesson lures include …

  • chants
  • songs
  • startling statements
  • questions
  • visuals
  • props
  • pictures
  • stories
  • involvement
  • humor
  • role play
  • games
  • writing.

Incorporate as many of these elements as possible into your lessons. Many teachers are consumed with following and finishing a curriculum that they forget to add lures to their presentations. Lesson lures help students engage in the lesson and then remember the material when test time comes. With the use of the internet, teachers can find these lesson lures for every topic. A teacher must be willing to take the time to work them in to each lesson. The more lesson lures are used, the greater the student recall.  Check your lesson presentation. Do you need a style change?

Promoting Literacy in School Culture

"You get what you honor"

The disheartening truth is that as students grow up they read less.  For a teacher this should sound an ear-splitting alarm.  As a teacher desiring that students mature spiritually, the shock of the alarm must be even greater.

As far back as I can remember in my professional life, educators have advocated and emphasized programs for literacy; writing across the curriculum; targeting reading “drop outs,” especially male students in junior high and secondary grades; as well as informal journeys led by educators seeking raise the educational bar for their students.

But alas, the days are jam packed with curricular activities and other worthy endeavors.  So what’s a teacher to do?  I recently read an article that provided some ideas to promote reading in all classrooms.  While some of the suggestions were obvious and perhaps already done in your classroom, some of the other suggestions could be used as tools to “build skills and joy in literacy” (Gilmore).

Help build excitement about reading!

  • Publicly celebrate reading

Reflecting on the adage “you get what you honor,” teachers should give significance to reading.  This can be done by posting student reading lists, helping students develop lists of books that they want to read, or perhaps asking students to write brief book reviews.  Model and teach students to share things learned from reading.  Excitement is always contagious!

  • Share word walls

Keep words walls dynamic and as interactive as possible.  Word walls provide a model for high frequency words as well as help students see patterns and relationships in words.  Word walls provide reference support for students during reading and writing activities.  Make sure that students contribute and use the word wall regularly.

  • Read and write across content areas/Value disciplinary literacy

It is important that students learn to write in all content areas.  Do not fall into the rut of having all writing done in a language arts class.  Keep students reading and writing in every academic discipline. Teachers can help their cohorts, especially those teachers that struggle to assist students with writing.

  • Provide authentic writing experiences

Help students escape the tendency to write for the audience of one.  Students that write just for the teacher soon lose a love for reading and writing.  Provide students with opportunities to write for different audiences—letters, op-eds, book reviews, information captions for graphics, etc.  Teaching literacy greatly improves when we “keep it real.”

  • Promote reflection and goal setting

Reading success is not measured by how many books a student reads or even complexity of the book that is selected.  Reading success is seeing the student use the reading—support writing, improve critical thinking, etc—to enhance overall literacy.  Students must be taught to habitually reflect on their reading and develop greater aspirations as a result.  Praise reflection and goal setting and it will flourish.

Are you doing everything that you can do to improve the overall literacy of your school’s culture?  Can you use some of the above ideas to make your classroom a better development ground for literacy?

If you have other ideas that you have found effective, please share them in the comments section below.

 

Gilmore, B.  (2017, February). 10 ways to promote a culture of literacy.  Educational Leadership, 74(5).  ASCD: Alexandria, VA.