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.

 

Can They Hear Us Now?

A lesson from Charlie Brown.

“Mwaaahh, mwahhh, mwaahh  mwwahh, mwahhh, mwahhh.”  That’s all Charlie Brown and his classmates hear when their teacher talks.  Poor Sally falls face first onto her desk in slumber and Charlie Brown looks perpetually confused.

This scene might give us a chuckle, but sadly it may be an accurate description of what many of our students hear when we are talking.

Instead of asking our students, “Why weren’t you listening?”, let’s consider four ways that we can get out of the way of our message so that our students can really hear what we are saying.

Four ways we can help students listen

  • “Lean in” – Students are more likely to listen to us when they feel that we are genuinely listening to them. We need to move toward our students – to “lean in” expectantly and listen to what they are saying if we want them to value our message.  We bless our students by paying attention to them.  As we bless them, they become more open to “leaning in” to hear us as well.
  • Affirm well and often – Remember the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”? That may be true, but we can make that horse thirsty!  Leaning in toward our students leads them to the “water” of our instruction, but affirming our students’ growth, God-given gifts, and interests makes them thirsty for what we say.
  • Avoid “overtalk” – Often the urgency of our message causes us to “overtalk” a situation. Address the issue, yes, but avoid belaboring the point and exasperating the hearer.  Most of the time, “less is more.”
  • Say something worth listening to – Whether we teach math, writing, science, art, or Latin, the key to getting students to listen is to say something worth hearing. The things most worth hearing fall outside the content of a class, but rather lie in the character of the teacher.  Is our life – our habits, our attitudes, our actions – speaking something our students want to hear?
  • Encourage often – While affirmation looks to the past, encouragement focuses on the future. Words like “You can do it!”  or “I am confident in you” open a student’s ears to hear instruction on how to accomplish the goal.
  • Criticize/correct intentionally – No one likes to receive criticism or correction, yet often teachers fall into the trap of correcting in the name of “instruction.” Good instruction does require correction – possibly even admonition.  But if we want our students to hear us, we need to make sure that we are correcting strategically and separate from any affirmation or encouragement.  Only then will students be able to really hear our message.

As we consider our place in the classroom, we don’t need to ask our students, “Are you listening?”  We need to ask ourselves, “Can they hear us now?”

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!?

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.

WHAT MAKES A SCHOOL A GREAT SCHOOL?

Part 1 of 4

We have already defined the characteristics of an excellent teacher and one might assume that a great school is simply a collection of great teachers.  Nothing could be farther from the truth: many great teachers do NOT a great school make, and some great schools have few great teachers.  So, what are the unique qualities all great schools share?

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.  That being said, 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.  For our school, it is simply “Equipping Tomorrow’s Christian Leaders”.

We believe in the depths of our soul that almost all the leaders of the church 20 years from now are sitting in Christian school classrooms and home school study areas today.  For decades our churches, colleges, missionary force,  and day schools have been aging and decreasing in size and number. If we fail to train our students to lead, the fundamentalist strain of Christianity will cease to matter very much.

So we teach them that there is no difference whatever in the value of God’s calling to churchplace vis-à-vis workplace ministry.  We show them this principle in the Bible from the lives of Moses, Daniel, and many others.  We model it by having church members in business and the professions speak in our chapels. We also invite school parents in the professions, and sometimes believers not connected organically with the school, to inspire the kids.  When Christians exercise political influence, we have a much better chance of living quiet and peaceable lives.

Training the next generation of leaders

The next mayor of North Charleston has to go to high school somewhere.  Why not this school?  So does the governor, congressmen and senators, supreme court justices – listen, the president of the United States will go to high school somewhere.  Why not my school?  How literally awesome would it be to have dozens of men and women like Asa Hutchinson in Washington!  The faculty must live and breathe this high expectation for every student, and the kids must embrace it.  This is the first hallmark of a great school.

Great Expectations

3 R’s of a Positive Classroom Culture

Creating a positive classroom culture goes beyond classroom management.  Even the word “management” implies handling or controlling.  However, as teachers, our job is not merely to manage our students while they are in our classrooms but to prepare them to leave our classrooms ready for the next challenge.  If we only manage our students, we do them a disservice.  Our classroom culture should be one that equips our students for life-long learning and success.

It’s always a great moment on the first day of school each year when I announce to my sixth graders that there are no rules in our sixth grade classroom.  The boys’ eyes widen, and they begin to cheer.  The girls look somewhat terrified, and their face belies their belief that I am, indeed, the craziest teacher they have ever had.

It’s true, I tell them.  Our classroom will have no rules.

Rather, we will operate by three guiding principles – three “Great Expectations”
that apply to us all.  Everything we do (and how we do it!) will be filtered through these three principles: Respect, Responsibility, Restraint.

Respect

As teachers, we tend to see disrespect when it is directed toward authority, particularly our authority.  However, it is vital that we help our students learn respect not only for authority, but also for truth, others, property, boundaries, human life, beauty, goodness, and everything that God holds as worthy of respect.

Responsibility

Responsibility is the hallmark of maturity.  Responsibility comes from a proper understanding of our place in God’s world and an ability to see the long-term consequences of short-term decisions.  At an age-appropriate level, we need to foster responsibility in our students.

Restraint

This elusive quality naturally flows out of respect and responsibility.  Too often, however, we teachers correct lack of restraint but ignore the underlying lack of respect and responsibility.  As students begin to internalize a proper respect for their place in the world, they will begin to exhibit self-restraint, not mere conformity to a list of rules on the classroom wall.

“Great expectations can lead to great opportunities as we seek to instill in our students principles that will equip them to find their identity in Christ, esteem others higher than themselves, and fulfill the purposes God has for them.

What “Great Expectations” do you have for your students?

Should Class Participation be Judged by Verbal Exchanges?

This is the last in a series of posts by Jeff Walton commenting on “five truths” of progressive education identified by Maya Thiagarajan in an Education Week blog on August 15, 2016.  Thoughtful Christian educators reject many of the practices of progressive American education because progressive principles and practices sometimes conflict with biblical truth about the nature of children and the nature of learning.  Maya Thiagarajan is an American-educated English teacher who has been teaching in Singapore.  She is the author of Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting in the Global Age.  In her Education Week guest blog on August 15, 2016, Maya frankly discusses five “universal education truths” that as an American teacher she believed and “religiously” followed until her move to Singapore in 2010.  In earlier articles, I commented on the first four truths.

Truth #5: “Class participation is all about talking in class discussions and group activities. All kids must learn to share their ideas verbally, and ensure that their voices get heard.”

At the end of my first semester of teaching, I gave an East-Asian student in my class a low score for class participation. In every way possible, this kid was a model student: she worked very hard, she did all her homework, her essays were fantastic, and she was always polite and well-behaved. Yet, she was quiet and reserved in class discussions. As a result, I gave her an ‘insufficient’ for class participation.

She came to see me later with tears in her eyes. I said, ‘But you don’t speak up in our class discussions.’ She looked at me confused. She then explained to me that in her old school, class participation involved being prepared for class and listening very carefully to what the teacher said. Class participation involved listening, not talking.

In Singapore, and across East Asia, kids are taught to listen, and listening seems to be valued more than talking. I still expect my students to speak up and share their ideas in class discussions, but now I do things differently: I explain what I mean by participation more specifically, and I also value listening a whole lot more. Our kids need to learn to listen to each other and to adults. And when we assume that participation is all about talking, we devalue listening unfairly.

Two criteria for judging class participation

In these paragraphs, perhaps more important than the specific issue of criteria for judging class participation, are these two elements: (1) the importance of listening, and (2) the importance of understanding the perspectives of others.

The importance of listening

One of my favorite books about relationships is Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the relationship principles Mr. Covey teaches is “Seek to understand, then to be understood.” This principle emphasizes the importance of listening–listening before speaking and listening with the intent to genuinely understand.  Every teacher knows how badly most of our students lack this skill. Too often we lack this skill ourselves. I have been on a multi-year quest to improve my listening skills, too often with inadequate success. But what a worthwhile effort it is, for ourselves and for our students.

The importance of understanding the perspectives of others

This is the point of Stephen Covey’s “Seek to understand, than to be understood” principle. A teacher’s success must be built on relationships with students and parents. Positive relationships require that we learn to see from another’s perspective. The key to learning to see from another’s perspective is listening. Ask questions, and listen. An effective tool for improving your listening skills is to “say back” in a paraphrased form the statements made by others. This is most effective when it is done verbally, but often when I find my thoughts racing ahead in a conversation I begin internally to practice this, and I listen better by doing so.

I expect that Maya Thiagarajan is a very effective teacher, and not so much because she developed a better rubric for class participation, but because she practices listening to understand her students.

Reference:

Thiagarajan, M. (2016, August 15). Five lessons from teaching in Singapore. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2016/08/five_lessons_from_

teaching_in_singapore.html?qs=teaching+in+sigapore

Should We Forget Memorization in the Age of Google?

Dr. Jeff Walton serves as executive director of the American Association of Christian Schools, headquartered in Chattanooga, TN. He is the editor of Journal for Christian Educators.

This is the fourth in a series of five posts by Jeff Walton commenting on “five truths” of progressive education identified by Maya Thiagarajan in an Education Week blog on August 15, 2016.  Thoughtful Christian educators reject many of the practices of progressive American education because progressive principles and practices sometimes conflict with biblical truth about the nature of children and the nature of learning.  Maya Thiagarajan is an American-educated English teacher who has been teaching in Singapore.  She is the author of Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting in the Global Age.  In her Education Week guest blog on August 15, 2016, Maya frankly discusses five “universal education truths” that as an American teacher she believed and “religiously” followed until her move to Singapore in 2010.  In earlier articles, I commented on the first three truths.

Truth #4: “Making kids memorize stuff is not just unnecessary in the age of Google, it’s downright bad pedagogy. Twenty-first century learning is not about ‘knowing’ information, it’s about analyzing, synthesizing, applying, and creating. ”

In Singapore, and perhaps across Asia, many parents and teachers still harbor a deep reverence for the power of human memory….In his defense of a ‘knowledge rich’ curriculum, the former Singaporean education minister Heng Swee Keat said, ‘If creativity is about connecting the dots, you need to have solid dots in the first place, or you will have nothing to connect.’ Kids here memorize a lot of information, and they know a lot. Perhaps the emphasis on memorization in Singapore is excessive and comes with opportunity costs, but it has certainly challenged my paradigms.

In American education, the memorization-application pendulum swings, and debate (healthy, in my view) continues.  This is true in Christian education as well as in public schools. I have many times heard or read some form of the “students no longer need to learn facts in the Internet age” statement. To that statement I echo Dr. Keat’s response–How will students connect the dots in learning if they have no dots to connect?  On the other hand, I have many times observed in Christian school classrooms and have come away discouraged by the complete reliance on memorization and regurgitation of facts and missed opportunities to lead students to comprehension, application, and deeper understandings.

Often, students are memorizing multiple “dots” and struggling to retain the information about the “dot” with no connecting information to provide structure and understanding.  I have particularly observed this in math classes.  I have observed scores of classrooms where teachers required students to memorize an algorithm (a step-by-step process) for solving a type of math problem while missing excellent opportunities and making no effort to help students understand why the algorithm works. I have even sometimes witnessed teachers refusing to answer the why questions of inquisitive students, telling them to “just follow the formula.” That’s a tragedy. In those classrooms, only those students with excellent abilities to memorize and retain will make progress. Most will flounder, frustrated and confused because they can’t keep all of the dots straight and have no structure of comprehension to connect them.

So, do students need to automate information (memorize), or do they need to comprehend and apply factual information? I hope your answer is “yes.” Students need both. Learning facts provides the dots the student will connect. Comprehension and application and higher-level learning activities provide the connective structure that allows students to make sense of and retain the dots.

By itself, memorization is a form of learning and is a skill that students can and should develop. Wise teachers and school leaders will judiciously select the important factual content and will provide age-appropriate explanations and activities for comprehending and applying that information. For instance, when teaching junior high and high school history classes, I required that students memorize fewer than ten really significant dates in a school year, but they also memorized some key paragraphs from notable historical documents (more significant and worthwhile learning, in my view). We also thoroughly analyzed and wrote about those passages. In my high school math classes (most of my teaching experience) students memorized only a few commonly used formulas and spent a good amount of class time in completing exercises (automating fundamental skills) and complex problem-solving activities. Interestingly, my ninth- and tenth-grade students also spent time doing flash cards involving basic operations with fractions because many had not automated processes with fractions…so they struggled with more advanced math because they didn’t have the more basic dots to connect.

I’m sure the memorization-application debate will continue.  Wise teachers will reject the notion that we can “forget memorization” in a digital age but will also understand that memorization merely provides the dots that students must connect with more complex learning.

Reference:

Thiagarajan, M. (2016, August 15). Five lessons from teaching in Singapore. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2016/08/five_lessons_from_

teaching_in_singapore.html?qs=teaching+in+sigapore

Should Learning Always Be Fun?

This is the third in a series of five posts written by Dr. Jeff Walton commenting on “five truths” of progressive education identified by Maya Thiagarajan in an Education Week blog on August 15, 2016.  Thoughtful Christian educators reject many of the practices of progressive American education because progressive principles and practices sometimes conflict with biblical truth about the nature of children and the nature of learning.  Maya Thiagarajan is an American-educated English teacher who has been teaching in Singapore.  She is the author of Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting in the Global Age.  In her Education Week guest blog on August 15, 2016, Maya frankly discusses five “universal education truths” that as an American teacher she believed and “religiously” followed until her move to Singapore in 2010.  In the first two articles, I commented on the first and third truths.  In this article, I’ll take up the second truth.

Truth #2: “Learning should always be fun. As a teacher, you’ve got to make it fun. If kids are not engaged, it’s the teacher’s fault.”Learning is Fun

In Singapore, parents and educators seem much less concerned with entertaining kids and making learning fun.  In fact, the word “fun” seems to suggest a game or a party, and education on this island is certainly no game or party.  It’s serious business.

But that doesn’t mean that kids don’t like learning.

What I’ve realized is that many students find serious academic work very satisfying, and as educators, we shouldn’t be hesitant to engage our students in challenging work and demand excellence from them.  One Chinese teacher at my school told me… “We Asians aren’t so interested in constantly having fun.  Our kids learn to like serious studying and learning.  They don’t want or expect everything to be a game or a party.”