4 Questions To Help You Inventory Your Classroom Wall Space

Every day of 4th grade, I stared at the gigantic poster stretching across the top of the whiteboard: “Common sense is not so common.”

I had not the slightest clue what it meant.

Other than a back-to-school lecture, my teacher never referred to it directly (or perhaps she did, but because of the above-mentioned non-comprehension, it probably just didn’t register).

I spent the year wondering about it to the point of distraction. I sensed that it was important to my teacher, so I spent time trying to crack its cryptic riddle. “Sense. Sense that is common. I think a sense is what you use to smell and taste and stuff. And common means a lot. So smelling and tasting that happens a lot? That doesn’t seem right. Especially since it’s also not common, somehow…

Today, I look back at this memory and chuckle at the sheer bafflement I experienced that year. But as a teacher myself now, reflecting on this does provide a bit more than just a laugh. It makes look inward to examine what kind of experience [intended or not] my walls have given my students.

In my first classroom, the teacher before me had left behind all sorts of posters on the walls, including posters on 6 traits of writing or motivational quotes.

But as the months moved on, I realized that they may as well have been wallpaper for all the benefit my students were getting from them. I did not integrate them in any meaningful way, and eventually, we decided we’d rather make room for student work.

Since then, I’ve found other messages and resources worthy to go on my walls that are the few exceptions to my student-created-only rule. But now I filter them with a mindset that wall-space is valuable real estate; tenants had better pull their weight. I’m not currently in the classroom, but plan to be back in a few years, so meanwhile, here are questions I ask myself as I bookmark, download, & log away ideas for future wall content:

  • Do I find this personally and genuinely inspiring? Some of you may be thinking, wait, aren’t we trying to inspire the kids, here? True. But I’ve found that displaying personally enlightening messages to be much more valuable than any cute monkey-face “you can do it” sign. Here’s why: If it causes me to elevate my practices, and if I regularly communicate to my students how and why it does so, it ultimately inspires students because I’m modeling to them ways I’m trying to become a better teacher for them.  I shared a few examples here, but Brene Brown print-outs are always my favorite:
Via www.BreneBrown.com
  • Is there a trace of lecture involved? If looking at a quote even faintly makes me wonder, “What’s the deal with kids these days!” (ie, the “common sense is not so common” poster) most likely, a) it’s not going to help my students as much as I think it will and, b) it runs too high a risk of damaging relationships with students.
  • Is it an intentional, interactive display designed to help students see themselves as authentic readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, etc? This one is a little more abstract, but luckily, I found the perfect example last week on Nerdy Book Club. It’s bookmarked, tweeted, and had better stay in my memory for when I return to the classroom.
via NerdyBookClub by Jillian Heise
via NerdyBookClub by Jillian Heise

This particular display is meant to share progress on Donalyn Miller’s fabulous #BookADay (also see #ClassroomBookADay) challenge. To me, this isn’t just a bragging-rights kind of display–it’s also a beautiful and handy way to recall individual reads throughout the year that have been meaningful and instructive.

  • Does it bring some rapport-building humor to the mix? In the middle of a grammar unit? This kind of light-hearted and memorable fun would be a must-share.

Whatever you display, remember that there’s a reason that the physical classroom environment is called the “third teacher” — decide now what kind of teacher you want it to be!

What about you? What are your requirements for what goes on your classroom walls? Please share!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Power of One Young Digital Citizen–Again

I started off my daily Twitter review yesterday with a post from @Sue_Crowley with several intriguing comments:

and


I decided to check it out. It appears that source of all the hubbub centers on phenomenal new customer service rep managing the Southern Rail UK Twitter account. His name’s Eddie, and he’s a 15 year old receiving some work experience

Not only did he do a fabulous job fielding ordinary customer service questions, but he interacted with customers in a way that definitely caught Twitter’s attention. And young as he is, several interested parties already appear to be trying to poach him for their organizations:

This is definitely one young digital citizen that has his 4 C’s down: communication (fielding hundreds of comments), critical thinking (figuring out helpful responses), creativity (engaging with people in a fun way that got the attention of thousands), and collaboration (working with Neil).

Ultimately, this thread brought me back to reflecting on digital citizenship and literacy yet again. While we know that the jobs of the future will little-resemble the jobs of today, we still often treat the very devices and platforms that will carry our students toward that future — as nuisances. Banning phones, blocking Youtube, insisting on a single way of note-taking.

But here, we have an example of what happens when our students are given authentic opportunities to engage with those devices and platforms and audiences instead.

The fact is, digital citizenship empowers students to amplify their voices for good. Shunning it for fear of the distraction, cyberbullying, etc. perpetuates the very mentality that encourages abuse of these resources: namely, that they are not part of the “real world” and are therefore relegated only for entertainment purposes.

So next time you encounter a blanket ban of a digital resource that seems to favor adult convenience over student ownership, here are a few questions you might ask:

  • How might teaching digital citizenship help students treat the resource with more responsibility?
  • What are alternative courses of action to remove the nuisance factor?
  • How often do you personally treat this resource as an opportunity to create, share, and connect, vs. simple entertainment?
  • How often do you share with your students the ways that you use this resource to create, share, share, and connect?
  • How can you re-envision my students using this resource in a powerful, meaningful way (both now and throughout their lives)? How can you help your students see themselves using the resource in that way?
  • Will this ban help or hinder students in their development of the 4 C’s of 21st century learning?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Myth of the “Recipe for Success”

Faige Meller, a friend in my PLN recently wrote about mindsets:

“One of our teacher mindsets has been to follow rules. We ask kids to follow the rules, because that’s what we as teachers do. We might not like to admit that some of what we do is part of the recipe of schools; schedules, routines, classroom design, classroom rules, administrative directives and so on and so forth.”

Reading this instantly took me back to a memory early in my first year of teaching. During a teacher education course, I had been given a piece of advice from a professor: “At your first job, ask for the standardized testing data right away. Your principal will love you!”

Wanting to make a good impression, I did just that — before the students had even arrived for the first day of school, I asked my administrators for that data. And like magic, it worked. They seemed pleased.

But I couldn’t shake an unsettled feeling. Faithful to the “recipe for success” I’d been given, I did indeed look over the data — but it turned out that it didn’t tell me much anyway. What was more troubling, however, was the fact that I knew I hadn’t engaged in any sort of authentic relationship-building. I had simply demonstrated that I was willing to be a compliant hoop-jumper.

Don’t get me wrong — willingness to be a “team-player” has its place in any work setting. However, it seems that too often, we’re willing to stop there. As long as the job gets done, why go further? Why bother with real relationship-building? Why push the status quo? That advice I had been given as a pre-service teacher definitely promoted that mentality.

Maybe it’s because we don’t want to give advice that has any degree of uncertainty to it. But John Spencer illustrates the role of that uncertainty well:

by John Spencer

If we’re always “sure this will work,” we choose the comfort of certainty over the messiness of opportunities.

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How Ownership Can Get Rid of “I Suck at…”

Think having students self-grade and reflect is fluff?

Think again.

Over the course of a 15 year study, John Hattie analyzed over 800 meta-studies to identify effects that have the strongest impact on learning (and he is constantly updating this list through continued studies). Self reported grades is almost at the top of the list of over 150 effects.

It beat out motivation. It beat out home environment. It even beat out “decreasing disruptive behavior.”

The truth is, students know a lot more about their own learning process than we so often give them credit for.

Which brings me to the issue at hand: When a student claims he/she “sucks at ___.”

When I hear that claim, I hear a student that has become convinced that their personal rate of learning is inferior to classmates. That because their progress has not looked identical to their peers, it must mean they are defective. That their learning is fixed, hopeless, and beyond theirs or anyone else’s reach.

Now, discouragement is normal for all learners from time to time. But when said discouragement is also rooted in learning that feels irrelevant or imposed, we’ve got problems.

Enter student ownership.

Any time we empower students with tools to take their learning in their own hands, we are giving them ownership.

Self-assessments are one such powerful tool.

Michael BondClegg recently wrote about giving students the opportunity to write their own report card comments, encouraging teachers to help students identify “ways in which learners can identify their strengths and areas for growth” and “plans for improving.”

This may seem trivial, but really, it turns the whole “I suck at” model on its head.

When a teacher fills out the comments, it perpetuates the whole “this is out of my hands” notion.

When a student is encouraged to fill out those comments in this way, it places the learning back in the students’ hands.

A student in diagnostics mode is student on her way toward a stronger growth mindset.

 

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Getting to the Other Side of Confidence

I vividly remember my introduction to email. I was over at my friend’s house down the street — they had a computer in their own house! She pulled up her email account and started showing me how to set up a message to send. But even as she seemed to effortlessly correspond back and forth with friends, I remember wondering, how does an email address work exactly? How could a message possibly get from your computer to another person’s computer? It felt wildly beyond my comprehension.

Next major obstacle in my tech journey: Apple’s “There’s an app for that” commercials. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why one would need an app at all.  If we could access the internet on a smart phone, why would we need anything else? My husband tried to explain ease of use and navigation to me, but it still seemed gimmicky, and again, beyond my comprehension.

And the latest hurdle: Twitter. All seemed well when I initially created an account and posted a couple of interesting teaching links. But months later, when I decided to really expand my PLN and dive in, I felt hopelessly inept. What on earth were hashtags? How did chats work? How was I supposed to actually connect with others in any kind of meaningful way?

Roba Al-Assi

This is, of course, just a short list of hurdles which, at the time, felt insurmountable in my ability to progress with technology. Yet somehow, with gradual and almost invisible progress, I suddenly found myself on the other side of confidence.

Interestingly enough, as I reflect further on each of these three anecdotes, I realize that it has taken me shorter and shorter amounts of time to work past the uncomfortable newness (years for the first, months for the second, weeks for the third).  I don’t expect that my next hurdle will necessarily follow form with an even shorter period of uncertainty, but I do feel that it is indicative of a shift in mindset.

This kind of growth mindset in tech has applications for ourselves in our professional development, and certainly in the mindset we can and should hope to model to our students. Here are my takeaways:

  • Recognize that the discomfort is temporary — if we persist.
  • Use resources in established, comfortable spheres to take you through the uncomfortable.
  • Know that both confidence and broadened possibilities (possibly life-changing) are just on the other side of the current discomfort.
  • For every victory, you build up your growth mindset and flexibility.
  • It’s ok to be picky about what you will pursue through the discomfort (we can’t possibly become experts in every new thing that comes our way as teachers or even human beings in the 21st century) — but not if the only reason you skip out on new ideas is because of that discomfort.

What about you? What have been examples of getting through that discomfort in your growth as a teacher?

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“I thought if I took away the iPads & phones, they’d grow up to be normal people.”

With kids asleep and husband out of town, I thought I’d settle down for some stereotypically comforting chocolate and HGTV. And it was. Until the person getting a newly renovated boat said something I’ve heard in many different forms over and over:

“I thought if I took away the iPads & phones, they’d grow up to be normal people.”

Normal people?

There seems to be a long history of the older generations criticizing and fearing the youth for their abnormal interests.

Like when the Scientific American railed on the insidious game of chess in July 1859:

via Wikimedia commons/Public Domain

“A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages…chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body. Chess has acquired a high reputation as being a means to discipline the mind, but persons engaged in sedentary occupations should never practice this cheerless game; they require out-door exercises–not this sort of mental gladiatorship.”

Or when an earl complained in an 1843 speech in the House of Commons:

via Wikipedia/Public Domain

“…a fearful multitude of untutored savages… [boys] with dogs at their heels and other evidence of dissolute habits…[girls who] drive coal-carts, ride astride upon horses, drink, swear, fight, smoke, whistle, and care for nobody…the morals of children are tenfold worse than formerly.

Not to mention society’s habit in general to believe:

“that “the good ‘ol days” are behind us and the current good-for-nothing generation and their new-fangled gadgets and culture are steering us straight into the moral abyss. “There has probably never been a generation since the Paleolithic that did not deplore the fecklessness of the next and worship a golden memory of the past,” notes Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist.” (Why Do We Always Sell the Next Generation Short?“)

Excessive screen time, of course, is a legitimate concern. But if we truly believe the adage that the youth are our future, we must temper our tendency to demonize the new and unknown and instead provide encouragement for the possibilities it provides.

We should take care not to allow our fear of change to limit our children’s capacity to influence the future. That includes leading them to believe that if their childhoods look different from ours, they won’t lead “normal” lives.

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Inquiry into SDGs (The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals)

This is a series of provocations designed to provide resources for students to inquire into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. For more, click here

Recently, Ms. Hilaa’s Fabulous4thGraders in Pakistan introduced me to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in the form of some truly fabulous Google Form questions.

I’m not sure how I missed the roll-out of the SDGs, but now that I’m aware, I can’t stop thinking about them and their implications for our students!

So this week’s provocation centers around helping students consider the creative ways people around the world are addressing these issues.

Resource #1: Bringing the SDGs to life video

Resource #2: Ted Ed Video/Lesson 

For the Ted-Ed lesson, click here!

Resource #3: Embrace Cocoon Innovation

For the TED-Talk that introduced the Embrace and its background, click here.

Resource #4: If the World Were A Village of 100 People: A Story About the World’s People (book & trailer)

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Provocation Questions:

  • What is the relationship between sustainable development and innovation?
  • What is our responsibility to encourage sustainable development as individuals? As societies?
  • Why is sustainable development important?
  • What are the different perspectives on sustainable development? Why do those different perspectives exist?
  • How does sustainable development impact people’s individual daily lives?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto