Why You Should Endorse “Now Learning” in the Classroom

“You’ll use this all the time when you grow up.”  “You’re developing skills you’ll need all the way through college.”  “Someday, you’ll be so glad you learned another language.”

[insert eye-rolling here].


Even if true, relying primarily on these kinds of future-tense phrases to justify learning may have harmful effects.  Nothing is worth draining our children’s inborn sense of discovery and enthusiasm.

The counterintuitive reality: instilling learning passion for the future only happens when we show students how to love learning today!

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Requirements for Now Learning

Think back to your classes that most sparked your passion.  Chances are, those instructors made relevance a daily priority–a skill that takes purpose and deliberate planning.  In our experience, that purpose and planning must consist of the following:

  • Student Choice:

Students must be enabled to tailor their learning in order to find relevance. Technological options for making this happen are almost endless–but possibilities outside the high-tech box abound, too, including project based learning, genius hour, and other innovative new strategies.

  • Student Creativity:

Start the video below at 16 minutes for a wonderful anecdote by Sir Ken Robinson:

  • Teacher Passion 

Applying Now Learning in a Real Schedule

My first year teaching overflowed with the kinds of typical pursuits designed to prepare students for the future demands:  book reports, math homework worksheets, and daily “independent study,” during which students would work for an hour on grammar, comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling.  And guess where the most frequent strain on behavior occurred?

Over the years, we gradually replaced such activities with approaches that foster now learning–and I witnessed transformations in my students’ motivation, vibrance, and willingness to take risks. 

How much of your student’s day involves learning for the present?  Look below at tips for each part of my fifth grader’s schedule:

  • Word Study
    • Student choice: Is it really so earth-shattering to allow students to choose whether they read a book or study their spelling? When our school introduced Daily 5, that’s exactly what we did–and news flash: once they understood all the choices and their purposes, my students did in fact regularly choose from all the options. Status of the class also helped them develop purposeful decision-making skills (read more about that here!).
    • Student creativity: Post a list of book report alternatives for students to take their reading and writing to a creative level.
    • Teacher passion: Tell them about that cliff-hanger in your book, share your latest blog post, exclaim about your favorite authors, joke about common grammar errors. There is simply no underestimating the power of modeling your own literary pursuits!
  • Reading Workshop
    • Student choice: Help students discover their own interests and expand their reading horizons by giving them an interest inventory.
    • Student creativity: Students’ literary creativity will take flight once they discover that book or series that helps them fall in love with reading. Make curating a classroom library of rich and varied texts one of your main priorities.
    • Teacher passion: Throughout each reading unit and/or book group, read along with your students so you can more authentically engage in book discussions with them.
  • Spanish
    • Student choice: Individualize and gamify language learning with the Duolingo app!
    • Student creativity: Download the Google Translate app on your classroom devices and encourage them to discover its possibilities.
    • Teacher passion: At our school, another instructor would come in during this time.  However, I would try to follow up with my own appreciation and understanding in my personal language learning (ie, discussing how I connect “mesa” in landforms and the translation for table, or my interest in Dia de los Muertos).
  • Math
    • Student choice: Ditch homework worksheets in favor for homework projects with real-world applications.
    • Student creativity: Try flipped learning to give students more time in class for exploration, self-directed projects, or arts integration.
    • Teacher passion: No matter what subject(s) you teach, if you’ve ever expressed self-deprecating remarks about math, STOP today, and never do it again!
  • Snack/Lunch/Recess
    • It’s laughable to believe these growing, active beings can be expected to sit still and focus if their bodies aren’t fully nourished.  Make time.  If your school has scheduled a too-small chunk of time for lunch, allow students to finish eating in class.
  • Writing Workshop
    • Student choice: Make writing choices more about which animal to write the essay on.  Storybird, comic strip makers, Prezi, word clouds–the platforms and mediums for sharing ideas stretch for miles.
    • Student creativity: see above.
    • Teacher passion: Teaching a poetry unit? Write your own poems throughout, using the same techniques and skills as your students.Use your own daily struggles and triumphs as a writer as authentic teaching opportunities.
  • Social Studies or Science
  • Blogging
    • Student choice & creativity: Student blogs are a fantastic way for students to learn to curate their own work.  They give students a real voice in the global learning community, and encourage dynamic discussion and debate in comment threads.  To get started, check out our post on practical student blogging here!
    • Teacher passion: Make sure you keep your own blog alongside your students’!

Photo Credit:

  • Featured image: Frankieleon
  • Quote image created with Recitethis.com

How to Teach Empathy–& Why it Matters

It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of efficiency as teachers.  Standards and tests and data and reports bear down on us with pressure to make every. minute. count.


Efficiency Enterprises

There also seems to be an endless supply of initiatives to maximize our efficiency–many of which seem to simply offer more fodder for burnout, like some ideas found in the video below (at the proposition for increased class sizes for quality teachers, I could only visualize the exhausted expression of one of my mentor teachers the year they increased her first grade class size–because she could handle it, right?).

2/3/15 UPDATE: It appears that OpportunityCulture.org has removed their video after we published this post a couple of weeks ago. So, to fill you in if you missed it, the ideas we found most worrisome in the video included: 1) increasing class sizes for “excellent teachers” so more students could feel their influence (while decreasing class sizes for novice teachers); 2) implementing rotating classes for those “excellent teachers” so they could reach even more students each day; 3) an apparent oversight of the teacher-student relationship in general. Instead, their page now says the following: 

“Watch this space for an updated motiongraphic, based on the experiences of the first pilot schools to implement their own Opportunity Cultures, showing the importance of models that let teams led by excellent teachers reach many more students, and let all teachers earn more and learn more—through more school-day time for collaboration and planning, and without forcing class-size increases.”

10/29/2015 UPDATE: A new video has been published. The model is explained differently, but the basis still rests on class-size increases for excellent teachers and efficiency, which still leaves us concerned about the lack of discussion on teacher-student relationships. 

 Kim Collazo’s response on Twitter brings to light what’s most worrisome about these kinds of ideas:

Empathy Over Efficiency

Efficiency values time-management; empathy values taking all the time that is necessary to build relationships. Both have their place in our classrooms, but we must be careful that the more aggressive pursuits for efficiency don’t swallow up the daily opportunities to foster our relationships.  To learn more about why empathy is so important in every relationship, see the poignant RSA video below in which Dr. Brené Brown describes how to discern genuine empathy.

After all, what does it matter if our students ace every test and memorize every chart if they lack the ability to connect and reach out to one another in compassion and understanding?

Strategies to Convey Empathy

Whatever your subject matter, empathy should take a prominent place in all your instruction–both indirectly in general interactions with students, and directly as you point students’ attention to learning opportunities. 

Love & Logic
  • Even when students are in difficult situations that they created for themselves (ie, sloughing off in class), help them understand that you are still there for them. Start with empathetic responses like, “Wow, I’ve been there, and it’s such a hard place to be.”  The suggestions for solving the problem can wait until after the student truly knows you understand and care.
  • Starting with the youngest children who may cry out in frustration with using scissors, students can begin to gain a sense of authentic human connection when you respond with an empathetic, “I hate it when that happens to me!”  Help them know they are not alone from the earliest age!

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Take the time
  • Joe Bower shared a powerful example of what taking the time to teach a child about empathy–while reflecting genuine empathy–looks like.  “Working With Students When they Are at Their Worst” is definitely a worthwhile read!
  • If your class begins to have more widespread issues, such as dishonesty or unkindness, take time during weekly class meetings to discuss it.  Talk honestly about how those choices are impacting you as their teacher. Talk about everyone’s observations on how it’s impacting the class.  Then brainstorm possible actions everyone can take to solve the issue.
Cause & Effect
  • Have frequent conversations in which students picture themselves in another’s shoes.
  • Discuss possible personal struggles that peers may be experiencing, and which we would never know about.
  • Read books like Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker that explore the impact of bullying.
  • Engage in process drama activities such as Decision Alley that get students thinking about different perspectives
  • Display the quote below by Philo, and frequently brainstorm ways we can be kind

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Photo Credit: 

What Teaching Study Skills REALLY Involves

The long term effects of learning to study can stretch much further than than the average high school sophomore may think.


Bart’s Story

When Bart started school with a half-tuition scholarship that would renew yearly pending his GPA performance, his college career future looked bright.  Once classes began, however, he says he “blew off” his classes and lost the scholarship after two semesters.  This required him to get a part time job on campus, and eventually a full time job–ultimately extending the time until graduation as he had to cut back on classes in order to function.  He hadn’t realized the thousands of dollars he could lose–beyond just the scholarship itself–until it was too late.

Declining Studying Stats

Bart’s story is becoming an increasingly familiar one for college students.  Research shows a significant decline in time students are devoting to their studies.  Until the 1960’s, undergraduates spent about 40 hours per week academically.  Today, that number is down to 27 hours each week–which includes both class time and studying.  The time spent on studying alone is comparable; in 1961, it was 25 hours per week–by 2003, it had whittled down to 13 hours.

The Math and Money of Study Time

Bart urges other students to carefully examine the monetary value of their time spent studying.  Below are some figures to consider:

  • $19 per hour: studying 13 hours per week over a 16-week, $4,000 tuition semester
  • $10 per hour: studying 25 hours per week over a 16-week, $4,000 tuition semester
  • $67 per hour: studying 13 hours per week over a 16-week, $14,000 tuition semester
  • $35 per hour: studying 25 hours per week over a 16-week, $14,000 tuition semester

Whatever the tuition rate, the value of time spent studying to keep up grades and scholarships is worth more than the $7.25 minimum wage jobs students would otherwise need to work.

Genuine Preparation for the Future

University of the Fraser Valley students and teachers. Rick Collins Photography - UFV 1-604-799-0219
University of the Fraser Valley students and teachers.

Informing our students of the numbers listed above is just one small step in preparing them for the realities of college and beyond.  We believe that it is paramount that students cultivate intrinsic motivation if we hope they will dedicate every effort required to succeed in their desired field as adults.  What do the child who has always been denied sugar and the student who always been denied opportunities for self-directed learning have in common?  Both are likely to spend their time and resources unwisely the moment they gain autonomy.

That said, we also find value in encouraging “college and career readiness” strategies to help students view the long term effects of developing study skills.  An example might be teaching a third grader to develop stamina in reading a book without distraction.

As we empower students to develop such motivation and skills, our expectations of them should remain high–not out of pressure-inducing fear that they could otherwise fail in the “real world,” but out of belief in their ability succeed.  This is key in fostering the kind of love of learning now that will truly prepare them prepare them for the future.

What are some ways you prepare students for the future while still encouraging them to live and learn with passion now?  Share in comments below!

Sources:

Campo, Carlos. Jan. 29, 2013. “A Challenge to College Students for 2013: Don’t Waste Your 6,570.” Huffington Post.

Photo Credit:

Featured Image: Francois de Halleux

University of the Fraser Valley

 

 

How the Digital Age is Altering Education’s Landscape (it’s not the gadgets…)

“There’s something powerful and exciting about the society-wide experiment the digital age has thrust upon us.” ~James Estrin, National Geographic¹


Drip Effect

Whatever shape our personal digital involvement takes, the above statement has become irrefutable. With an exponential quantity of global interaction on our hands, we can already identify many ways our lives have changed.  However, time has yet to fully reveal the long term and unintended impacts of technology, known as “drip effects” (Peter Skillen gives the example of cars, where their original purpose was to simply transport people places; the unexpected drip effect became the phenomenon of city sprawl and suburban life²).  To us, the most thrilling aspect of this “society wide experiment” lies in education.

Sudden Educational Evolution

For many years, education remained fairly static.  Professors of education could share similar concepts and resources for decades, with little deviation.  Sure, the pendulum would, at times, swing between such matters as phonics vs. whole language, but nothing altered too radically.

Now, all that is changing thanks to technology.  It’s not just social media platforms that create customized professional development for teachers.  It’s not just cloud storage like Google Drive that foster global collaboration.  It’s not even just Youtube videos that provide instant tutorials for every topic under the sun.  It’s a revolutionizing and unexpected drip-effect: the manner in which teachers are pioneering new practices.  Since even those who graduated college 5 years ago were unlikely to have possessed a textbook on the benefits of Twitter in the classroom, teachers are tinkering and experimenting with new resources themselves–learning and growing right alongside their students!

The Counterintuitive Effects of Vulnerability

This kind of pioneering requires teachers to share their personal, authentic, and vulnerable learning processes–the out-loud wondering, the messy brainstorming, the trial and error, the failed projects–all are brought front and center in the classroom.  What is the result when students watch adults experience genuine learning?  In the “Pencil Metaphor” below (as shared in other posts), the erasers, ferrules, and hangers-on may fear that exposing their limitations could result in a loss of respect, productivity, or control.  The the rest are discovering the true results: strengthened relationships as students see their teachers as more human; heightened motivation as students are inspired by what lifelong learning looks like; and abundant empowerment for everyone in an atmosphere where it is safe to experiment, fail, discover, and grow.

Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)
Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)

During the most recent #5thchat (held Tuesday nights at 8 pm ET), Tyson Lane summarized this approach well:

Such common sharing and learning is also reinforced by the findings of vulnerability and shame researcher, Brene Brown, when she describes the necessary shift in education and business alike, “from controlling to engaging with vulnerability–taking risks and cultivating trust”³ (p. 209.  See her terrific manifesto for leaders here).

Walking the Talk

I was always surprised at how much one phrase delighted my students: “I don’t know.”  Giggles and slightly dropped jaws would consistently ensue, followed by profound discussions on whether I should find out myself (while modeling to them), or whether they could help me figure it out.  My most carefully crafted inquiry questions rarely elicited as much engagement from my students as those three words.  Similarly, I once attempted to create a DIY interactive whiteboard with a Wii remote–a venture that ultimately proved completely ineffective.  Though one might expect that students would respond to such failure with scorn, my students were keenly supportive through every step–and in turn, showed increased willingness to try and share new ideas themselves.

Through blogs, Twitter, and more, I have learned from exceptional individuals who are boldly learning with their students. Listed below are a few:

Trying new technology to improve your classroom is risky.  But even if the intended goal fails, the drip effect of being vulnerable with your students and allowing them to watch you authentically learn is priceless.

Sources:

  1. Estrin, J. “The Visual Village.” National Geographic. October 2013. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/digital-village/estrin-text
  2. Skillen, P. “The Drip Effects of Technology.” http://theconstructionzone.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/the-drip-effect-of-technology/
  3. Brown, Brown. Daring Greatly. New York: Gotham Books, 2012. Print.

Featured Image:

Jason Paluck