To set the scene, imagine that you are in your classroom.  You are getting the kids started on one of your standing assignments that everyone in the room knows will come each week:

You: All right, let’s all get started on (insert that assignment that your students hate to do).

Class: Collective groaning.  From the back you can hear one student say “Why do we always have to do this?”

You find yourself wondering why the reaction is like this – you might think to yourself “they loved doing this earlier in the year!”  Fast forward to the due date.  As you are collecting the assignment, you see that the students who play school well completed the assignment, but it’s clear that they put forth the minimum amount of effort possible.  You also notice that some of your students did not complete the assignment, and no amount of effort from you is going to get them to finish the task – you could have them work in the hall, take away recess, call parents, etc. – nothing is going to make a difference for those students.

As a teacher we have all experienced this.  So here’s the question – why do we keep asking our students to complete assignments that they hate?  Why do we keep giving assignments that students don’t put forth much effort, or simply don’t do the assignment at all?  Why do we keep giving assignments that put the effort on us to run down the missing assignments when the students are putting no effort into the assignment?

HSE21 Best Practice Model
HSE21 Best Practice Model

When I was writing last week’s post, I inserted the HSE21 Best Practice Model.  As I put it into the post, something jumped out to me in a different way than ever before.  Look at the Best Practice Model above – in this blog I have spent a lot of time talking about the boxes on the outside: Student-Centered Approaches; Cognitive Curriculum; Fundamental Classroom Conditions; and Transfer of Learning.  Last week for some reason, the purple circle that connects them all jumped out at me – in particular the word at the top “Reflection.”  Given that New Year’s Day is approaching, I would guess that a lot of us are taking time to reflect on the last year, and many of us think first of our personal life, however reflection is an important aspect of teaching as well.  What better time to take a few moments for reflection than to do so over the 2 week winter break?

Think about how your year has gone so far.  What’s working well?  What isn’t?  Do you often have situations like the one that I referenced at the top?  How could you adjust your assignments so that they don’t get stale?  Even the most engaging activity today may get old and stale to our students if we do the same thing every day or every week over a long period of time.  Find some ways to mix up what you are doing in your classroom to increase student engagement.  For me, an important part of reflection is also getting feedback and ideas from my colleagues.  If you have an activity that has gotten stale, talk with your colleagues – see if anyone has an idea of how you could spice up that activity and make it more engaging to your students.  Or maybe you will just decide to let that activity go for a while – replace it with something else that might serve the same purpose.

New Years ResolutionIf you never take the time to reflect, you may miss out on opportunities for growth as a teacher, as well as opportunities to help your students grow.  As I reflect on this school year, one of the things I am most disappointed in is the amount of time I have had to spend in my office rather than out and about during the school day.  One of my resolutions for the new school year is to spend more time out in our classrooms seeing the awesome things that you all do on a daily basis with our students.  Please help hold me accountable to this goal!

What resolutions have you set for yourself?  Personal or professional, share them in the comments below.  We can all help hold each other accountable to our goals and resolutions.


Choosing to Cheat

There have been periods in my career in education where I felt as though I was living at school.  Back in my coaching days I would often arrive at school around 6, work on grading, planning, or whatever else needed to be done, teach a full day, coach my team, come back to my room to do more work, head home for a quick dinner, grade something else, go to bed, and do it again tomorrow.  In those days I was cheating my other priorities – my family, my friends, and my health.  How many times have you looked at your to-do list and felt that there was no way you could get it all done?  I know that there are days that I walk in to my office with 3 things on my to-do list that are left over from yesterday.  Over the course of a day I may add several new items to it, but am not able to cross anything off my list.  In those moments, I choose to cheat.  I can’t do it all.  There are 24 hours in a day, and 168 hours in a week.  Sometimes there are things we can’t make it through.

Do you ever feel like your to do list looks like this?!?!
Do you ever feel like your to do list looks like this?!?!

We all have important things in our life that take up some of those 168 hours in a week, and while we are all professional educators, there are other priorities in everyone’s life.  Here’s the thing about choosing to cheat though: we have to be strategic in the ways that we choose to cheat.  I keep to-do lists (some are on my phone in the reminders app, some are jotted on scraps of paper in my office) and when I create them, I also prioritize them.  Certain things can only be done when there are students here, others can be done first thing in the morning, or after my afternoon bus duty.  Phone calls to parents – that can happen anytime (thank goodness for *67 and the speakerphone feature so that I can call while I’m in the car).  When you look at the things that you are doing in your classroom, prioritize them.  Think about the needs of your learners – are you doing things to help the students in your classroom grow?  If you can’t emphatically say yes, then that may be something you need to choose to cheat on.  Keep in mind, cheating isn’t about slacking off, but rather it’s about making sure you are intentional in how you use the time you have.

Use this to help guide your thinking and the areas where you may choose to cheat.
Use this to help guide your thinking and the areas where you may choose to cheat.

Throughout the process of HSE21, one of the messages that Danielle and I have always tried to share with you is that we don’t expect you to do it all right now.  When our teaching and learning team (Jan Combs, Phil Lederach, and Stephanie Loane) came to present a few weeks back, one of their slides talked about “More of this” and “Less of this.”  Take a look at that slide to the right.  If you’re spending a lot of time in the less of column, that may be something that you need to reexamine.  It’s also important to look at the HSE21 Best Practice Model (below) to guide our intentional thinking about what is best for the learners who walk into our classroom every day.

HSE21 Best Practice Model
HSE21 Best Practice Model

Think about the things that you value most.  Do you devote your time accordingly?  If not, you are probably stressed out, unhappy, and might feel unsuccessful.  To be a good teacher, you have to be in the right mental place.  Think about the choices you make and how they are benefitting you and your students.  If you are making choices that don’t benefit you and your students, try to find a way to make a change.  Be willing to set aside things that do not hold as much value, and instead focus on the things that are most valuable to you and the students in your class.

What are some of the ways you choose to cheat?  Are there things you have given up, or maybe don’t do as often?  Maybe there are things you focus on for a while, then let fall out of focus, only to come back to later.  Share in the comments below how choosing to cheat has helped you to be a better teacher and a more rounded person.

Get in the backseat and let them drive!

At the finish line of the Hilly Hundred.  Watching the other riders come in!
At the finish line of the Hilly Hundred. Watching the other riders come in!

Many of you know that a physically fit lifestyle is something that is important to me.  For quite some time I have gone through phases of running, biking, swimming, or lifting weights.  In most of those activities, I seem to hit a plateau and feel I can’t get over the hump to improve any more.  Then, someone will convince me to do something to force myself to take it up a notch.  One year I participated in the RAIN ride (Ride Across INdiana – a one day bike ride from Terre Haute to Richmond), and this year I completed two half marathons – a feat my younger self would have told you was impossible.  Each of these events forced me to get over my plateau, and I did that through training.  In the past I always had simply worked out, but to prepare for these events I had to truly train.  In work out mode I would show up, do my workout, feel pretty good about it, but I didn’t push myself to go above and beyond.  In training mode I had to create a schedule the forced me to go further or faster than I had in the past, and hold myself accountable so that I could achieve my goals.

Some of our students are in work out mode.  They show up, they do their routine, and they go home.  Some get good grades because they can play the part, others do well because it’s what their parents expect, and some don’t do well at all.  Then there are the students who are in training mode.  Something grasps their curiosity and they run with it.  They truly learn because they can see where their education is taking them

Sitting in the backseat and just along for the ride...
Sitting in the backseat and just along for the ride…

One of the goals that teachers should have for themselves is to help students take control of their own education, to put themselves in training mode.  Unfortunately, some of our students don’t yet have that attitude.  So… how do we get them there?  It all lies in the mindset of the student.  If a student doesn’t see the relationship between what they are doing in your classroom and what they want to do one day, they aren’t going to buy in.  To get them to buy in, we have to know the kids and know their goals.  Goal setting and conferencing will allow us to learn more about our kids and their interests.  Then we can help guide them in their learning so that they see the connection between what they are doing in class and their future.

How can we get our kids hooked on their own learning? Giving them opportunities to set their own goals, and choices in their learning will help!
How can we get our kids hooked on their own learning? Giving them opportunities to set their own goals, and choices in their learning will help!

Once we know that the kids see the value in what they are doing, the next step is to hand it over to them.  Once again going back to the HSE21 best practices model, student choice plays an important role in best practices.  Giving up control can be scary – there could be issues, but the fear of possible issues should not prevent us from providing students with the benefits that come from letting students take the driver’s seat of their education.

If you’re looking for ways to integrate more student choice, look into Genius Hour or Twenty-Percent Time programs (Gmail exists because of a Twenty-Percent Time project by an engineer at Google).  Or you could look for other ways for students to innovate in their learning.  Start with a learning goal, but give students the choice of how to share their learning at the end, or give them choices in how they will reach the learning goal.  Not everyone has to do the same thing, and some kids may be able to take their learning beyond the work out phase and into the training phase when given more choices.

What have you done that has allowed you to give up control?  How did it go?  What were the good things to come from it?  What struggles did you find?

Importance of student feedback

A couple weeks ago I had a post on how to influence students (click here to see it again).  This weekend I was reading a post by A.J. Juliani on his blog titled “The Future of Learning” and I saw an article that related to my previous post, but he looked at things from a slightly different perspective.

What are the best ways to give feedback to our students?
What are the best ways to give feedback to our students?

Through reading Juliani’s blog, I ended up reading a research paper written by a team of psychologists from Stanford, Yale, Columbia, and several other well known schools to look at the type of feedback that is given to students.  In this study the authors were testing to see if the type of feedback given on an essay written by 7th graders could result in greater effort (as measured by an increased number of revisions), and improved quality of final drafts.

While there have been many studies on how to provide praise to our students, there has been limited research in how to provide meaningful criticism that will result in improvements for students.  Many of us place our criticism in the format of 3 stars and a wish (or something of this nature) to boost self-esteem before delivering the criticism.

The reality is, self-esteem is not the key to being able to hear criticism, but rather trust is the key.  Boosting self-esteem will not always boost trust.  When trust exists, we are able to see criticism as information to help us improve.

In the experiment, some students received “wise feedback” while other students received “neutral feedback” on their papers.  Simply through the type of feedback that was given to a student, there was a marked improvement in students choosing to revise their paper (a 40% increase in student effort) and improvement in overall performance on the final paper (you can see the study here).

So, what was the magical feedback that led to such extreme improvements?  What note was written on the top of each paper with similar feedback below?  The experimental phrase was:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

That’s right – 19 words written on the top of the paper.  In other aspects of the study, these words helped develop greater trust between the student and the teacher, which in turn provided students with a sense of belonging and connection.

For the students who were in the control group, the note at the top of the page looked very different.  It simply said “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.”

Remember that feedback tells us about the relationship that we hold together.  Feedback like what you see in bold above gives the students some clear messages: you’re part of this group; we have high standards; and I believe you can reach those standards.  So what lessons can we as teachers take away from this?  In the post from Juliani that led me to this research study, he referenced an article by Daniel Coyle, the author of The Talent Code.  His lessons from this study are as follows:

  1. Connect: As John Wooden said, they can’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  2. Highlight the group: Seek ways (traditions, mantras, fun little rituals) to show what it meas to belong in your crew.
  3. Don’t soft-pedal high standards: Don’t pretend that it’s easy – do the opposite.  Emphasize the toughness of the task, and your belief that they have what it takes!

Have you found success in sharing feedback in this manner?  If so, share with us how you let students know that they are part of the group, the group has high standards, and your belief that the students can reach those standards.

Sometimes our feedback can be a little misguided...
Sometimes our feedback can be a little misguided…

Enhancement or Transformation?

Avoid the $1000 Pencil
Avoid the $1000 Pencil

Being that we are in the second year of a 1:1 program, we all know that adding technology to education comes at a cost – money, time, and effort.  If it’s done well, technology can transform teaching and learning.  If it’s done poorly, our students are left holding a “$1,000 pencil” according to George Couros (@gcouros), a Canadian principal and education speaker.  As I said last week, our pedagogy must drive our technology.  Don’t use tech just because our kids have an iPad; instead use tech to create a learning experience that would not have been possible otherwise.  Remember, we want to integrate tech where it works.  Hopefully the rest of this post will provide some ideas about how to transform education for our students.

SAMR Model
SAMR Model

Most of us have seen the SAMR model (to the left) as a framework to help you evaluate the best technology in your classroom.  This framework is developed from the bottom up.  As you see in the graphic, the creator of SAMR places Substitution and Augmentation in the Enhancement group (think of enhancement as the most basic change – it may improve the lesson, but maybe not the thinking).  Then there is a dashed line before you get to Modification and Redefinition which fall in the Transformation group (think of transformation as a thorough change in the form of education – it will improve the lesson and the thinking).  Many teachers find that dashed line to be a tall fence to climb.  In essence, to get over that fence, teachers sometimes have to throw previous activities out the window and create something new, and other times it requires a complete redesign of the activity.  In order to make that jump from augmentation to modification, here are some ideas:

  1. Know your goals – don’t think task or app, think learning outcome.
  2. Think about things you’ve done in the past and identify their strengths – what experiences were important for students, and what were the areas of growth from those experiences?
  3. Find a tool that can meet your goals and has similar strengths – with a quick Google search you can find websites and apps that might work. Scan their features to see if something does what you need it to do.
  4. Keep an open mind – don’t eliminate a tool just because you’ve never used it before.
  5. Generate several ideas for activities – make a list of possible tools. Cross out the ones that you don’t think will work.
  6. Put the plan into action – remember that the best way to learn new tech is to play with it. If you don’t know a tool yet, don’t feel like you can’t let students use it.  I have yet to have a student tell me “I can’t use this, we haven’t had PD on it!”  Students are just as capable of playing with an app or website to figure out what it can do, and if they’re really stuck, they’ll use Google or YouTube to help them figure it out.  Plus, if it’s new, students will be more excited and engaged!
  7. Be ready to adjust on the fly – remember, failure is part of the learning process. If something doesn’t work, go back to the drawing board.  Sometimes our willingness to model failure will help our students accept the idea that we learn and grow in times of failure.

One other idea that may help you to transform education for your students is through collaboration.  Don’t feel like you have to redevelop everything you are doing on your own.  Get together with others who teach the same subject as you and pick a topic.  Bring some of your favorite activities that fit that topic, and collaborate to find a way to make the jump from enhancement to transformation.  Then, after you try something, come back together to talk about what worked well, what didn’t, and what you would do next.  And if meeting together is not possible, use tech to collaborate – create a shared planning document in Office 365, or Facetime with your colleagues to plan when you both are free but cannot be together.

On Matt Miller’s website there is an excellent article titled 10 ways to reach SAMR’s redefinition level.  Follow the hyperlink for some great ways to take it up a notch!

Where are you in terms of the SAMR model with the tech you are using in your room?  Do you feel you are sticking to the enhancement zone, or have you jumped the fence into the transformation zone?