Teaching Strategies: Are They Worth It?

img_0384Teaching strategies is a topic I give a lot of thought to. Hattie’s Visible Learning and effect size is getting much of my attention as of late. The FIT teaching approach as a framework for growth and leadership piques my curiosity. Carol Dwerks’s Mindsets make mind sense. And, the teachers throwing out grades (#ttog) movement has me focused on feedback versus letter grades.

Finding effective teaching methods has been a goal of mine for the past five years. I have to admit that I go into most teaching situations with an idea and content that has to be covered. Rarely do I have time to think about how to best help students learn the concepts, ideas, and content with a scaffold that helps provide structure and support in order to move learning forward.

So, I hunt for the elusive silver bullet that will help me make a difference for my students and colleagues. Recently, I purchased a book of strategies that had examples and processes for over 50 types like anticipation/reaction guide, discussion partners, mind maps, think-pair-share, jigsaw, etc. I know that I will be able use many of these with success in my classroom.

One of the problems I’m trying to solve is how to effectively teach vocabulary. img_0383I teach three sections of 9th grade theology and there is a lot of new vocabulary that then represents ideas or concepts that are highly elusive in the best of times. So, I was searching for strategies and came across a website for Marzano research that offers access to over 300 teaching strategies for $30.00 per month yearly subscription. I was wondering if anyone has used this subscription service and whether it is worth the price?

Teaching: What Works?

I teach a year 9 theology course where there are lots of new vocabulary, many abstract concepts that need to be made concrete, and students who will doubt the validity of what I teach. Because of this, I have been searching for how to best serve my students and I have run across some ideas that are tried and true. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of change or trying new things, but I do want my kids to have a solid foundation in faith. The guiding principles at my school are “Inspiring Faith and Excellence.”

Visible Learning

Visible Learning, written by John Hattie and Gregory Yates

Earlier this spring I came across two sources that stated what the best teaching strategies are based upon research. Results from small research studies can be posted almost as soon as a researcher has completed a project. Which means they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Personally, I feel as though I was cheated in my teacher education program and that I need to begin teaching with strategies that have been proven through research to work.

The National Council of Teaching Quality (NCTQ) published this work that stated the following about fundamental teaching strategies:

     1. Pair graphics with words,

     2. Link abstract concepts with concrete.                 Brepresentations,

     3. Pose probing questions,

     4. Repeatedly alternating problems with solutions and problems that need to be solved,

     5. Distributing practice,

     6. Assessing to boost retention.

Some of these may seem to be pretty obvious but there were four that were new to me (numbers 3-6). I would think that having been teaching for more than twenty years I would be familiar with all six “fundamental teaching strategies.”

I also have been reading John Hattie and Gregory Yates’s book  titled Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn. I was also generally surprised to see that the teaching strategies that had the greatest affects on student learning matched nicely with the NCTQ report. I keep hearing people talk about teachers being facilitators of learning, coaches, or guide on the side. But, in Hattie and Yates’s book, direct instruction, feedback, and teacher clarity had just more than double the effect size as inductive teaching, simulation and gaming, and problem based learning.

I’m also glad to see that scaffolding, as shared in this recent post from Edutopia by Rebecca Alber,  was also mentioned in the Visible Learning book as a “critical instructional component.” Hattie and Yates also state, …”there is little basis to suggest that personal discovery within itself assists a person to actually learn. In fact, additional load (cognitive load) imposed by the need to explore and find things out can detract from our capacity to assimilate the information uncovered.”

So what does all this mean for me as a teacher? It means that I need to build solid relationships with my students, use fundamentally sound research based teaching strategies that have been proven to work, scaffold learning, and make sure my kids get timely feedback. I also see a disconnect between what teachers are saying works (teacher as facilitator) and what research has proven to work (teacher as activator). Thoughts anyone?

30 Goals Challenge: Exercise 2

Quite a while back I began Shelly Sanchez Terrell‘s The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform your Teaching (I carry the book with me everywhere Shelly). I have been so busy that I tend to look at the cover and sigh, saying, “I will get back around to you one of these days.” Well today is the day! And I am going to Blog about it. My posts might not be real lengthy, but I hope to cause you, dear reader, to pause and think. Think about how we can become the best darn teachers in the world for the world’s best kids.

As part of exercise 2, I am creating goals and my teaching manifesto. I’m not sure of being at the manifesto part yet, but I do have goals. I used a tool called Buncee to create the stunning visual below. I also have a copy posted in my classroom for all to see. What are your goals for this school year?

My 2016 30 Goals Challenge.

My 2016 30 Goals Challenge.

 

Knowledge: Easy Come, Easy Go

Knowledge about educational psychology, educational technology, relationship building, and being able to implement sound pedagogy are all essential tools for helping a teacher to be successful. So why then do many teachers appear to either lack one or more of these skills or they lack the time and energy to research these topics? Why do some teachers appear to be so skilled and competent, whereas I feel like I can never consume enough research or learn enough about my students to just keep my head above water?

I know that most teachers believe that what they teach is very important for our kids to know for success in life, but do these same teachers truly believe that kids will actually remember what they were teaching decades later? The only thing I can recall from my high school chemistry class is that the chemical equation (if that’s even the proper term) is C6 H12 O6. Most of the material from high school geometry and algebra is either very deeply buried in my subconscious or lost because I haven’t had to use it for quite some time. Heck, maybe I’m literally losing my mind because much of what I learned in college geography and earth science has been lost to the ages. And I majored in geography with an earth science minor!

  
There is an old saying I recall, “it’s like riding a bike.” The saying is meant to convey the idea that anything learned can be easily recalled just as if you have not rode a bike in a few years you will be able get back on a bike and ride it any way because you learned to do it at one time. Well, I beg to differ. I think that the mind begins to let go of ideas, concepts, and information after they have not been used in quite some time and this is much different from learned psychomotor skills. Although, muscles that are not used do tend to retard or even atrophy over time.

The question for this teacher is which happens quicker, the loss of learned ideas, concepts, and information or the loss of psychomotor skills OR were the ideas, concepts, and information ever fully understood? I guess I need to do more research.

What Makes a Catholic School Catholic?

This is my first Blog about Catholic schools and theology. I am a teacher at heart, but the BIG eternal questions have begun to dominate my time. The seriousness of trying to get others to Heaven has been weighing heavily on my mind as a new school year has begun.
Catholic School

First and foremost a Catholic school should be the face of Christ to the world. The very first question we in Catholic education must ask ourselves is, will what we are doing help our students to become saints? A very close second question should be, what are we doing to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life? I teach high school theology, junior high religion, a college and careers class, and a mobile computer science principals class. I teach in a Catholic school! But, how is a Catholic school any different from a public school or a charter school? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are three types of Catholic elementary and secondary schools.”(There) are parochial schools, which are associated with particular parishes; diocesan schools, which are associated with the larger diocesan unit; and private order schools, which are associated with specific groups within the Catholic church, such as the Christian Brothers, Dominican, Jesuit, and Marianist Orders (see full statistics here).”

In choosing to send my children to a Catholic school as well as 20 percent of my meager income, I expect that they will have theology or religion class on a daily basis because we all know from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that our purpose here on earth is to know, love, and serve God in this life so as to be happy with Him eternally. I choose not to send my children to public schools because most public schools are bigger and I want my children to be part of a smaller albeit strong academic community of disciples responding to the call of Christ. I also expect my children to learn charity by serving the culture of life through total giving of self. I expect a Catholic school to ground my children in the mission, sacramental life, and magisterial teachings of the Church. I want everyone of my students to be able to combat social relativism, know what and why the Church teaches what it does, and then be able to defend and apply that teaching to their lives.

I came across the following article recently by Jason Adams, “Raising Religious & Moral Standards for Catholic High School Students,” and after just one year of teaching high school theology I concur with his findings. I am especially disappointed that theology (the study of God) is not given the same academic status (rigor, or as I prefer, vigor) as the rest of the curriculum. This all begins and ends with the culture of the school. If the culture in a Catholic school is not clearly focused on Christ, if it is at all caustic, negative, or even doubtful about Church teachings, then students will pick up on this and theology or religion will become a touchy-feely-everyone-sing-kumbya-and-be-happy class because the tenants of our faith really don’t matter. If all a Catholic school does differently than a public school is pay lip service by “looking” Catholic and praying, then is it really a Catholic school?

In my opinion, theology is probably the most academically challenging course a student can have. In theology we are trying to understand God, to prove that He even exists. I have a lot of priest friends and one of them told me about a class where he was talking about concepts like eternity, God being outside time, and the uncreated creator. At one point he stated, “I only began to be able to understand this concept enough to explain it to others about five years ago.” His advice to me that same day was, “we all should be aware that if we don’t practice what we preach, then we begin to lose that which we once knew.” Theology is definitely not like learning to ride a bike. We will never fully understand God in a lifetime of committed theological study, but we can begin to know Him better and be able to evangelize others through this study.

One of Adams’s solutions for making Catholic schools more Catholic is,

          “Students should be made accountable for learning, retaining,
           and applying the content of the faith. They should read primary
           documents, research matters of faith and morality, write in-depth
          analytical papers, take notes frequently, and give quality individual
          presentations. They should be exposed to adult thinking about the faith
           from their teachers, guest speakers, and other sources such as articles
          from Catholic periodicals and audio/video presentations from orthodox
          theologians. Accountability for learning also means frequent testing and
          honest evaluations of the quality of students’ work. Religion courses
          should be anything but cupcake classes, considering the volume and
          complexity of theological concepts that they survey.”

This is a serious charge to undertake and sometimes stake holders at Catholic schools get sucked into the idea of the school having a “Catholic identity” but get distracted by numbers of graduates attending college (don’t get me wrong here as I want all my students and children to attend college, but not at the cost of their eternal happiness), numbers of students taking advanced placement or honors classes, or even numbers of students scoring high on state achievement tests. Many Catholic schools have a Mass, pray, and have kids wear uniforms, but does this alone make the school truly Catholic? Most Catholic schools have theology courses but at many of those schools people continue to see theology as a fluff class. The question often is, how can you assess my son or daughter on religion? So, the conclusion is that it’s a feelings course with an automatic A attached. We cannot afford to do this to our children especially in an era when Catholic church numbers are dropping drastically. In May, the publication Crux published a finding from a Pew Research survey which showed that only sixteen percent of Millennials (those people born between 1981 – 1996) identify as Catholic (see article here).

Religion should be at the heart of every Catholic school’s educational program and research has proven that Catholic schools, religious orders, and the priesthood begin to thrive when there is a commitment to the Magisterium, the principles of Catholic faith, and the moral life of the church. Students need to be exposed to the roots of our Catholic Faith and its relevance and application to contemporary living and faith issues. If Catholic teachers and administrators really took to heart what the Church teaches and the eternal implications of what we do here on earth have on the next part of our journey, then we would be on our knees daily as a staff praying for the students and families we are privileged to serve. As St. Theresa of Calcutta was fond of saying, “I see and adore the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

Technology, A Blessing and A Curse

Always on, connected 24/7 always carrying more technology than the astronauts involved in the Apollo moon landing can be both a blessing and a curse. As I tried to follow along with the #NotAtISTE2015 group and all the wonderful presentations from ISTE 2015 I realized that I could not keep up. It was too mentally stimulating. I felt like my mind was on information over load. I realized that I need a break!

It seems as though I have lived, breathed, and soaked in social media and education for six years straight. I believe that everyone needs to take a vacation or even a staycation (is that even a word?). Needless to say, I’m taking the month of July off. No social media, no blogging, no Voxing, no Twitter. Unfortunately, Email never goes away. If I didn’t keep up with that at least every other day, I would most likely have over 1,000 Emails by August 1st.
July 2015 Calendar
One of the first people I began following on Twitter was Dr. Doug Belshaw. He (@dajbelshaw) started taking a month away from social media in 2007. He called it Belshaw Black Ops. Doug has the right idea, we all need to take a break from our always on society. I too am going to focus on reading books during July and spending time with my family (Coach D – I will also NOT be following news stories).

Yesterday I read a blog post written by another Twitter friend of mine, David Geurin (@DavidGeurin). He is a high school principal, blogger, and moderator of #MOedchat. You can read David’s post here. One thing from his post hit home and it hit me hard. He said, “I will pull back as I completely restructure my time. You see, there are five people in my life who are counting on me more than anyone else. They call me husband and dad.” I don’t know why Mr. Geurin’s post resonated so profoundly with me. Is it because we are both married and have four children? Is it because I too feel that my family had been getting whatever dad has left over in the tank after ed chats, school, grading, and student events?

Whatever the reasons, I have these two men to thank for my disappearance from the Twitterverse and digital social media. I’m going to live in the moment, try to dream, relax, and connect with people face to face. I’ll be back in August with #CathTheoEdChat and start gearing up for fall presentations and the 2015-2016 school year, but I’m hoping I can be a better resource to my PLN upon my return.

25 Books to Gnaw on Over the Summer

Games 65986_Barnes_Assessment30 3D-LLAP-254x300 The New Teacher Revolution

Looking to up your game, keep up to date with current trends and research, or develop professionally? Well, look no further because these 25 books are on fire. Quick reads with a plethora of opportunities to step out of your comfort zone into a world of meaningful learning. All of these authors practice what they preach and every one of them is personally approachable and helpful.

Don’t wait for the beginning of next school year! Add some personalized PD to your summer months. You cannot go wrong with these 😎 Please add your summer books to the list in the comments!

Anderson, Mark, and Jackie Beere. Perfect ICT Every Lesson. New York: Crown House, 2013. Print. Save to EasyBib

Barnes, Mark. Assessment 3.0: Throw out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning. Print. Save to EasyBib

Barnes, Mark. Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-centered Classroom. Print.

Bender, William N. Project-based Learning: Differentiating Instruction for the 21st Century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012. Print.

Bonk, Curtis Jay. The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.

Clarke, John H. Personalized Learning: Student-designed Pathways to High School Graduation. Print.

Davis, Vicki A. Reinventing Writing. the 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Learning, and Living. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.

Dueck, Myron. Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn. Print.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:. New York: Ballantine, 2008. Print.

Ferlazzo, Larry. Building a Community of Self-motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and beyond. Print.

Gee, James Paul. The Anti-education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. Print.

Grant, Peggy. Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology. Print.

Gray, David, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo. Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly, 2010. Print.

Hirumi, Atsusi. Online and Hybrid Learning Trends and Technologies. Print.

Horn, Michael B., Heather Staker, and Clayton M. Christensen. Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. Print.

Keeler, Alice and Miller, Libbi. 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom. Print.

Miller, Matt. Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom. Print.

Meloy, Judith M. Writing the Qualitative Dissertation: Understanding by Doing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print.

Ricci, Mary Cay. Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools. Print.

Solarz, Paul. Learn like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed. Print.

Stumpenhorst, Josh. The New Teacher Revolution: Changing Education for a New Generation of Learners. Print.

Terrell, Shelly Sanchez. The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform Your Teaching. Print.

Tucker, Catlin R. Blended Learning in Grades 4-12: Leveraging the Power of Technology to Create Student-centered Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012. Print.

Wettrick, Don. Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level. Print

Please add your summer books to the list in the comments!

YAY! School’s out for Summer ;)

You have probably seen the teacher countdowns to the end of the school year. You may have seen or discussed plans for summer vacations. Now taking a break in the form of a vacation is important, but recognize that teachers don’t get the summer off!

IMG_0136

For all of you new teachers or pre-service teachers, let’s hope you aren’t joining the profession for June, July, and August. I will give you a little insight into this teacher’s plans for summer. A little backstory here, I have taught off and on since 1995 and my background is in the social sciences. I was hired this past school year to teach theology, religion, college and careers, and mobile computer science principals (MCSP).

Every content area was new to me, the building and staff were new, and the culture/traditions were new. Needless to say, it has been just like being a new teacher again.

At my school we have finals next week and the school year officially ends May 28th. Woo Hoo! Schools out for summer……. Not really.

I have already been researching and planning differently for next year. One of the online summer courses I’m taking is already running with assignments due NEXT WEEK! I also have a six week online course to help me prepare for the mobile computer science principals class. There goes 1/2 of June and all of July. If that isn’t enough, I will spend another four weeks online from the last week of July until mid August. So that’s six credits over the summer and I will get a stipend instead of credits for MCSP.

What time is left? Time for moving my family to the area, setting up accounts, and maybe a day or two at a water park. I’m not complaining either, I just want people (especially people outside of education) to know that all summer is NOT a huge vacation in the life of a teacher!

Ending Strong

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimjarmo/6011264840/

Creative Commons via jimjarmo

I don’t feel on top of my game today. I know that old adage, “you choose your attitude.” I want to feel good, excited, motivated, inspirational today, but I am literally drained. Some people say, “well it’s that time of year.” Others say, “how many days do we have left?” And still more say, “get ready for your schedule to be disrupted.”

What should we do to make even the small moments of time we have left with our students meaningful? How can we re-charge and motivate ourselves and our students to end the school year strong? I feel as though I have been flying by the seat of my pants all year and now I want to end strong.

This is my first full-year back in the classroom after a five year hiatus and I want to end the year with excitement for me and my students. They don’t want to read any more, they don’t want to do vocabulary or discuss religion any more. It seems as though the kids’ heads are already in summer vacation mode. It feels like pulling teeth just waiting for them to respond.

What will motivate us for the next three weeks so that we can end the school year strong?