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 is my Life

I know the I have been negligent in keeping up with my blog, but (you knew a but had to be coming) I have been spending the time with my family, my students, and my curriculum. Some of you may have even wondered, where did he disappear to?

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cc0 Public Domain

While at my son’s baseball game last night, I was able to jump on Twitter and interact a bit and to look through my Flipboard aggregator. I had to step back from Twitter chats for a while because, well, I was buying too many books and trying to filter through and process too many great ideas. Gamifying classrooms, eXPlore Like a Pirate, blended learning, Ditch Textbook, Learn Like a Pirate, grading, not grading, feedback, badges, personalized learning, embedded assessment, formative assessment, summative assessment, project based learning, innovation, HyperDocs, and mindsets in the classroom are all ideas I am trying to wrap my mind around. Oh, and let’s not forget that I also teach high school theology, college and careers, computer science principals, and junior high religion!

So, I’ve been busy. Such is the life of a teacher and teaching is my life. Being a teacher and building relationships within a classroom is something that God has hardwired into me, but being a stereotypical guy, I pour my all into it. I mean, how many people are at their son’s baseball game curating articles into magazines?
My Twitter PLN is great and I love everyone who is in it. I sometimes feel that I don’t contribute enough or I feel jealous that many of my peers have had the focus to publish a book, present at or attend conferences, teach webinars or create podcasts. Meanwhile, I am all over the place with these ideas and not really incorporating any of them into my classroom or my professional development.
So what might I do to rectify this situation dear reader? I am going to take a statistics course this summer and begin my doctoral studies in the fall. In the past I have written about trying to work out a doctorate online with a board of directors and badges as credentials. Well, I’ve decided to go the traditional university route. I know it will be expensive, but I need the deadlines, a system, and a mentor to hold me accountable. What might I research? Curriculum, assessment, and motivation. Stay tuned for more. My goal is to try and post at least weekly throughout the summer.
Pax Christi

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.

 

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?

Books, Worksheets, and Lecture O My!

Well as soon as I posted my thoughts last week, I came across a couple posts from colleagues I respect that challenged my thinking. I need to try and flesh those thoughts out here.
     1. There are times where lecture (or direct instruction) is necessary or even expected by the students. We can add technology into the mix like a flipped lesson, but it is still someone talking about a concept, definition, or way of doing something to others gathered around to learn.
As a matter of fact, when I reflect further, I enjoy listening to someone who can take a lecture and create an experience for learners (thanks Dave Burgess, Arrrgh).
     2. Even though I haven’t written about it in the past, sometimes a worksheet or a digital worksheet fits the bill. Our students come in all shapes, sizes, cultures, and with different life experiences. George Couros points out in his blog that good teaching is good teaching and that if a worksheet helps a learner grasp a concept better than another means, then use the worksheet.
Picture of a book.

Photo by Dave Huets *

3. If you read my blog regularly, then you might remember that my oldest daughter doesn’t like to read books from a computer screen or E-book reader. Does this mean that she is anti-technology? Does this mean that she should be forced to read text material online? Does this mean she has become a reading snob? Of course not. She is yet another reminder that some of the students we serve need accommodation.
I knew a man from Michigan who described how some students can’t wait to get their new textbooks in the Fall. They savor the smell of the newness and enjoy the pictures and the feel of flipping through the pages. These students are awaiting their learning journey and are pleased that they have that book as their guide.
Let’s not forget that many of our students will be going to college, many of our students will be taking standardized tests including the ACT. If we just turn full control of their learning over to them will we truly be helping them reach their dreams?
* Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dheuts/3811537169/in/photolist-6NP8d6-aT9to6-9K3BPW-2PgAx-97oiDM-aRxNm-fo562E-HdurS-aibaen-7Nbvbk-afoNiM-KLWAb-maAU6-amWKZg-6buevW-6GjMcy-amWKYM-amWKX6-7acJMF-8DFBf3-MLnGM-9TvtEQ-abK4Bq-dGa2xi-2U9nA-bF4Yf7-6Knypk-hss2M-61kymQ-f4HeM7-9ZVvhF-z8GaE-7p6YV5-88og6h-r7w3U-2qKgwi-9uv3gC-mcp7h-5AkV94-4vaZnL-4eXcGM-73sutS-6ae621-9qjvX5-7XKTn8-dtroJc-59THhy-7BAEiV-5RzRtp-7JKRHh

More doing, Less lecture

 2015 - 2After sitting through a day of being lectured to about not lecturing (do as I say), I found it quite fitting that I picked up a book this morning from my shelf and happened to open to a chapter titled No More Lectures. I was also paging through my Evernote files today and my eyes were drawn to this quote from the book,
From the Campfire to the Holodeck: Creating Engaging and Powerful 21st Century Learning Environments by David Thornburg “As long as teaching is dominated by the presentation of material (including that in textbook form), we risk perpetuating wrong approaches to open-ended challenges.” And I don’t believe in coincedences.
I believe that classrooms need to be learner focused places where students can’t wait to get to, but I hear too many of the following phrases;
     “We’ve always done it this way.”
     “I’ve covered it but they didn’t listen.”
     “There’s no way my kids can do that.”
I also see too many people keeping what they do inside their classrooms, using prescribed curricula, and working with little support and no evidence of networking with others. The teachers who fail to meet students where they’re at using the tools that kids use are becoming fewer in education but they still carry weight in their buildings.
My vision for education hinges upon a student centered classroom. One where students have voice and choice. Many of my colleagues would not even think of taking a class period every now and then to just talk with their students. Informal chats in class and online can lead to deeper learning for teachers and a more supportive student body.
I want my kids to be curious problem solvers, critical thinkers and creators not just consumers of factual information and in order to do this they need to have time to reflect, but it takes time to reflect on learning. Why is it that we always come up against time as a constraint to education? Many teachers run out of time in class, so they assign more work to fill up any free time students might have after school (I’m not a fan of homework)! Of course, these are probably the same teachers who lament the fact that our teens don’t get enough sleep on one hand and on the other hand will not be willing to start school a couple hours later in the day.
I’m a fanboy of using portfolios (I need to work this into my own repertoire), blogging, and social media as ways for students to connect with experts, reflect on learning, and sharing with the world their successes and struggles.
Just the other day, Dr. Justin Tarte tweeted the following, You wouldn’t go to a hospital that looked the same as it did 50 years ago, so why do we allow this with our schools? What does this quote from Dr. Tarte have to do with less lecture? Well, I swear that I have desks in my classroom that are at least that old. I’ll admit that I’m overweight, but there are kids bigger than me and I get pinched in some of the furniture I have. But even more than seating and lecture as a primary mode of instruction is the question, why are we teaching the content that we teach? Who decided that the subjects we teach our students are necessary for their future success as learners, leaders, and adults in our society? Personally, I think we need to re-think education.
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What are your thoughts?

Student Voice and Choice: The Future is Now

Just out of curiosity, how do we move to prepare for the future in education while leaving many schools behind where those who are preparing for the future are at?
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Ever since I personally tried to catch up with where the movers and shakers of the edtech community are at I have oftentimes felt that I have been riding on the shirt tails of educational reform. I have tried to keep up to date with the research and trends in education by reading blog posts, attending conferences, creating a stellar PLN and engaging with colleagues via Twitter, Voxer, Flipboard, and other social media sources, but I always feel like I am behind everyone else.
Now, I’m not talking about “keeping up with the Jones’s” by having the newest technology, I am talking about knowing what is right for my students and being able to put what is right into action. Things such as getting rid of desks and putting in comfortable seating, making my classroom more inviting and collaborative, and getting my students connected with a global audience. A student first mindset is essential in moving education forward.
What about all the things students need to know so that they can move on to upper level courses? Should student voice and choice lead education or do we as teachers know that there are certain things that kids need to know, just because?
I would like to know how you plan for the future while trying to catch up with the now? How do you plan your professional development? Should students really have choice and voice or do we as teachers know them well enough to decide for them?
Flying Tardis

“Dr Who (316350537)” by aussiegall from sydney, Australia – Dr WhoUploaded by russavia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dr_Who_(316350537).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dr_Who_(316350537).jpg

Sticks and Stones. . .

Do words matter? When I was a bit younger, someone said to me that my children were precocious. My first thought was, gosh that sounds harsh. Seeing the expression on my face, the person must have known what I was thinking because they then proceeded to define the term to me. From that day forward I vowed to make it a habit to either ask what a word means that I am not familiar with or to look it up in a dictionary.
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So, what is it with the education world trying to co-opt the word rigor? Rigor, by definition, is not something that I want my kids to experience in education. Why do we not use the term vigor when it comes to education? Vigor means full of life, healthy physical and mental power. Rigor has a negative connotation whereas vigor is positive.
I do not want my kids learning that people are strict, unyielding, or harsh. I want my kids to be active learners. I want my kids to be creative communicators who know how to learn and can communicate and collaborate with a global audience. Now this kind of agility and adaptability lends itself better to the term vigor rather than rigor.
Do you think words matter? Would you prefer your kids to be vigorous or rigorous learners? Let me know in the comments.
Hour glass with wings

A Crazy Kind of Teacher

It has been almost one month since my last blog post. Wow, time flies when you’re…….swamped!

I have had the busiest, the most hectic, the most chaotic month than I can remember since I began teaching in 1995!! And I am loving every minute of it 😎 I began my first full-time teaching job since 2009 this August and it seems as though I have been caught in a whirlwind ever since. The year got started as any school year does, and I am at the top of my game in the classroom. It seems to be that all the other pieces of being a veteran teacher have gone out the window. No, the technology pieces are just fine although there have been days….. I have been keeping up with current trends, issues, and research in education like I never have before. Thanks to my Twitter PLN, news aggregators like Feedly (blogs), Flipboard (I have about a dozen magazines that I curate to including technology news, blogs, video games, social media). I also use sparingly Reddit, Tumblr, News 360, Pearl Trees, Pinterest, Zite, and Scoop.It, Rebel Mouse,Nuzzle, Instagram, and Google+.

Google Classroom is a very nice addition that could make my classroom paperless just as soon as all my high school students have a computer of some sort. It seems that Classroom just isn’t ready for the world of mobile learning. I have enjoyed gamifying my 9th grade religion class and using Cel.ly for class communication is awesome. Implementing so many technology pieces, which will include student blogging, flipped learning, and a possible digital textbook makes for a pretty busy first year at a new school. You might be wondering why does this sound so challenging to a veteran teacher? School culture and WADITW (we’ve always done it this way) as a common, sometimes never even stated, response.
I want to be a teacher leader and I have that role firmly established in the classroom by intentionally building relationships with my students. This alone takes a lot of time and planning. I figure that I should just be able to pick up where I left off teaching and dive right in. Whoa there, back the bus up! Some say that I am setting expectations too high for myself, that all I can be is me, and that I will never achieve perfection. I understand this on one level, but on another level, I want to put the best me possible in front of my students every day. Yes, I daresay, my goal is to be a national award winning teacher of the year. I don’t say this because I want an actual award, I say it because it is what my students deserve. If I don’t challenge myself to be the best and set the bar high, what am I really accomplishing for my students?
I was asked by students to be their coach for robotics, and so it is, I am now a robotics coach. Do I know anything about robots? Not a thing. This is where I put myself on the line and get out of my comfort zone (I’m a certified secondary social sciences teacher). Yes, my kids know more than I do and I am learning by leaps and bounds every day! I also want to start a one day a week club where students get together and play good old fashioned board games (we could sneak in some video games too). I see how important it is for even high school students to enjoy time at school by playing. Play involves most of Dr. Tony Wagner’s @DrTonyWagner 7 Survival Skills and we get to have fun learning.
Okay, so my reading of books has taken a hit, but like this video about Snap Chat explains, I am living in the moment and I am definitely living the dream! 😎