Thursday, February 16, 2017

Teaching Tip #115

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #115
Whole-minded instruction.  This is something I learned about during a grad class this summer.
Whole-mind instruction is a new way of envisioning teaching.  It is a way of viewing education that keeps two key factors in mind: creativity and problem solving.  On top of those, whole-mind instruction allows for students to creatively solve problems in real time.
Whole-mind instruction, which is key in meeting the “just-in-time” learning demands of the digital generation has several key components: information information fluency (which has two key features where students must first “access” information digitally and second, “assess” it for bias, reliability, and accuracy), collaboration fluency (where students must work together not just with classmates but other students in the state or even country . . . or even in other countries.  One great tool for this is Skype), creative fluency (where students get to focus on design, art, and storytelling of a project or blog post or activity), and media fluency (where students can sift through the crap that is so prevalent on the internet and find what is important – or as John Merrow, from PBS, notes in his great book The Influence of Teachers – we should be teaching students how to analyze what they read on the internet – to recognize the wheat from the chaff . . . and to choose the wheat, or the pertinent information).
If we are able to do these things, we will make our learning relevant and engaging, so the implications for education couldn’t be more important.  I saw this happen right before my eyes in entrepreneurship class at my high school.  The teacher had a “show me the money” assignment.  He gave each student $5.00 on Monday.  They had to thinking of ways to take that seed money of five dollars and see how much profit they could make from it.  The winning idea was from a student who promptly took his money and went to a local grocery store.  He bought a case of bottled water, 24 bottles.  He knew that our school charged 1.50 cents for a bottle.  He would undercut them by selling his bottles from several small coolers he kept in his locker (with ice he got for free from out training room).  But he didn’t just stop there.  He put out a social media campaign.  He pushed content out on Twitter and Instagram, notifying his peers of the bargain he was selling from his locker.  He even shot a mini commercial and published it on Youtube.  After the first day, he had $24.00 and bought four more cases of water.  By the end of the week, he easily won the “show me the money” assignment because he had taken his $5.00 and made well over $100 in profit!  I think that is a great assignment that encompassed the whole-mind approach to instruction.  The student was engaged.  He was able to use skills from his entrepreneurship class as well as his other classes (so he was applying the knowledge he had learned in school), and he was also using his digital citizenship skills by applying his social media skill (so he was applying relevancy to his knowledge) to publicize and advertise his little water bottle business.  Of course, the learning doesn’t need to stop there.  He could collaborate with a local business on a possible internship where he could again apply both his knowledge and his relevant skills to work out in the real world!  How amazing is that?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Teaching Tip #114

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #114
How can we better engage parents and the community in the process of making school more relevant for students?
I think the answer to this question lies in the technology that the digital generation is so adept at using.  I could see several ways this could be done.  One way – and this happens to be quite popular at our elementary school right now – is to have each student take turns being the social media person for the day.  Several of our elementary teachers have an “Instagramer of the day.”  What is great about this is that when you post something to Instagram, you can also instantly publish it to your Twitter and Facebook accounts too.  I know this is very successful in engaging parents in what goes on in the classrooms there.  I like a point that one education critic made (I think it was John Merrow from PBS, but I’m not sure) – he said that when you are going to purchase a car, you can test drive it several times, you can research it on the internet, you can haggle over the price with the car salesperson.  When you buy a house, you have it inspected, you tour it several times, you can research it online too, and finally you haggle with the real estate agent.  But what about schools?  Outside of their school website (which is probably pretty bland and unengaging), what options do you have to learn about what goes on IN the school on a day to day basis?  None.  But social media, changes that.  It can be a very powerful tool for allowing parents, residents, and others to see the great work that goes on in our schools.
I think using a blog is another way to engage parents and the community in making school relevant.  What I love about Blogger, is that it is such a great platform for other digital tools (such as Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TED Ed, Storify, Padlet, and so on).  This allows students to post their work for the world beyond the classroom to see.  Parents can see their work.  Their peers can see their work.  Their grandparents living across the country and see it.  Plus, they can get real world feedback from others besides just me, their teacher.  I had students create short 120 second iMovie trailers for an Edgar Allan Poe story of their choice.  Then I had them publish them to Youtube.  One student got feedback from someone in another country!
My favorite story about the power of Blogger to engage parents and the community and to make school more relevant happened a few years ago.  In my College Composition course I had a reluctant writer.  He struggled to get me anything over a page.  So when I told him we’d be writing a “braided essay,” which is an essay that includes several various essays “braided” together, of around 12 pages, he thought I was nuts.  I urged him to write about something he was passionate about.  After a little discussion, the student settled on deer hunting.  For his “braided essay” he wrote one rite of passage essay about the first buck he shot.  He wrote another personal history essay on how his grandfather taught him to hunt.  He wrote a how to essay on how to shoot the perfect buck.  Finally, he included a narrative essay chronicling how much he loved gathering with his family late every fall at “deer camp.”  In all, it was said and done he had over 10 pages.  He was so proud.  Traditionally, that would be the end of the process.  However, I decided to include it on my personal blog along with my own braided essay that I wrote as an example for the class.  I couldn’t believe it, but the blog post became a hit.  Every week I get people landing on my blog from all over the country.  They are researching the braided essay and my blog, featuring this student’s essay, pops up.  I just did a Google Search on “the braided essay,” and my blog post with this student’s essay was the sixth option listed on Google.  

Here is the post.  What a great way to show the power of writing and story!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Teaching Tip #113

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #113
Good old multi-tasking.  It appears that it is here to stay.  Or at least, dealing with it is going to massively impact how we teacher, especially with what is known as “technological multi-tasking.”
I see technological multi-tasking changing instruction.  Here is one way I try to use this in my class.  I teach a remedial reading class first block of the day.  These are students who have either scored low on the NWEA reading exam or who have struggled in their middle school English classes.  So I tell them that my job is to simply get them to really enjoy English class again.  This means having a highly technologically engaging classroom.
Though I found this to be a lot harder for me than I initially thought.  I was really just saying that I wanted that.  I really wasn’t do it though.  I realized this after a week.  I always post the day’s learning target up on the board with a few short prompts or assignments that students can do to begin working toward achieving the day’s learning target.  I will also give them time to get caught up if they have work from the previous day.  I noticed right away that my students weren’t engaged by this process, for when I walked in to my room, instead of seeing students working on their computers on the learning target, they were gaming, watching Youtube, or on social media.
When I called them on this, they got to work.  Over time I noticed that students would come in and half-heartedly try to meet the learning target assignments, but what they really were doing was still devoting the majority of the attention to gaming, Youtube, and social media.  They were stuck trying to multi-task, and their grades were suffering because of it.
So from that moment, I began to adjust the learning target to incorporate not just their MacBook Airs but also gaming, Youtube, and social media.  So if our learning target for the day was to cite an example of bias in the day’s reading, I would share an introductory assignment with my students via Google Drive that called for them to read an article on gaming that examined bias in Skyrim or to watch a Youtube video with bias in it, or to find examples of Facebook or Twitter posts that included bias.  Then I’d end the period with 15 minutes of free time for students to find their own examples using their phones or computers.
So I see technological multi-tasking my teaching by making me tailor my assignments to be more interactive and engaging.
At the same time, though, I also think it’s important to teach students that it is okay to “power down” at times.  I call it “going stone age” in my class.  There are times, whether it is when we have to read a complex piece, such as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” or Amy Chua’s “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” I tell students that we all (me included) are going to put our technology away in our backpacks and go “stone age” by reading silently and annotating the texts.  But once that is done, I will challenge them to use their technology to make a digital connection to something they read or to fact check something they had an issue with.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Teaching Tip #112

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #112
Consider hosting a student from either NCTC’s Intro to Education program or UND’s Teaching and Learning 250 class.
Whenever I have someone observing me, whether it’s an administrator, a colleague, or a future-teacher, I’m always hyper aware of my behavior and practices while I teach.
That makes me more conscious of my craft.  Plus, it offers me a chance to reflect on my practice with someone who brings a different perspective to my classroom.
But the benefit isn’t only for us teachers.  It’s an important opportunity for the observers, especially those who are thinking of going into education.
For, teacher prep is changing.  And it needs to.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Teaching Tip #111

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #111
The author steals five lessons on personalized teaching from watching Kung Fu Panda.
5.  "When a student is ready, the teacher comes."  This might be my favorite quote of all time.  And I don't think this refers to Po in the film at all.  I think this actually refers to Shifu, who also is able to learn a lot from Po.  Only when Shifu is ready to accept the first four lessons here, is he able to understand the fifth.
How can we learn to tap into students' true potential so that they blossom in our classes and that, in turn, we blossom into effective teachers?  I mean it's always more effective to teach students who really want to learn.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Teaching Tip #110

Teacherscribe’s Teaching Tip #110
The author steals five lessons on personalized teaching from watching Kung Fu Panda.
4.  You might wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach.  These are the immortal words to Shifu from Oogway when he councils him on how to train Po as the Dragon Warrior.
How can we adjust our expectations so we can appreciate the types of people our students become?  I'd be sadly disappointed if - as I tried early on in my career - I didn't produce future English teachers and wanna be authors.  I've produced a few of those, but I've also helped students discover how to use writing to excel in college on their way to being nurses, engineers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and administrators.