A Reflection on Project Based Learning

Moving Away from Traditional Assessment

I spent the last three years teaching in Fairfax County, Virginia, where we participated in an initiative to promote authentic learning through a project based model of instruction. The goal was for students to solve a big problem by making connections between five different projects. They would collect artifacts throughout the projects and compile them into one collection to be shared with the community at the end of the year. Our 5th grade team was one of the first groups of elementary students in the county to pilot the Project Based Learning initiative.

In order to kick things off, we needed to define the central question to be explored throughout the projects. We decided that students would examine why the blue crab population of the Chesapeake Bay was decreasing. In order to grasp the concept of interdependence, students created an original artifact that represented their sense of relationships within a community.

Fairfax County Public Schools

We then had to decide how the students would collect and display their work throughout the project. It became the grade-wide plan to curate an online portfolio through Google Sites. Students would use Sites to collect, display, and reflect on their new knowledge, in order to share it in a student-led showcase at the end of the unit.

 

Making It Possible

Once the theme was set, the students were immersed in resources and opportunities to conduct their research. In order to guide their work, we structured the following quarterly assignments, each centered around the theme of external impacts on water.

 

  • The Big One – How does the movement of plate tectonics affect water levels?
  • Music Makers – How does water affect the traveling and frequency of sound?
  • Plastic Oceans Project – How does plastic affect the ecosystem of the ocean?
  • Save The Bay! – Students created public service announcements declaring action to be taken
  • Shark Tank – Invent or improve something that helps to solve an environmental issue

 

In addition to the classwork, we had the opportunity to visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland. Students interacted with experts from the preservation organization and studied the osprey population of the area. They were also able to collect samples of marine life from the bay and test the salinity of the water. 

 

Looking Back to Look Ahead

After months of collecting data from different sources, the students collaborated in pairs to design their websites for the showcase. Students shared their work with teachers, environmental experts, parents, and community members. They reflected on these essential questions:

  • Why are interdependence and interrelationships in science, societies, and other topics important?
  • How am I a global citizen?
  • How am I a creative and critical thinker?

The showcase was a big success. Students had their websites on display for the community, including pictures from their trip, reflections on their findings, and a statement that summarized the bigger picture. Their months of research allowed them to speak confidently about the external causes that may be affecting the blue crab population. Making the transition from more traditional methods of assessment into a project-based mindset took some getting used to. The logistics had to be thought out carefully, but once we were organized and the students were up and running, the engagement was like none I had ever seen. Implementing PBL into the classroom empowered students to share their knowledge in various forms, allowing student creativity to shine in so many ways. Along with the big concepts of the unit, students took away the idea of how important it is to be able to explain and reflect on their thinking. A true portrait of success.

 

Written by Nick Spiegler, nspiegler@educatellc.com, @edtech_nick

To Story is Human

 

I would like to tell you a story. It is about my son when he was in fourth grade.

 

Zach’s Story

By the time Zach reached fourth grade he said he hated school. This wasn’t entirely true. All evidence suggested he loved gym, recess, lunch in the cafeteria, and the bus ride to and from school. Unfortunately, by fourth grade he didn’t like reading or writing or much of the academic side of school. These likes and dislikes were well-known to his teacher by the time the first round of report cards were issued. Around this same time, the teacher introduced the annual  penny book project: telling the story of every year of his life.

How was I going to get him to do this?!

My son, Zach

Thankfully, Zach’s teacher was as interested in Zach’s happiness and success as I was and when I presented her with a new idea, she agreed: While still meeting all of the  curricular objectives and documenting all of his work, Zach would complete the project in a different way.

He collected pennies from each year of his life. He curated and scanned photos from family albums. He video recorded interviews with friends and relatives. He organized his ideas in a storyboard and created a digital movie of his life. It included every penny, his voice, a soundtrack and credits. I don’t think he was ever been so proud of any school project. This was in 2007.

When Zach brought his project CD and his box of pictures, pennies, and storyboards to school, the teacher played his video for the class. Then she called me to say that when she watched Zach’s movie she cried. “He had this in him all this time,” she said. His teacher asked if I would come to the school and show her how to make a movie like that. I politely declined, and suggested that Zach would be happy to show her anytime!

 

 

 

 

 

Telling Stories is Human

Finding meaningful ways to tell our stories is so important. Storytelling itself is a very human thing to do. Cave drawings are the stories of our very early ancestors. The printing press enabled the widespread distribution of stories. Some cultures have traditions of oral storytelling passed down through generations.

We share and listen to learn about ourselves and each other.

 

Telling Stories is Social

The scientific development of photography in the mid-1800s resulted in widespread making of daguerreotypes so people could leave them as calling cards when they visited one another’s homes. Business cards, school pictures, home movies. The list goes on of all the myriad ways we make ourselves known and build connections with other people, document our existence, and tell our story.

When using social media in the classroom, be sure to teach safe practices. Common Sense Media is a great place to go for easy-to-use resources.

Social media platforms know how much this matters to us. They enable us to combine our pictures and words into the stories of our important moments. We and our students have been using social media to tell our stories ever since we subscribed to those platforms. The actual story format started in 2013 with SnapChat stories and other services have followed suit including Instagram in 2016 and Facebook in 2017. Those aren’t the only ways we tell stories; Skype has highlights and YouTube allows us to create reels. Technology may change, but our need to know and understand one another, build common ground, grow empathy, and work out differences is eternal. And we do that through our stories.

 

Empowering Students to Be Storytellers

When it comes to engaging our students in sharing their stories, the possible formats are endless! Within the Google Apps realm students can write and illustrate interactive stories in Slides, Docs, Sites, Draw, Maps or Tour Creator. If you live in the Apple world, there is Keynote, Pages, and iMovie. Regardless of platform, students can record themselves and publish to YouTube where channels and playlists host both videos students make and others they curate.

Beyond gSuite and Apple services, students can tell video stories in Flipgrid, they can annotate visual stories in ThingLink, and they can publish ongoing stories as podcasts. And when we consider the possibilities for synchronous and asynchronous interaction, students can share stories in Twitter chats, in private Facebook groups, and in Google+ communities. Building an audience for their stories by publishing them not only validates the importance of their experiences, it fosters interaction with new people which expands their horizons and their learning community and allows for authentic, embedded lessons in discourse and digital interactions.

 

Telling Stories is Transdisciplinary

Whether your discipline is ELA; Math; Social Studies; Science; World Language; Health; PE; Fine, Applied or Performing Arts; or Guidance and Counseling, students of any grade level can tell stories that connect their lives and experiences, their hopes and concerns, to the content and skills you are teaching. Imagine how students of math would tell the stories of their lives as a conic section! Students could use historical map imagery to tell the story of different generations of people who have lived in their neighborhoods. How about casting themselves as the hero on a journey to save an endangered species? Maybe they need the recipe for the antidote to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Whatever the subject, whatever the topic, their stories will be personal and the learning experience will be transdisciplinary.

 

Our Stories are Our Identity

By telling their stories, students develop a sense of self. So often, many of my high school students struggle with their college essay. Their frequent refrain: “Nothing really important has happened to me. I don’t have anything to write about.” Of course, this isn’t true. Maybe nothing tragic has happened to most of them, and for this they are thankful, but they have stories to tell, nonetheless. We have to empower them to recognize and give their voice to those stories.

It is through the telling of their stories that they share aspirations and inspirations which lead them to set goals and make plans. Through sharing their stories they find their place in their community. They begin to seek new connections in wider circles and apply themselves to improving those spaces for the good of us all.

 

Written by Jacquelyn Whiting, @MsJWhiting, jacquelynwhiting@gmail.com

 

About the Author:

After 23 years as a high school social studies teacher, Jacquelyn is now a high school library media specialist. She is a member of the #SWE17 Google Certified Innovator cohort, as well as a local activator for Future Design School. Jacquelyn is also the co-author of News Literacy: the Keys to Combating Fake News. She tells her stories on her blog and via social media.

Setting a Positive Classroom Culture

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” – Maya Angelou

How do you want your students to feel when they enter your classroom? Is your classroom a place where they feel supported to meet their goals and want to support their peers?

 

In K-214, We Share

It was near the end of the first day of school a few years ago when I heard crying coming from the rug area.

“What’s wrong Emmanuel?” I asked.

“I’m playing with the trains and he wants to play with them. They’re mine!”

“Emmanuel, in K-214 we share. Why don’t you share the trains so both of you can play?”

“I don’t like to share!” Emmanuel said, refusing to let go of the red train and pouting.

“But when you share, doesn’t it make you feel happy?” I asked.

“Sharing doesn’t make me feel happy!” Emmanuel cried.

Luckily, it was almost time to clean up and Emmanuel’s mom was able to help us convince him to put the train down. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling like I had failed him. Hadn’t we spoken about sharing earlier that morning? Hadn’t we discussed the rules with our class? Wasn’t that enough?

 

Planning Beyond Routines

As teachers we spend so much time getting our classrooms ready – planning the routines and procedures, units and lesson plans. Yet, it can be easy to forget how important it is to plan for and continually nurture a positive climate and culture in our classrooms. For the transformative change we hope to make happen in our schools and classrooms, students have to feel part of a community and safe to take risks, stretch and grow.  

With that in mind, here are a few tips and resources to support you in developing a positive classroom culture and climate this school year. Remember, classroom culture and climate develop over time and can be worked on at any point during the school year. So if you have just returned from Winter Break and are noticing your community needs strengthening, don’t be discouraged! Try out some ideas of the ideas below!

Please note that this is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list! Think of these ideas as starting points.


  1. Build Community

Programs like Seesaw not only honor students individuality, they are also fun to use!

Incorporate activities that give students an opportunity to build relationships and a sense of belonging daily. One way to do this is by having a Morning Meeting each day that includes specific activities to help students get to know each other and build trust and understanding. In my classroom, our morning meeting consisted of a greeting, team-building activity, share and schedule of the day. The Morning Meeting Book, by Roxann Kreite, is one great resource for starting or revamping morning meeting in your classroom.

 

 

 

 

Digital Community-Building Ideas and Resources:

  • Share self-portraits using Seesaw: students take pictures of self-portraits, record audio about them and share them with their classmates on the class feed (they can also share work and get comments from classmates!)
  • Create digital collages and cards for to acknowledge each other on Pic Collage (free on Android, paid on ios)
  • Engage your class in scheduled or spontaneous brain breaks by dancing to one of the songs or taking time to meditate on Go Noodle

Community-Themed Read Alouds:

  • Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
  • Be a Friend by Salina Yoon
  • Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes

 

  1. Cultivate a sense of Shared Ownership

    Give students an opportunity to take an active role within the classroom by soliciting their input whenever possible. Easy ways to do this include asking for their opinion on classroom jobs and giving them an opportunity to help develop the classroom norms and rules.

    The students in this Kindergarten classroom are responsible for putting away their Chromebooks independently of the teacher.

    These small steps can help create a shared space where students feel (and are!) integral to the classroom community. Here is an editable community helpers document that can be used with students to brainstorm classroom jobs.

     

  2. Foster a Growth Mindset

Plan activities that help students understand that learning is a process and that making mistakes and failing is okay. Be sure to model this mindset in your teaching as well! One way to support development of a growth mindset is by helping students set goals, tracking (very important!) progress towards them, and celebrating successes.

Growth Mindset Ideas and Digital Resources:

  • Sing about The Power of Yet with younger students! Then discuss and write about goals in a digital space using padlet or the question feature in google classroom.
  • Celebrate when students meet their goals by taking pictures and loading them to the class stream on Seesaw or class story in Class Dojo.
  • Have students reflect on how they overcame a challenge by setting up a ‘perseverance’ grid in FlipGrid.
  • Share class-wide successes with families and the wider school community by creating a classroom twitter account.

Growth Mindset Read Alouds:

  • Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
  • The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
  • The OK Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
  • Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by Joann Deak, Ph. D

Not surprisingly, studies have shown that a positive school culture and climate help boost student achievement. So don’t wait, work on building that positive classroom culture and climate today – and let us know how it goes! Have a question? Visit our online community, the Innovative Teaching Co-op.

 

Written by Marie Medina, @EdTechMarie

 

EdTech: Teacher Tested, Student Approved

An Enthusiastic Introduction

“This is going to be so cool! Just wait.”

*Crickets*

“Well, what do you think?! Isn’t this neat?!” The students remain silent, looking nervously to see the reaction of their peers. Finally, they breathe a sigh of relief as one speaks up to voice what everyone else is thinking. “Is this it?”

I’ll admit that I’ve been there. I’ve experienced that very situation, when I was sure I had chosen an edtech tool that my kids would love, only to be met with unimpressed shrugs. Not only was it disheartening for me as a teacher, but it was hard to come back from, too. I had to start from scratch again and rethink my entire plan and who has time for that?

Interactive boards can be a great tool when used to their full extent. This Kindergartener practices sequencing during a station activity.

 

Back to the Drawing Board

In hopes of saving you from the same scenario, Educate’s intern, Saaif Ahmed, has shared his opinion about a few tools. This particular list primarily showcases tools for upper-grade students (Middle and High School) and includes a brief description of how they may benefit students. He speaks from his own experience with the tools and notes which subject areas they may be utilized most appropriately.

Click here to access Saaif’s collection of tools.

Are you looking for more of a wide-range list of tools? Then you’re in luck. During one of our monthly meetups, the members of the Innovative Teaching Co-op (an educator community hosted by Educate) spent some time discussing the multitude of edtech tools available. It seems they are coming out with something new everyday, so how can educators make an informed decision and choose the best for their students?

Sign up for our free online community to access the resources from the meetup and become an expert at selecting high quality digital tools.

 

@Ed_Tech-Em

Embracing Failure in the Classroom Setting

Until you make a mistake, you won’t know it’s a mistake.  

It was my first year teaching Science. I had covered everything my 4th graders could possibly need to know for the New York State 4th grade Science test, or so I thought. While grading the test, I noticed a question about states of matter, one my kids should’ve been able to answer easily. After all, I had seen them distinguish and give examples of all sorts of solids, liquids, and gasses.

Never in a million years, it had ever occurred to me that the word “state” might be a problem. You can be sure, though, the next year I explicitly taught students that “states of matter” in Science refers to whether something is solid, liquid, or gas and not the US state where it is located! Had I not made that mistake, I wouldn’t have discovered something very important about my kids and about teaching.

 

How do I recognize when I’ve made a mistake?

One of the easiest ways to recognize teaching mistakes is to use a tool like Swivl to record your teaching. You’ll want to allow yourself a moment as you watch your recording to deal with the less relevant questions such as “Why did I wear…?” and “Does my voice really sound like that?” Sometimes, you’ll already know you made some type of mistake (especially if a student pointed it out to you), but often you won’t realize it until you see it on video (or listen to a recording of the lesson). 

Consider using questions such as these to guide your reflection as you watch:

(Click on image to download your own copy)However, watching and identifying your mistakes isn’t enough. You have to be able to get past any “I can’t believe I did/didn’t do that” embarrassment to be able to determine how you can adjust your teaching. Reflecting on your teaching in this way allows you to hone your practice and find what works best for you and your students.

 

Shift your classroom culture to embrace failure.

Transforming your own thinking to the Growth Mindset (rather than the Fixed) can do wonders in promoting reflective learning in the classroom.

In a classroom where the dreaded red pen dominates, students often fear making mistakes. Their goal is to make as few as possible and hope that the mistakes they do make aren’t noticed. Consequently, they don’t try new and/or challenging tasks because they worry about being wrong. In addition to admitting your mistakes and learning from them, there are several ways you can promote this thinking in your students. 

  • Praise process rather than genius
    • For example, “You persevered so well through that task, trying 3 different strategies before finding the one that worked for you,” as opposed to, “You got the answer correct on this hard topic, you must be good at this topic” (see Carol Dweck’s video).
  • Question rather than correct
    • How did you arrive at this answer? What was your thinking in this part?  What steps did you take to solve this problem? Why did you take this step? Is there a rule we have learned that we could apply here? How do you know?
  • Analyze errors
    • In her video “My Favorite No,” Leah Acala utilizes a document camera to capture and share incorrect student answers. She guides the students through an analysis: What went well in the problem, determining where there was an error, why it was incorrect, and how to go about correcting it. (This could also be done with an interactive whiteboard, Google Drive, etc.)

As reflective practitioners, it is our job to continually learn and grow from our mistakes, teaching our students to do the same. Think about how you can put this into practice in your own classroom. How can you set up or continue a classroom culture that embraces failure?

Written by Sharon Johnsen, @EdTech_Sharon

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An Attitude of Gratitude

We taught my nephew to say “thank you” at a very young age. It was a family effort, and when he would forget he was prompted with raised eyebrows and a “What do you say?” He is now 7, but the lessons have continued for his younger brother, with the occasional exaggerated, “Could you please pass the butter? Thank you!” at the dinner table. He’ll catch on just like his brother did and soon the lessons will become less pronounced, the “thank yous” more second-nature.

During this month – dubbed “Teacher Appreciation” – I can’t help but think of these lessons and how important they are, not only for the young ones, but for us “older” ones, too. Is it really enough to dedicate a single month to showing teachers just how greatly they are appreciated? Absolutely not. We all know that. Teaching is a tremendously challenging occupation, one that does not get recognized nearly as much as it should. And it’s not just people on the “outside”; it’s us on the inside, too. When was the last time you showed gratitude for your students? Other teachers? For yourself?

When considering gratitude, you may think, “Well, I said thank you to my students yesterday for not kicking the stones on the playground.” Although it was probably much needed (we all need a gentle reminder from time to time), it’s not the thanks I’m talking about here. Instead, we can try finding ways to express genuine gratitude on a daily basis. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

 

Gratitude for your students

  • Post-its go a long way: A simple “Hey, great job yesterday!” stuck to a students’ desk in the morning can make all the difference. Want something a little greener? Try using a tool like ClassDojo to type a quick text to a student’s parent. It’ll be a great surprise!
  • Give your students voice: Taking the time to really hear someone is one of the highest forms of gratitude (and respect). Flipgrid is an easy way to provide students with opportunities to share their voice!

Gratitude for your colleagues

  • Collaborate with the best of them: Got a real team mentality at your school? Maybe you’re in need of one? Google recently introduced the Team Drive and it makes sharing your ideas and resources that much more efficient. What better way to thank a fellow teacher than by sharing an idea?
  • Give credit where credit’s due: We all work hard, so when we are fresh out of ideas, we often find ourselves sorting through skads of them on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, the works. Show your thanks by sharing your find and t@gging the owner of the idea. (I personally LOVE getting @ed on Twitter!)

Gratitude for yourself

  • Star in a movie: I would venture to say that this is the most important kind of gratitude. As teachers, we are constantly celebrating our students’ progress, but we don’t always recognize our own. This recognition is essential to our growth as teachers and can serve us greatly in terms of feeling accomplished and happy in what we do. In order to observe growth, take advantage of available technology and record your teaching from time to time. (SWIVLs are great if you have the funds, but anything will do!) You will be surprised to see how much you grow on a weekly basis.
  • Time machine: Not feeling the video? Perusing your Google Drive can have a similar effect. It can be shocking to see how much you’ve created and utilized over the months. When was the last time you looked back with an attitude of gratitude? Do yourself the favor and take some time this week; go back and “star” the lessons you liked most, comment on those that needed a little tweaking. You’ll be that much more prepared for next year.

I realize that time is of the essence in the teaching world, but I can’t stress how important it is to honor your journey as a teacher. We spend so much of our time following a pacing calendar, grading assessments, spotting the “developings” on our observation reports. Take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back. Pick up a mocha instead of a coffee; do whatever you have to do to thank yourself for sticking it out and showing up every day for your students.

5 Ways to Actively Engage Students in Learning

 

Robyn slipped her textbook between the pillow and the mattress, one hand resting on its hard cover. It wasn’t exactly comfortable and she didn’t really believe what Sarah had told her, but she wasn’t going to take the chance. She needed that B+ and if it had to happen through osmosis, then so be it.

Robyn isn’t real and neither is her story, but it represents something that’s happening in our classrooms every day.

The “textbook under the pillow” trick was a silly superstition that kids used to practice the night before a big test. I like to think of it as passive learning at its most extreme – the kind of learning that just happens to you without your effort. It can be seen in the classroom when students are asked to copy down definitions directly from the textbook or when they are asked to take turns reading aloud to the class. Passive learning such as this is rarely effective because:

Students learn best when they have the opportunity to interact with new information in multiple ways.

The brain is like a series of circuits that receives signals from the world around us. When a signal is received, it creates a pathway that links new information to old. The more pathways, the more likely the student is to thoroughly process the information.

If students are not actively involved in the learning, they are not always making the connections necessary for later recall. The worst part? The brain receives such a massive amount of information every second that it must pick and choose what is most relevant. Facts that do not appear relevant to the brain may not even be saved for the short term, let alone transfer to the next unit of learning.

Not to worry; there is alternative to passive learning. (And no, this isn’t where Robyn starts doing curls with her textbook.) There are some small things we can do as teachers to promote active learning in our classrooms. Let’s harness the power of technology to better involve our students in the learning process.

Here are 5 active learning ideas to try in your classroom:

Do away with “Round Robin” reading.

Instead, take advantage of audiobooks and apps like Audible, where students can listen and read along with audio recordings of thousands of texts. Amazon WhisperCast is a convenient and cost-effective way for teachers to share digital texts with their class.

 

Take a “break” and allow your students to become the teachers.

Jigsaw learning is a structure where students collaborate in small groups to learn a new a topic and then teach it to their peers. Google Classroom makes it easy for students to access a variety of resources for jigsaw learning within a single platform.  It even gives teachers the ability to differentiate at the click of a button.

 

Provide interactive reading experiences.

The Comments feature on Google Docs is an easy way to ensure that students are not simply reading the words of a text. As students read from the Doc, have them “stop and jot” their thinking by highlighting portions of the text and commenting. Not only will it promote active reading, but teachers will also get a better idea of what students are gathering from the text.

A student uses the comments feature in Google Docs to annotate an assigned reading.

 

Drop the textbook.

Not to say that it’s totally useless, but it’s important to present information in multiple ways. Don’t discredit the innumerable educational videos on YouTube. Anywhere Math, Math Antics, Crash Course, and TED-Ed are a few of my favorite channels. You can even create your own playlist of relevant videos and share them with your students via Google Classroom.

 

Let them talk.

Ever notice how you often proofread by reading aloud? Sometimes hearing yourself speak the words allows your brain to better process. Give your students this same experience by using tools like FlipGrid or Seesaw, where they can audio/video record verbal responses. This can be a great way to assess for understanding or promote student reflection.

Kindergarten students use an online application to record their answers to questions with a computer webcam.

Principal as Coach: Effective Questioning Techniques

The Advice Monster

As school leaders, we have a tendency to use our own experience as a form of teaching. When approached by a colleague with a situation, our immediate response is to make suggestions, based on our background. The underlying theory is that if the solution worked for us, why can’t it work for others? We’re amazing, right? After all, we are “leaders!” The reality is that offering suggestions or advice in this way can be ineffective and disengaging for the people who look to us for support.

According to Michael Stanier, this tendency is the unleashing of our “Advice Monster” – the voice in our head that tells us others are looking for our ideas and suggestions to solve their problems. Stanier suggests that rather than feeding the Advice Monster,  the best thing we can do is to encourage discussion and reflection. In short, we should spend more time asking questions that prompt reflection and growth and less time providing direct solutions. Stanier believes that the right set of questions can empower people to define their own needs and determine the best course of action. In his book The Coaching Habit, Stanier offers seven effective questions for managers ask, but we will focus on three which will benefit the leader-teacher relationship.

The Focus Question: What’s the real challenge here for you?

This type of question is best used when a teacher is providing a list of problems they are facing. The first problem that a teacher presents is not usually the whole picture, but merely a piece of it. The whole challenge tends to be the combination of a series of smaller problems which she/he encounters. Teachers will benefit from reflecting on this question because it encourages them to “think big” and identify their overarching challenge. As an instructional leader, asking this question empowers someone to arrive at their own conclusion and explore these larger challenges.

The Foundation Question: What do you wish to achieve?

A version of: “What do you want?” This question can seem intimidating, but when used appropriately can open up a dialogue with a teacher to determine a goal. While the Focus Question helps teachers to identify the overarching challenge, the Foundation Question will encourage them to determine what it is they want to do about this challenge. Therefore, it is best asked after the teacher has identified her/his “big picture” challenge. Principals can even adjust the question to address a specific event. For example, ”What do you want feedback on for this upcoming observation?” In this case, a principal empowers the teacher to determine the focus for an observation. This also helps a principal narrow her/his lens, allowing for more relevant and clear feedback following the observation.

The Lazy Question: How can I help?

Teachers often wish they had an opportunity to ask for support. The Lazy Question provides them with this opportunity – an open space to articulate their needs and explore the different levels of support which their instructional leader can provide. Although it seems like a simple question, it can lead to a powerful discussion where the teacher begins to view her/his instructional leader as a mentor. Once a mentorship is established, a teacher will feel supported and open to continuous feedback. This will ultimately result in a strong relationship, rooted in the teacher’s professional growth.

 

Tech Tip: Evernote = Ever-organized

In order for principals to utilize these questions most effectively, they should modify them to best fit a variety of situations. Depending on their dialogues with teachers (and the teachers themselves), principals may find it necessary to make small changes to how the questions are asked. Principals should also practice these questions regularly and note the teacher response.  To ensure that they are used as part of debriefs, performance reviews, or other growth conversations with teachers, principals can use digital tools like Evernote to create templates to frame the dialogue. 

 

Interested in learning more about asking good questions?

Click for more information about Michael Stanier’s bookThe Coaching Habit.

Click to explore resourceful videos about how to effectively ask questions.

Written by Nick Zaveri, @ZaveriNick

Finding “Flow” in the Classroom

The Climb

I began bouldering while in grad school. Invited by a group of experienced climbers, I immediately felt like a fish out of water but decided to go for it regardless. If you have never bouldered before, it goes something like this:

You start on the ground, struggling to pull on a snug pair of shoes and then clouds of powdered chalk billow in the air as you smooth it over your hands. Looking up at the stacked wall above you, you scope out the hand and footholds to which you will soon cling. You begin your climb methodically: foot-foot, hand-hand. You can feel the muscles in your fingertips engaging with every new motion. 

 

In Flow

I instantly fell in love with the sport (despite the callused hands and cramped feet), and couldn’t  figure out why. Then it hit me. Up there on the wall, with my hands and feet gripping the holds, I was forced to be “all in.” In order to reach the end (or at least not fall flat onto the mats below), I needed to be fully engaged in the activity – mind and body. Psychologist, Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, called this feeling “flow.”

We experience a state of “flow” when we are fully engaged in the moment, present to an activity that is equally as challenging as it is enjoyable. While in this state, people tend to perform at their highest, as a result of being focused on the task and … happy. Perhaps you have experienced something similar – a moment when you looked up at the clock, startled by the amount of time that has passed. It might have happened while reading your favorite book or cooking your favorite meal.  Either way, you were in “flow.”

 

Flow in the Classroom

An important question for us to consider as teachers is: have our students ever had this experience? And, if so, where? At home? With friends? Is it possible for us to recreate flow in our classrooms? I’d like to think that Csikzentmihalyi’s answer would have been, “Yes, but it might take some adjustments.” The building blocks of his theory of flow can be traced back to the Hierarchy of Needs, created by psychologist Abraham Maslow. The concept behind this theory is that, in order for humans to achieve their full potential, they must first have their basic and psychological needs met. Once these needs have been fulfilled, they can begin their quest towards self-actualization, which Csikzentmihalyi later identified as “flow.”  

What does this have to do with our classrooms?  I’m going to answer that question with another: Do our classrooms meet the basic and psychological needs of our students? While teachers cannot ensure that every one of the basic needs are met, there are several aspects which they can accomplish by examining the physical and digital spaces of their classrooms.

As important as these elements are, we must also remember that our approach as teachers is key to our students’ sense of well-being. In order for them to feel safe and nurtured, it is necessary to promote an atmosphere that follows suit.

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Proactive Classroom Management

“I want to be better at classroom management.”

A familiar thought for many teachers at the start of each school year (including myself). So, what does it take? Rather than being reactive, classroom management systems must be proactive. They exist in order to teach students how to function within the classroom space. Why? Children thrive in more structured environments where the expectations are appropriate and clear.

Here are three ways you can be more proactive in planning your classroom management systems:  

Convenience Is Key

When setting up one of my first classrooms, I found an idea on Pinterest – designing a magnet board to know when students were “present,” “absent,” or had gone “out of the classroom.” I even allowed students to customize their own magnet. I was all for this new system… for about a week. Why didn’t the excitement last? The system didn’t work because my students walked into the room with an armful of materials to put away (folder, homework, snack, water, the list goes on), and moving their magnet just wasn’t convenient for them.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that when setting up your classroom and establishing routines, everything should be convenient and simple. My magnet board was quickly replaced with an attendance routine that utilized the free app, ClassDojo. Not only were students able to use the app to check in and out every morning, but the information was saved at the end of the school day.

While the Pinterest ideas may be charming –you must ask yourself – do they really work for my students?

 

Investment Is Worth It

I visited a kindergarten classroom recently where the students were just beginning to use iPads. Pulling the teacher aside, I asked if the students were responding well and if they were able to use the technology effectively. She reminded me of the deliberate sequence of lessons that it took to prepare them for such an activity, and I couldn’t help but smirk. I have always admired her calm approach to teaching such a young age group so I stuck around to watch some of the rollout for myself.

Understanding the value of establishing good routines, the teacher was in no rush to move onto the next lesson. Instead, she took the time to break steps of the routine down to their absolute smallest parts. For example, rather than simply telling the students where to access their headphones, the teacher modeled proper handling and care. She consistently reinforces these procedures and her students have become increasingly independent.

An “expert board” identifies students who are particularly skilled in a certain area so they can support their peers.

 

Independence Is Possible

Just as a plant will grow in the proper conditions, so too, will a student. Established routines should include opportunities for students to become independent leaders. Why not try instituting an “expert board” to identify students who are particularly skilled in a certain area? In the picture to the right, the teacher identifies “expert” students who could offer support to their peers in need. As students begin organically working together, the classroom runs more seamlessly. Not only does this promote leadership among students, but it also allows them to lean on each other for support – a skill they must possess in the real world.

 

 

Is your classroom running as smoothly as it could be? If not, it’s never too late to examine your own classroom systems. Strong classroom management doesn’t happen by accident. It is a result of thoughtful procedures that are convenient, consistently reinforced, and dependent on students. Take the time now to be proactive and start thinking, I am better at classroom management.”

What else is required to build more proactive classroom management systems? Add your ideas in the comments or on Twitter via @EducateLLC!