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.

Interested in pursuing these ideas further?

 

Take this survey to see where to begin!

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!

3 Ways Tech Can Create an Authentic Audience for Students

Authentic learning is an instructional approach that gives students opportunities to explore real-world challenges with projects that are tangible and relevant to the learner. These experiences allow students to see the purpose in their work and have been shown to increase student engagement. This type of learning should also provide students with an authentic audience, giving them a chance to have someone – outside of their teachers and parents – show practical interest in their work.

Create a diorama for a book report. Design a poster board for a science fair project. Write a creative short story that you submit directly to your teacher. Complete worksheet after worksheet on a math skill.

What do all of these things have in common? All of us in the adult world probably remember doing similar projects when we were in school. While they may be memorable learning experiences, they are not authentic learning experiences.

Last year, I took a new approach to a classic creative writing assignment and told my students they would publish their completed short stories on Wattpad, a story sharing website. From the onset of the project, my students were significantly more enthusiastic knowing their work would be seen by real people outside the classroom. They were meticulous in their writing and eagerly sought feedback from their peers and teachers.

Real-world tasks and audiences can enliven any assignment. Here are 3 twists on classic projects that provide students with both:

3 Projects with Authentic Audiences

Reinvigorate the research paper by turning it into a research blog.

Researching is an incredibly important skill. Now, more than ever, it is critical for students to be able to determine the reliability of sources, analyze conflicting arguments, and develop their own opinions based on research. But let’s be honest here, aren’t most research papers are only read by a few people, usually just the student and teacher?

Giving students the opportunity to turn their research paper into a blog post expands their audience dramatically. It’s hard to overestimate the impact a larger audience has on a student’s writing. If they know that their relatives, friends and other members of the school community will read their writing, they work more carefully and thoughtfully. You can even build student excitement by hosting a publishing party to celebrate the date that their writing goes live!

A blog post also allows students to practice important technical skills like how to incorporate pictures and digital media in their writing and how to cite sources digitally.

Consider using Blogger, WordPress, or another blog platform to expand your students’ authentic audience and deepen their investment in writing.

 

Reconsider the geometry worksheet by turning it into a design project.

Have you ever heard a student in math class ask, “When am I going to use this in real life?” It can be a fair question since much of math work is abstract. If students are only practicing math within the pages of a workbook, it can be hard for them to see its relevance.

One possibility for bringing math to life is having the students design something and present their mock-ups to peers, teachers, or the principal. Students could use geometry and algebra to design a school garden or a playground. They could even use their newfound skills to solve real-world problems, like redesigning a classroom or the cafeteria set up to create better traffic flows.

Consider using Google Drawings or even free 3D design software like Tinkercad to aid your students in creating designs that use real-life math work, which they can present to an authentic audience.

 

Refresh the book report by turning it into a digital book review.

Book reports allow students to practice valuable skills: summarizing, critiquing, analyzing, and synthesizing.  These reports have reemerged in modern life as book reviews on Amazon and other sites. Consider allowing your students to practice these skills by posting their review online so other interested readers can learn about the story.

Good platforms for this include:  GoodReads for older students as well as Spaghetti Book Reviews and Share What You’re Reading on Scholastic for younger students.

 

These are just a few ways to turn traditional classroom projects into more authentic experience. When trying these new ideas, be aware of your school’s privacy and Internet policies to ensure the safety of your students. If you’re questioning something, you should run it by your school technology lead or principal.

Do you have other ideas for revamping classic assignments and connecting students with authentic audiences? Add your ideas in the comments or on Twitter via @EducateLLC!

Written by George Ganzenmuller, @EdTechGeorge

A Community of Innovative Educators

What do you get when teachers from New Jersey, Brooklyn and the Bronx sit at the same table? If you are expecting a punchline, we are sorry to disappoint. This is exactly what we saw last year during Google Teachers’ Lounge – teachers from diverse settings coming together to solve classroom challenges and make new connections.

The Bronx teacher spoke about her challenges in supporting an English Language Learner who struggled to keep up during lessons. Before long, her colleagues from across town jumped in to help and hatched an innovative idea. In order to better support her student, the teacher could dictate her lessons directly into a Google Doc. In this way, the student could see the words come to life on the page, all the while continuing to participate in the lesson. “Amazing things happen when teachers have the opportunity to share ideas like this!” said the New Jersey teacher.

Google Teachers Lounge

Last year, teachers from across the city gathered for Google Teachers’ Lounge to share how they effectively use technology in the classroom.

A space for teachers:

We created Google Teachers’ Lounge last year, in hopes that teachers would want to come out and collaborate after their busy school days.  As it turned out, interest in all six of our events exceeded capacity. We were continuously amazed to see how energized teachers were, even after a long day of teaching. These events made us realize that teachers needed spaces like this to learn, connect, unwind and just have fun. We were also excited to give teachers in our client schools the opportunity to meet each other (and debate who was the best Educate coach). It was always a goal of ours to create a community of educators, and last year proved teachers need these spaces.

This year, we are excited to launch several new initiatives to continue to grow our community of innovative educators so that together we can maximize our impact on student success. This community will be called the Innovative Teaching Co-op and will provide teachers with the support they need to invigorate their instruction with new ideas and best serve their students.

Here’s how you can join the community:

  1. Join the Innovative Teaching Co-op Facebook Group – Join us on Facebook to discuss challenges and successes, or just talk about your day. Meet other teachers virtually, grow your network, and get invited to exclusive events.
  2. Subscribe to the Innovative Teaching Newsletter – Once a month, you will receive an email with recent Educate blogs on instructional best practices, tips for leveraging tech in your class, and upcoming professional development opportunities.
  3. The Innovative Teaching Co-op Monthly Meetup – Every month starting in November, we will be traveling to exciting spaces in NYC. We will honor what worked best in our previous events – a laid-back atmosphere, informal learning, food/drink, and always leaving with a next step for your classroom.

The members of Educate LLC team are rolling up our sleeves to bring this community to you because it is our greatest privilege to work with teachers in our schools, and as former teachers ourselves, we know how challenging this profession can be. Let’s not do it alone. Let’s work together, and be together, so that together we can bring the greatest success to our students.

 

5 Ways to Build Better Student Groups

Student group work is an integral part of 21st-century classrooms, but figuring out the most effective way to distribute your class can be perplexing. Make this most of this classroom opportunity and try new ways of matching students with these five strategic ways to build meaningful student groups:

Student groups will allow more peer collaboration in the classroom.

“Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth.” – Sir Ken Robinson

Readiness Student Groups

Use student achievement data to cluster students in a variety of ways. Heterogeneous groupings allow you to pair students who have already mastered the content with those who could benefit from peer coaching. Homogeneous groupings are great for differentiation because they allow teachers to push the high performers with more advanced work while also freeing up more class time for groups that need more time with the teacher while others work independently. Building these groups can be as simple as using a spreadsheet to sort scores from a recent assessment and grouping students accordingly.  

Style Student Groups 

We know that every student learns differently so have your class take a learning styles inventory survey and group students based on the results. You can design unique learning experiences for auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning groups. For example, an elementary math lesson on illustrating fractions could have one group of visual learners drawing while another group of tactile students manipulating tangram shapes.

Interest Student Groups

Allow students to opt into areas of interest. This approach is especially effective for literature circle as it allows students to self-select books or activities that match their passions. Students in interest groups are likely to be highly invested in the content, and self-selection can add an additional level of student ownership. Crafting a student survey (or copying this survey we made using Google Forms) at the start of the school year can be a great way to begin planning for interest based groups. 

Characteristic Student Groups 

Consider the many other identifying characteristics of your students, and you might come up with some creative new classroom groups. You can use any variable from date of birth to favorite color and everything in between. For example, you might kick off the year by grouping students based on their previous homeroom teacher or simply their favorite ice cream flavor.

Random Student Groups

While methodological grouping is an effective way to focus learning experiences, sometimes it is fun to build totally random groups so students get a chance to interact with different peers. Apps like Team Shake and Class Dojo’s Group Maker allow teachers to create randomized groups of any size almost instantly (and can help you manage those groups too).  

 

There are many ways to facilitate peer learning by creating small groups of students. Whatever method you try, be sure to monitor student performance to understand which groupings are most effective. Don’t be afraid to try new groups too! Change will keep your group time feeling fresh and exciting.


Teachers, what other ways do you group your students? What approach leads to the most student success? Let us know in the comments!

How’s Teaching? – Take Back Summer Conversations

For educators like us, we’re constantly asked about life inside the classroom. No matter who inquires about teacher life, these conversations can sometimes feel repetitive and perfunctory. It’s time to flip the script and refresh the way both you and your community think about teaching. Rather than regurgitating the same stories from the past school year, use these conversations as a rewarding opportunity to learn from those around you in a way that can actually enrich your teaching this fall.

How is teaching?

Here are four people you might encounter this summer and how to make these conversations more meaningful and authentic for both of you.

Supportive Friend

This may be your childhood bestie working in a completely different industry who supports you unconditionally but knows very little about what it really means to be a teacher. Your friend has already heard of the many ups and downs of the past school year, so why not ask them for input as you get ready for the new year. Your family and friends all use tools that did not exist when they were in school. Use this as an opportunity to understand what skill sets are really critical for youth to develop to prepare for the future workforce.

Flip the conversation and ask: What are the major skills you wish you had learned before graduating high school? What technology do you use most in your industry today? 

Professional Acquaintance

This could be the new professional acquaintance you met at a summer professional development who teaches in a totally different community from your own. Teachers often compare and contrast campus and district life, so use this as an opportunity to learn about the innovative things happening in their classroom.

Flip the conversation and ask: What do you plan to do differently in your classroom this year? What technology resources have provided your students with the best learning experiences? 

Clueless Stranger

This might be a person you meet at a coffee shop or a friend’s party who knows very little about the world of education. This individual very well may comment on how easy teaching must be, especially when you are out on summer vacation. Push your new friend to consider how they too can support student development. You might have even just identified a new student mentor!

Flip the conversation and ask: What are your go-to tools to enhance, organize, or streamline your own life and work? How could a student use these same tools to get the most out of their education?

School BFF

This is the one teacher friend who really gets you. You may not see each other every day during the summer, but keeping up with them is an important way to mentally prepare for the new school year ahead. You and your school BFF will inevitably reminisce on the past year, and focusing on victories is essential. When you catch up, think about how you both can build on what went well during the previous year rather than agonize over anything that went wrong. You and your campus buddy can prepare for next year by capitalizing on good summer vibes.

Flip the conversation and ask: What was your biggest win last year, and how can we take that one step further this year? What are you trying to learn before the new year begins?

 

These are just a few of the people you may encounter that will inevitably ask you about your work. Similar conversations happen in every industry but can be particularly meaningful for educators. When you encounter summer small talk, use these moments as an opportunity to reflect and motivate yourself ahead of the coming school year.