5 Professional Books to Strengthen Student Learning

I have spent the past two weeks binge reading professional books published this year. Reading professional books about teaching allows me to reflect on my own teaching practices and look into new ways to support the learners in my classroom. All of the books   inform my thinking about literacy in order to strengthen students’ reading and writing.

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Let’s begin by throwing out everything you know and teach about the literary essay in secondary school. The formula for teaching essays in schools is not really an “essay.” Katherine Bomer’s The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them (Heinemann, 2016) shares some of the most beautifully crafted essays throughout her book as she calls for the need to revise what we think we already know about teaching and writing essays. Each chapter of her book takes the reader through the “essaying” process from reading closely to crafting powerful essays. Bomer defines essays as “nonfiction prose, whose author unveils a central idea about the world and its occupants and invites – with bold, sometimes lyrical exposition and interesting kaleidoscope of facts, observations, memories, anecdotes, and quotes from others – readers to watch him or her think about that idea for a few pages.” (p.22) She argues the problems with standardized essays forms and supports utilizing the essay for the practice of “writing to think.” Bomer offers strategies to help get ideas down on paper and hones in on the craft moves of great essayists. The book includes powerful essays and essay excerpts from Brian Doyle, LeBron James, Roxane Gay, and dozens more.

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Fisher, Frey, and Lapp’s, Text Complexity: Stretching Readers With Texts and Tasks, 2nd Edition (Corwin & ILA, 2016) addresses the quantitative and qualitative measures of text complexity so teachers can make instructional and assessment decisions to support students as readers. The authors discuss all the characteristics of the reader and a text to consider.  For example, when considering the reader teachers cannot ignore background knowledge, fluency, cultural knowledge, and vocabulary knowledge for text selection and teaching. When choosing a text, teachers must analyze the text for levels of meaning or purpose, structure, language and knowledge demands. These considerations allow teachers to “plan appropriate instruction and strategically guide the development of their learners.” (p. 67) The book contains a number of checklists and tables that highlight the strategies and skills needed to build students’ knowledge. Fisher, Fray and Lapp describe teacher led tasks like Think Alouds, Close Reading, Scaffolding, and Collaborative Conversations as examples of strategies to help students read more, read widely, and read deeply, in order to develop life long readers.

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Years ago I read a book by Robyn R. Jackson titled Never Work Harder Than Your Students (ACSD, 2009) which addressed having students do the difficult work of learning to build stamina and knowledge. Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ book Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More (Stenhouse, 2016) takes a similar vein to Jackson’s work and looks specifically at Read Alouds, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, and Independent Reading in order for teachers to push students towards leading the conversations about books and reading. By asking students, “What could you try?” puts students in the driver seat instead of scaffolding, front loading, or telling students the answers. We want students be in the driver seat rather than autopilot in our classrooms to thinking deeply and construct meaning versus teachers constructing meaning for students. Constructing meaning should be done by our students and Burkins and Yaris offer strategies and prompts that make stronger readers. Looking to maximize our students’ roles, teachers become facilitators so that students can apply what they know and think.
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Both Who’s Doing All the Work? and Text Complexity address a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). As Dweck states in an article for EdWeek, “Students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.”

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Struggle is natural and learning can be challenging, it’s how students respond to challenge, struggle, and the hard parts is what really matters.  Gravity Goldberg’s Mindsets & Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge (Corwin, 2016) is an ode to growth mindset in the classroom. Building on the works of Dweck, Angela Duckwork’s Grit and Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Goldberg describes the new role of teachers as miners, mirror, models, and mentors to encourage a “stronger appetite for learning” among our students. Teachers must first admire their students, give detailed and effective feedback, show students what we do as readers, and then guide students towards ways of reading that work for them. Goldberg offers a visual tour of effective classrooms through pictures, descriptions, charts, and lessons.

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Kate Roberts & Maggie Beattie Robert’s DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence (Heinemann, 2016) offered four teaching tools to bring into the classroom as scaffolds and supports for student learning. Teaching charts, Bookmarks, Micro Progression Charts, and Demonstration Notebooks are four visual tools that explain ideas, clarify, and illustrate skills and techniques so students can turn around and recall key ideas taught.  As a teacher who already uses charts and demonstration notebooks, the micro progression charts and bookmarks were two artifacts that I plan on bringing back to my classroom and utilizing with my students. The micro-progressions of skills chart articulates criteria for students the different levels of that skill and creates a model for each level. Below is a picture of an example of a micro progression chart.

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image from https://i.vimeocdn.com/video/565312636_295x166.jpg

We all have our favorite professional texts for teaching reading and writing. The books mentioned here offer great insight and teaching moves to support students as critical thinkers, readers, and writers.

If you have any professional books you recently read and find helpful with teaching literacy, please share in the Comments section on this blog.

 

 

 

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#ILA16 Take Aways

In her essay “Beyond Bread and Cheese: The Artisanal Approach to Teaching and Learning” (2016, Moffly Media) author and Head of School at The Ethel Walker School in Connecticut, Meera Viswanathan describes a trend in education away from “industrialized learning” towards something that more personalized, relational, and authentic.

Good teaching is not mass produced and neither are best practices. Engaged learning is artisinally-produced. Viswanathan writes, “Rather than following dicta set by others without reconsideration, the craftsman aspires to something more ideal, a transcendent possibility in both small and large ways.” Hence, good teachers are personal, relational, embrace possibility, and are always perfecting their craft – “that each endeavor is not a replica of what came before, but rather creative experimentation within a limited framework towards some new possibility, something better, something approaching the ideal.”

Attending the International Literacy Association Annual Conference this past weekend encouraged introspection, self-reflection, and critique of artisanal teaching practices and intentions.

  1. The classroom is a place to introduce students to new worlds, worlds that we could not have imagined and imagine for the better. Key note speakers, Adora Svitak and Kwame Alexander emphasized the need for teachers and students to work on understanding suffering that is going on in our communities as well as the suffering happening around the world in order to help imagine a better world. Literature is a catalyst to transform the world. Teachers need to teach diverse books and tackle tough topics. We gain so much when we read and write.IMG_6720
  2. The classroom should introduce students to the possibility of deep sustained engagement and wonder with ideas, the world, and life around us. Students are more invested when they are engaged. The theme of the conference was “Transforming Lives Through Literacy 2.0” – Students have the power of technology to search and seek what they want to know. Learning in the classroom is not about the acquisition of information anymore. Our classrooms need to be places where students have VOICE and CHOICE to discover, explore, wonder about the world and their own interests. Reading and Writing Workshop, Genius Hour, and Passion Projects are all teaching practices that allow students to personalize learning and transcend what is. Technology has the power to expand the walls of our classrooms around the world and across the universe.IMG_6718
  3. Teachers and students must learn to question their own assumptions and recognize the limitations of their thoughts, thereby expanding horizons. Critique and self reflection are for the cultivation of alternative viewpoints and perspectives. Compassion and empathy are based on opening oneself up to others, ideas, and experiences. Students need to hear, read, and see diverse texts, genres, to learn about the world and what is possible. Engaging in conversations about the world and the recent events in our community can help empower young people. This can also help transform our classrooms into authentic, active, and relevant learning spaces all students want to participate and be a part of.
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Transforming Writer’s Lives With Digital Tools #ILA16

Later this week I will be heading to Boston for the International Literacy Association Annual Conference in Boston, MA. I am excited to be presenting with two of my esteemed colleagues: poet, Laura Purdie Salas and blogger and literacy consultant, Carol Varsalona.

Our hands on workshop will present a series of creative and collaborative activities  integrating art and technology with literacy. More than a dozen digital tools and resources will be featured to examine, explore, and share, including Google Docs, word clouds, KidBlog, photo-editing tools: PicMonkey, Canva, PicLits, and Wonderopolis so educators can model and integrate these resources into their instruction. Our objective is that participants will engage in conversations about the effect of digital literacy on classroom instructional practices and literacy learning to encourage teachers to build classrooms that promote choice and voice.

Here are sketch notes I created highlighting the tools and literacy strategies we will cover during our presentation.

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As technology continues to expand the way students and teachers engage in literacy, teachers need to embrace the role of digital media in the classroom to foster a culture of creativity and innovation. There are dozens of tech tools that help young people build literacy skills and simultaneously allow students to become writers, poets, and digitally literate meaning makers. Literacy 2.0 brings to the forefront digital tech tools that enhance learning and literacy in the digital age where students are content creators and critical thinkers.

Shifting teachers’ thinking about writing from a traditional sense to next generation literacy instruction utilizing digital toolkits, electronic devices, and digital platforms will allow students to become meaning makers where voice, choice, and perspective are honored.

How will you deepen your understanding of literacy development through Literacy 2.0? 

Here are some tools we will address in our workshop.

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Want to know more? I have included the slides to our presentation for more insight and digital literacy tools.

More to follow about literacy learning at #ILA16 in the next post.

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Reading and Writing Workshop is Relevant in the Digital Age

When I first began teaching in New York City many years ago, I utilized the reading and writing workshop during the 90 minute literacy blocks I taught daily. Today, I still welcome the reading and writing workshop into my middle school English classroom, although my schedule limits class time to 40 minute periods. I offer gradual release into the reading and writing workshop as we dive into book clubs, independent reading, and whole class novels throughout the school year. My students maintain reader’s notebooks and write about about the texts they read as well as the topics that are important to them.

Below are a few ideas and technology tools that I utilize in my Reading and Writing Workshop to help deepen my students’ comprehension, maintain accountable talk, and build writing portfolios.

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Reader’s Notebooks Still Matter – Even in the digital age where many teachers have moved into Google Classroom, I use interactive reader’s notebooks — Yes, a marble composition notebook. Inside the notebook students maintain data about their reading life (Reading Timeline, information about themselves as readers, and their reading goals), interactive foldables on what they are learning, including mini-lessons and read alouds. The notebook also contains graphic organizers, sketch notes, and written reflections that highlight student’s application of independent reading in written form. The notebook is a space for students to process information and reflect on their reading.

Face to Face Conversations are just as important as Digital Collaboration – Students need to practice talking to one another face to face, read body language, and cues. Verbal communication is a necessary skill both in and out of school. Students need to get in the habit of meeting with partners and small groups to interact face to face and share their thinking about the texts.

Digital Collaboration is Beneficial – Students can collaborate digitally on a wikipage, blog,  or Google Doc to help them capture their thinking about reading and highlight the conversations and accountable talk that is happening about text. Students can use digital applications to record the conversations using tools like @Recapthat or @Vine to showcase insights, questions, and new thinking.

Google Classroom as a Digital Writing Portfolio – Students can utilize Google Docs to create a portfolio of their writing about their reading. When we ask students to write long or write literary essays about their reading, it can be showcased online and shared with QR Codes or even create a digital Flip Book of student’s best writing.

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Flip The Reader’s and Writing Workshop – After reading Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul’s Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach (2016) I gained so many ideas to to create digital lessons that allow students to work at their own pace and target instruction to small groups and individuals. Creating a digital library of online lessons modeling writing strategies and setting reading goals help to free up more time for individualized instruction.

Here are a few trustworthy tech tools for Accountable Talk in Book Clubs and Reading Partnerships:

Backchannels:

Twitter

Vine

Today’s Meet

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Reflection Tools:

Recapthat (iPad and Laptops Only)

Polleverywhere – Utilize the new word cloud feature

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Padlet

Do Ink

Collaborate Ideas in Written Format:

Google Docs

Wikis

Participate Learning

Blogs

 

 

 

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Playing with Legos for Classroom Learning

I just finished reading Quinn Rollins’ book Play Like A Pirate: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics and found more than a dozen ideas to bring into my classroom. As a huge fan of Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a Pirate, I knew this was going to be another resource filled with ideas to engage students and energize teaching.

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In each chapter, Rollins takes on a toy, board game, and kid favorite by sharing ideas and examples how he has used them in his own classroom to promote learning and understanding. Whether it is action figures, Minecraft, or games like Monopoly and UNO, his teaching tools go beyond worksheets and textbooks to “playfully” teach his content material. Bringing in these games and toys does not only bring an element of fun into the classroom, but is also allows students to use their own critical thinking, creativity, and analytical skills. The chapter on Action Figures gave me many ideas for sidequest projects this upcoming school year.

As a parent to a future Lego engineer, the over flow of the Legos in my home has ended up in my classroom. Two years ago, I was able to get my son (then eight) to help me recreate scenes of Midsummer Night’s Dream for a slide show to share with my students and help with their understanding of Shakespeare.

Rollins’ book bolstered the idea to put the Lego work in my students hands. In small groups, students selected the most telling quotes from each Act in Midsummer Night’s Dream and then created a Lego scene to depict the quote.

The final products were great. I talked with the students’ about taking multiple shot types to help find the best angle to convey the scene.

Rollins offers additional ideas for using Legos in the classroom:

Design a Minifigure – Students could design the four most important characters in a novel or a historic archetype, or four leaders of a particular movement from history.

Design a Set – Students design a Lego set about a historical event. For example, a set for the Great Depression can include a Lego representation of the Okies on the Road to California or a Hooverville.

Lego Stop Motion – Legos is a great tool to make stop motion animation videos. YouTube offers lots of amazing examples to inspire students creativity.

As the late Jim Henson said, “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”

 

 

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Qualities of Great Speakers: Building Student Speaking Skills

What are the qualities of a great speaker?

Who are the great speakers we can model?

If you mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., what makes his a historic speaker? What are the qualities that he exudes in his speech writing and public speaking? What are some of the aspects of his public speaking we want our students to model?

What were the words or phrases that stuck with you throughout the speech?

How does King use his voice and body language to captivate his audience?

How does MLK utilize repetition in his speech to leave an impression on the listener?

What other “moves” does MLK use in his speech to make a lasting impression on his listeners?

Check out a list of Rhetorical Devices and Strategies that King uses throughout his speech.

Now, let’s look at John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration Speech in January 1961.

Whereas MLK wrote his own speeches, JFK wrote his speech with the help of his speech writer, Ted Sorenson. The phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you; but what you can do for your country” was taken from JFK’s headmaster at Choate School when he was a student. He headmaster was known to say, “Ask not what your school can do for your; but what you can do for your school.”

What public speaking skills does JFK bring to the conversation?

How are JFK and MLK similar and different at orators?

The majority of famous speakers today draw inspiration and borrow devices from great public speakers of the past like Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy.

The voice is unique in its ability to communicate. There is no one good speaking voice, but most audiences agree that a pleasant, expressive voice has certain pleasing qualities. A good speaking voice is not born, but developed through training and practice. Through proper use of breathing, resonance, articulation, and pitch we can communicate more effectively.

Your voice and the way that you speak says a lot about you.

Your voice is your most influential tool in a speech situation.

Similar to reading, students are expected to learn public speaking in secondary school. But many of our students are not comfortable speaking in front of the whole class and do not understand that listening requires a person to give their undivided attention to the speaker (eye contact, body at rest, mouth closed, all distractions put away).  Many of us will teach or are already teaching ELL students or students with limited English speaking skills along with student who are proficient speakers. How do we support all of our students as public speakers? 

Speaking and Listening is part of the Common Core and starting by the first grade, “students are expected to know and be able to do the following during small- and whole-group discussions: follow participation rules, build on others’ comments, and ask clarifying questions.” By middle and high school the conversations and group work is more demanding. Speaking and listening must go beyond the “turn and talk” or “think pair share” opportunities we offer students during class activities. Students must also be able to present information to small groups and large audiences. Students can utilize technology and podcast or video their presentations too.

 What are creative ways that you can have students practice speaking and build their communication skills?  

Our job is to excite students about the world, to help them see the role that they can play in making society a better place, to express their ideas powerfully, to see that our content area is about real world problems, issues, and possible solutions. Our content areas should show students the world, not just tell them about it. Our curriculum needs to include role plays, simulations, debates, formal speeches, and demonstrations. Screen-casts, podcasts, and video projects are all great venues that allow students to utilize speaking and listening skills.

 

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Do You Have GRIT?

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Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (2016) is filled with resourceful information for educators and parents regarding passion, hard work, and determination.

As the genius hour movement and passion projects storm through classrooms around the world, teachers like myself ask what is genius and how it is different from talent and mastery.

Teacher and parents emphasize talent is the deciding factor in a person’s success, but Duckworth argues that work ethic and effort is ranked higher than talent in measuring a person’s grittiness. Duckworth writes, “A preoccupation with talent can be harmful . . .by shining our spotlight on taken, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows. We inadvertently send the message that these other factors – including grit – don’t matter as much as they really do.” (p. 31)

In fact, Duckworth’s formula for success is

2(Effort) + Talent = Success 

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement 

So, one “becomes a genius” and “acquires greatness.” She taps into Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of 10,000 hours described in his book Outliers. “Consistency of effort over the long run is everything.” (p. 50) Duckworth describes “strivers as “improving in skill, employing skill, through hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.” (p. 51) Yes, to do anything really well, you have to overextend yourself, as the writer John Irving points out.

Grit is loyalty and dedication and “there are no shortcuts to excellence.” (p. 54)

Grit has two components, “passion and perseverance.” (p. 56)

Passion is a “compass – that thing that takes you some time to build, tinker with, and finally get right, and that then guides you on your long and winding road to where, ultimately you want to be.” (p. 60).

To find one’s passion or tap into one’s passion the question to ask is What is your life philosophy? What are you trying to get out of life? 

To help answer these questions, Duckworth borrows a three step strategy from self made millionaire, Warren Buffett.

  1. Write down a list of 25 career goals.
  2. Circle the five highest priority goals.
  3. Look at the 20 goals you didn’t circle. These are your distractors. Avoid them at all costs.

Then, ask yourself, “To what extent do these goals serve a common purpose?” (p. 68)

Grit grows and it begins with an interest, then practice – working daily and the discipline to skill driven practice. Then comes purpose and finally hope. Duckworth writes, “passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development and then  lifetime of deepening.” (p. 103) Play is necessary during the discovery phase. Once a passion or discovery is made, then comes development or “continuous improvement or deliberate practice” (p. 118) until mastery.

Purpose is also key, “the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.” (p. 145) NO matter one’s age, one can always cultivate a sense of purpose. Find inspiration in role models, think about how your current work enhances your core values, and reflect on how the work you are doing makes a positive contribution to society (p. 166).

“Growth mindset and grit go together.” (p. 181) Yes, the power of positive thinking. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you are right.”

Growth  mindset >> optimistic self talk >> perseverance over adversity

So what does this all mean for parents and teachers?

Demand high standards

Language is everything – What you say and how you say it matters

Offer Loving support and Trust

You are models

Allow children to cultivate interests

Failures are going to happen, how we respond makes all the difference

“Always reach for your best.” (p. 266)

Character is necessary to grow and flourish. Grit isn’t everything.

Genius is “working towards excellence, ceaselessly with every element of your being.”

Everyone has the ability to grow genius.

 

 

 

 

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Task Cards: A Differentiated, Individualized Learning Tool

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Enamored by fancy task cards seen on Pinterest, I decided to revise and consolidate activities for a unit on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream into task cards for my students to use in lieu of worksheets and one size fits all lessons.

What are task cards? Task cards are a set of cards with questions and activities on them that can be used for reinforcement of teaching concepts, assessment, and differentiated learning activities.

Task cards come in sets to target a specific skills, standards, or subject areas. Cards can focus on Bloom Taxonomy of questioning and tap into multiple intelligences. I designed a set specific to layers of close reading. Tasks addressed what the text says, what the text means, and what the text does. This required students to reread parts of a text multiple times with a different lens to hone in on their close reading skills.

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Task cards can be completed individually, in small groups, for homework, in learning centers, and even in game-like activities. Students can write their responses to the task cards and compare  answers. Task cards can be used in a “beat the clock game,” seeing who can answer the task the quickest.

KeslerScience.com describes two different activities to use task cards:

One activity, “Scoot” has students each start off with different cards to answer for a certain period of time, perhaps 2 to 3 minutes (depending on the questions or tasks and grade level of the students). Students answer the task card on their own. When the allotted time is up, the teacher says “Scoot!” All students move and answer another card that awaits them. (Another version of this is to let the students pass on the task cards to his or her seatmate once the time to answer is up.)

In “Back to Back Game” a pair of students will be given the same task card to answer. They either sit or stand with their backs against each other. The teacher reads the task aloud so the whole class has the chance to hear it. The students then answer it, either by personal whiteboards or hand signal and turn to each other to find out if they have same answers. Discussion will follow after that.

Task cards can be used as checks for understanding in the middle of a lesson to see if students have digested the material. For example, after reading through an Act in Shakespeare, students pull out the task cards to apply their reading and understanding. I always give my students four -six task cards and have them complete 3-4 of the tasks. This allows students to show what they know and I have data for what I need to cover or address moving forward. Task cards allow for student choice.

Task cards can also be used as exit slips, review sessions, and I love Amy Brown‘s idea to make a bingo board out of task cards.  Students must complete 5 tasks in a row, column or diagonal to win.

Depending how you design them and use them, task cards can be engaging and an opportunity to help students master content material.

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20 Things I’ve Learned From Teaching 20 Years

It is hard to believe that as of September I will have been teaching twenty years. My experiences have led me from middle school to elementary school, and college level teaching across the Northeast. For the past ten years I have been grounded in Westchester County, New York. Just like the posters that highlight “All You Ever Need to Know, You Learned in Kindergarten,” I have reflected in this post twenty key ideas that shape my teaching philosophies.

1. Smile and Greet Your Students at the Door EVERYDAY

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Research reports that positive interactions with students lead to increased engagement. Teachers can interact with students by verbally greeting them or offer nonverbal positive interactions like a High 5 or head nod with eye contact.

2. It’s not about the content, rather building skills

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Everything is Googleable in this day and age. No matter what content you teach, you are a literacy teacher. All that you teach requires students to be better readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and critical thinkers.  

3. It’s got to be relevant and authentic

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Students need to know why what they are learning matters and how it will help them beyond a test score. Students can detect fake as fast as you can detect BS. If it’s not relevant leave it out.

4. Technology doesn’t make everything better

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There are so many great tech tools available and new ones added daily. Integrating and utilizing technology is a thoughtful application. It’s not about using technology for the sake of using technology. Decide what you want students to learn and what the outcomes should be. Then, choose the tool that suits the desired objectives.

5. No matter how you dress it up, a worksheet is still a worksheet

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At the end of the year it’s going in the garbage if not before than. Think about the paper you distribute to your students. Decide what is truly necessary. Utilize Google Classroom and digital tools to help communicate the same ideas and activities. Be earth friendly.

6. Teaching is 24/7  

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I get so tired of non educators telling me how great my job is because I have my “summers off” and am finished working by 3. In fact, I know little to none who don’t work throughout the summer or take their work home daily. Just look at the amazing professional developing happening on Twitter every second of the day, there are millions of teachers online looking and discussing self improvement in education. So, let’s get the record straight, teachers bring their work home – sometimes 100 essays to read and evaluate in one weekend — and work throughout their summer.

7. You learn something everyday and never stop learning

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I love learning. I think a part of me became a teacher so I could never stop learning.  I have grown into the teacher I am today because of the countless professional development opportunities I have participated in. Twitter has only made it cost friendly and easily accessible. Attending conferences and reading professional books expands my knowledge, resources, and inspires my teaching.   As much as I learn from other educators, my students teach me as well. My students have given me great ideas for activities and even remind me to teach in a way that supports all the learners in my class.

8. Students Acting Out are Actually Reaching Out

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If a student is acting out or withdrawn then something is going on. I ask parents to email me when work is difficult or something is going on at home so that I more aware their whole situation. All of our students have baggage and it impacts their behavior and actions in school. Be considerate of this and know that your class is not the center of their world. Also, the support staff at schools are great resources to help with these matters.

9. Students need routines, but tedious repetitive work is just boring

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Scholastic.com states, “When routines and procedures are carefully taught, modeled, and established in the classroom, children know what’s expected of them and how to do certain things on their own. Having these predictable patterns in place allows teachers to spend more time in meaningful instruction.” Be careful, though. Ending every class with an exit ticket becomes rote and boring for our students.

10. Play nice with your colleagues. In life, we often have to deal with difficult people

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My grandmother used to tell me, “Kill them with kindness.” Be nice to everyone, even if they are rude to you. That has been my adopted motto for my entire teaching career. Kindness matters and gets you a lot further than meanness, anger, and rage.

11. Take care of yourself.

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Carve out a little time for yourself every day to do what you love – mediate, cook, exercise, spend time with your family, read. Your health and well being is vital to your success as a teacher.  Stress is harmful and eats away at your health. You must take care of yourself, eat right, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep to be a productive person.

  1. Continuously Build Your PLN – Professional Learning Network

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Who are your cheerleaders? Who are your mentors? Who are the people who inspire you and encourage you to do and be your best? Surround yourself with those people. Use social media to continuously build a professional learning network to help you reach your professional goals and push you to be a better person/teacher.

  1. Classroom Aesthetics Matter

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How you set up your classroom is a reflection of who you are and what you value. Think about what you put on your walls and the arrangement of student desks. If you haven’t changed up the materials on the walls in more than a year, change it up. Color, lighting, air quality, pictures, decorations matter. I am a proponent of brain compatible learning and know that the classroom environment affects learning 100%. It is important to create a classroom environment that is inviting, calm and without clutter for all the learners in your classroom. Bring in furniture, plants, and calming colors that are comfortable and promote learning.

  1.  Tap into Multiple Intelligences

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Ask students to sing, dance, act, build, and illustrate in addition to the reading and writing everyday. Movement is important and helpful to students. Allow students to show what they know in ways that highlight their strengths. Encourage students to act out a scene from a text or create videos that explain how to solve a problem. Students can put into song their understanding of a historical event and even create a dance about cell mitosis. When conducting a survey, poll students by asking them to stand up if they agree. Sitting and listening can be torturous for and at school students are sitting for more than 4.5 hours a day!

  1.   Families can do Without Homework

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As a parent of a middle school student and an elementary school student I see how homework can bring added stress, competition, and anger among families. As a teacher I have removed homework knowing my students are over scheduled outside of school with extra curriculars and family time. My only request is that my students read for 30 minutes or more every night. All my student’s writing and work is done in class. There is less stress on students and parents when homework is eliminated. I know what my students are capable of and what skills I need to address to make them better readers and writers. I see their actual work, not the work of mom, dad, or the tutor.

  1. Would You Want to Be A Student in Your Classroom?

Genius Hour

In everything you plan and everything you do in your classroom ask yourself, “How would I feel if I was a student in my own classroom?” If you are bored with any aspect of your lesson, then so will your students. Now, every lesson does not have to be edutainment. But, think about all those young people looking and listening to you – in addition to tapping into multiple intelligences, make sure your lessons are authentic, engaging, hands-on and minds-on so that your students are actively engaged with the lesson.

  1. Keep a Hugs & Kisses File

hugs-3

Keep a file for the cards, thank yous, positive notes and warm fuzzies that you collect while teaching. At the same time, I also have an “Asshole File” with emails of parents telling me off because of a grade or score on their child’s assignment – this might make a great book one day!. It is always great to go back to these artifacts every now and again to read the messages that parents, students, and administrators in honor of you.

  1. Learning Happens Beyond the Walls of the Classroom

California Museum of Science

Learning is not only confined to the walls of school. Learning happens everywhere and anywhere. In fact, I would say one place I learn the most is when I am driving in my car to and from work listening to NPR (National Public Radio). Listening to the radio shows and podcasts has inspired my thinking and teaching. I have listened to RadioLab so much to deconstruct the format as a five paragraph essay that I wrote about in Teaching Literacy in the Digital Age: Inspiration for All Levels and Literacies (ISTE, 2014).  I am also a huge proponent of field trips and leaving the classroom to learn about the world around us. Visit art and science museums, farms, parks, and research labs with your students. Can’t get out, then virtual field trips or bring the field trip into your classroom.

  1. It’s Gotta Be Fun (at least) 80% of the Time

Paper Towel Brainstorm

If you are not having fun, if you don’t love your job, if you are photocopying the same packets and worksheets year after year, it’s time for a sabbatical or maybe a new career. Amazing teachers I know are passionate, caring, have incredible energy, and their students always look like they are having fun learning. Your attitude is everything. As Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate states, “Teaching in a way that empowers students, develops a love of learning, sparks curiosity, encourages an Innovator’s Mindset, embraces risk-taking, and encourages persistence in the face of obstacles has a LIFE-CHANGING impact on our students.” This is the teacher I strive to be and want to be known for.

  1.  laugh-thi3

At least once a day have a good laugh – not at the spite of others. Have fun. Laugh often. From the scientific perspective, laughter is an elegant mind-body phenomenon that reduces the production of stress hormones and boosts the immune system.

 

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Speak Up: 12 Informative Speech Ideas to Promote Speaking and Listening in the Classroom

Speaking and Listening is part of the Common Core and starting by the first grade, “students are expected to know and be able to do the following during small- and whole-group discussions: follow participation rules, build on others’ comments, and ask clarifying questions.” By middle and high school the conversations and group work is more demanding. Speaking and listening must go beyond the “turn and talk” or “think pair share” opportunities we offer students during class activities. Students must also be able to present information to small groups and large audiences. Students can utilize technology and podcast or video their presentations too.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.4

Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.5

Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.6

Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/SL/8/

One of my most popular blog posts is 50 persuasive speech and debate topics. I wanted to come back to this topic of speech and debate topics to catalogue informative speech topics that students can complete to practice speaking and build their communication skills.  Below are 12 different informative speech topics that creatively tap into research, writing, speaking and listening skills.

  1. The Letter Lecture – Students take turns “lecturing” to the class by reciting the alphabet or counting to fifty. Without having to think about what you are saying, you can concentrate on making eye contact, gesturing for emphasis, and other elements of great speakers. When lecturing students can put inflection on the letters or numbers as though they are really saying something, and meeting each classmate’s eyes at least once. This activity is more to help students understand inflection, emphasis, tone and volume, rather than focusing on a specific topic.
  2. Create an Imaginary or Mythical Creature – Describe the following: What does it look like (size, fur, scales, nose, claws, color, tail)? Is it a mammal, reptile, amphibian, marsupial, alien? What does it eat? What eats it? Why kind of habitat does it live in? Does it make a sound? What survival characteristics does it have (flies, swaims, runs, digs, camouflages, flights)? Present an informative speech on the creature.
  3. Splendorous Persons Award – We have all seen the award shows —  VMAs, the Oscars, the Tony’s, the Emmys, and the Grammys — the award shows that celebrate and highlight people’s achievements. Find someone in class and interview them in order to find out what makes them so splendorous – ask them about their achievements, strengths, and what makes them unique, why they deserve this award. Write a short speech to introduce and present the award (think lifetime achievement awards) to the recipient. As the recipient, you also need to come up with your thank you speech. Who are you going to thank and why? What lasting words do you want to leave your audience with?
  4. Personal Icon Presentation – Students are to build a visual representation of themselves (a personal icon). Students can use their icons to share as much or as little about themselves they are comfortable with using any objects, scale models, photos, memorabilia, drawings, jewelry, cut-outs, or collections that they choose (Do not include names or photographs that would identify you to the rest of the class.) This can be a collage, a grouping of found objects, a piece of artwork, your imagination is limitless. Concentrate on the overall message about yourself that you would like to communicate through the choice of symbols.
  5. “I Have a Dream” Speech – In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. students come up with a topic for their own “I have a dream” speech. In the speech students can talk about a dream for yourself and/or the country. The dream can range from the simple to the grand. The speech should include what the dream in, why it is important to them personally, and one thing they can do to accomplish the dream.
  6. Speech of Introductions – Begin by identifying a major, defining characteristic of “you,” a personality characteristic or a value which you believe in very strongly. Then, write a “personal statement,” a statement that defines the essence or a defining characteristic of you. The personal statement must be a positive statement about yourself; it cannot include negative words. Your personal statement will serve as the central idea of your speech. Develop one or two examples to illustrate what you mean and how this is true. Make yourself and your speech interesting by beginning with a question or anecdote. Provide an initial summary of the three or four defining characteristics you have selected to communicate about yourself. Discuss each of the three or four characteristics, offering examples or explanation to illustrate why your characterization is appropriate. Conclude by summarizing the three characteristics.
  7. Best Selling Authors – Ask students to speak clearly and forcefully by organizing thoughts and using their imagination to create a believable monologue. Act as an expert author on one of these subjects: Alternative Housing: Living in Tree Houses, 1,000 Useful Items Made from Spaghetti, Alternative Transportation: Roman chariots and horses, The Joy of Being Invisible: A pill that works, Changing Lifestyles: Rent a Mom or Dad.
  8. Teacher Travel Agency – You have just been hired by the Teacher Travel Agency as a travel agent. It is your job to present an informative speech on a specific travel destination to the rest of the class. The goal is to inform future travelers about this destination and why it is worthwhile for them to visit. Remember to include information that will be helpful to prospective travelers: weather conditions in the country, passport regulations, interesting tourist attractions, things to do there, places to stay, and additional information that is necessary for planning a wonderful excursion.
  9. Legends – A legend is a person, group, movement, or event which has influenced the way we think, the way we perceive our world. It may reinforce values we already hold or it may force us to reexamine our current values and establish new values. For this speech, students will inform the audience about a legend that has significantly influenced our world and or community. Thus, the legend might be a person, group, movement or event which has influenced the fields of Education, Business, Science, Art or Music. Or the legend might be a person, group, movement or event which has influenced American culture – Barack Obama to Jimi Hendrix, MTV to Google, Hillary Clinton to Madonna. The goal is not to outline the life of a person, group, movement, or event – the goal is to tell the audience how the legend changed things forever.
  10. Willy Wonka – You have invented a new candy. A meeting has been arranged with the president of Nestle Candy Company, the largest candy company in the world. At the meeting you will have a chance to inform the corporate executives of your candy invention. Write an informative speech to present to the president of Nestle about your candy invention.
  11. News Reporting – This assignment gives students the opportunity to see what it would be like to work as a member of a news team. Students choose a popular topic today and prepare a news report based on research and interviews.
  12. The Pet Peeve Speech – Express your frustration and anger about something that upsets you – a pet peeve. For example, a person who constantly interrupts or someone who is always on their cell phone. Voice your anger and illustrate what about the occurrence gets you so upset. What can people do to stop this annoying habit?

Have additional speech ideas? Please share in the Comments section below.

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