Category Archives: Classroom practice

Real Men Read

http://www.essentialkids.com.au/preschoolers/preschooler-education/keeping-boys-reading-20130611-2o1uj.html#utm_source=FD&utm_medium=lifeandstylepuff&utm_campaign=boysreading

At my school in the USA I introduced a program that I had also promoted in Australia. It was called “Real Men Read”. Aware of the research that is described in this article in Essential Kids, I had pondered why it was that boys seem to turn off reading. A series of questions pretty much answered it for me.

When do our lifelong habits start to form? When we are very young.

Who most frequently reads the bedtime story or stories throughout the day? Mum.

Who reads the stories at the day care centre? Women.

Who teaches in the first grades of school when children are learning how to read? Mostly women.

So it dawned on me that perhaps boys think reading is really some kind of “secret women’s business” and not really for them.

It was then that I decided to bring men into my school to read books to the kids and to tell them how important reading was to them.

We had policemen, athletes, the mayor, fire fighters, members of the clergy, builders, politicians, school board members, all sorts of men.

It’s eight years since I left that school district and I understand that the program has continued. In fact I was surprised a few years ago to discover that someone was making money out of it. They had turned it into a commercial success, of course with no reference to the person who started it all. Another good educational idea turned for profit!

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Filed under Classroom practice, Language and literacy, Thinking

Through the Rear View Mirror

Every new medium that comes along takes time to find its feet. At first we just see it as a better way of doing ‘business as usual’.

When the movies took off, at first they looked an awful lot like stage plays on celluloid, or they made our novels visual. It took time for film makers to work out what they could do that live theatre and the printed word could never achieve.

Television began as a way of bringing the movies and plays into the living room. Newsreaders sat in front of the camera in sharp suits and did the equivalent of reading the newspapers to us. Today TV news is instantaneous, right in the middle of the action and all over the world in an instant – something only TV could manage. 

Electronic communication began as a wave of emails – old fashioned letters in a new format. Today we text, send instant messages, videos, instagrams, we tweet, we blog and we facebook. We are beginning to use electronic communication for its own sake, making the most of the new things it can do that older media never could.

That’s why many schools are having a hard time incorporating these new technologies. The media and the devices haven’t settled in yet. We haven’t fully recognized what they can do that is different, that they are not just the same things from the past in a new wrapping.

Ipads are still being used as a natty new kind of text book. Kids and teachers are using them as a substitute for pen and paper, sharing homework assignments and submitting written projects. They use them as dictionaries and as encyclopaedias, but they can be so much more. We are still looking at the new media through a rear view mirror, as Marshall McLuhan would have observed.

The trick is to ask yourself ‘what can this device and its software do that only it can do?’

Once you work that out, exploit it to enhance learning. Projecting a twitter feed on a classroom screen gives everyone immediate access to the insights of the whole class. You can’t do that with a pen and paper. Skyping a classroom half way around the world (if you can fiddle the time zones right) and watching what they are doing, can’t be done with a conventional phone. Every kid can find his own TED video to watch and then share what he has learned by building a Prezi.

It goes on and on – so many things to be done with an ipad that are not simply new ways of using books or pen and paper.

It will take time. That’s inevitable. But eventually we will find ourselves using electronic technology in ways that amaze us, because we will discover how to get the technology to do what it does best.

The big question to ask is “What can this do that nothing else can do?” rather than “How will this help me do what I have always done better?”

 

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The Power of Metaphor

The neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran in his fascinating book “The Telltale Brain” describes the uniquely human capacity to create metaphors. It requires a sophisticated ability to juxtapose two seemingly unrelated concepts because they have some point of similarity at a deeper cognitive level.
An unopened bud is an evocative metaphor for a baby. Not because babies are green and grow on bushes, but because as babies grow they open up and reveal themselves, often revealing unexpected delights and great beauty.
To create or appreciate a metaphor we need to get below the obvious and the literal. We need to think in depth and to integrate our understanding and create links between previously disconnected bits of information.
In McREL’S ‘Classroom Instruction That Works’ we explore the powerful learning strategy of looking for similarities and differences. When we sort through new information and compare and classify it, we are making sense of what we are learning and finding sensible ways to connect this new knowledge with what we already know about the world.

The interpretation and, even more powerfully, the creation of metaphors, takes thinking to a different level of abstraction. It encourages students to look beyond the literal, to become more subtle and nuanced thinkers, There in lies the power of the metaphor in learning.
Which brings me back to an earlier blog about poets and about Einstein.
Where is our richest store of metaphor? In poetry. And how prominent is poetry in your curriculum? Is the focus on informational text relegating poetry to an optional extra?

Poetry has been a common thread running through the heart of every enlightened society. Not only because through poetry we are often able to touch the otherwise ineffable, sense the fleeting, more insubstantial but nonetheless essential aspects of lives. Poetry is the means by which we can learn to think beyond the literal and dig deeper into experience and our conceptual understanding of the world.

We deny our children much if we fail to foster their understanding of and love for poetry and metaphor.

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A Forgotten Prophet

In 1967 Marshall McLuhan wrote this:

It is a matter of the greatest urgency that our educational institutions realize that we now have civil war among these environments created by media other than the printed word.The classroom is now in a vital struggle for survival with the immensely persuasive “outside” world created by new media. Education must shift from instruction, from imposing stencils, to discovery – to probing and exploration and to the recognition of the language of forms. The young today reject goals. They want roles. That is, total involvement. They do not want fragmented, specialized goals or jobs.

That’s 45 years ago.

It’s taking us a long time to understand the changes in the world and how they impact society and education.

It’s taking us a long time to appreciate the implications of a “clash of cataclysmic proportions between two great technologies” (McLuhan).

McLuhan said that we always approach new situations with the predilections and perceptions of the past, that we march into the future looking into the rear view mirror.

He argued that each new medium first has as its content the content of of its predecessor. The movies began as filmed stage plays. Television began as a way of showing movies. The news on TV began as a man in a smart suit reading the equivalent of the newspaper. Over time the medium gradually begins to take on its own identity. The news now takes us live to hot spots in the world and shows us the world as it is happening. Television is doing what it does best.

The same is true of the use of electronic media in schools.

How long will it be before we can see the Ipad as something more than a portable, efficient book? Many education systems are now turning to Ipads as an alternative to text books. Only a few are exploiting the unique qualities of the ipad to let students connect with the world and with one another.

The smart phone is not just a device for talking to people. It is a powerful means of discovering information, of participating with others, of exploration, and yet we make our kids turn them off as soon as they enter the school building.

McLuhan understood that we are made uncomfortable by the new, we often feel fearful. We make ourselves feel safer by getting the new media to do the familiar work of the old. But McLuhan was telling us 45 years ago that we need to wake up.

Why are we still using ipads as if they were books?

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Inspiration

I spent some time in an inspirational state primary school on the outskirts of Melbourne last Friday. It got me thinking about the inspirational moments in my own schooling and who the teachers were who inspired me … and why.

Grade 3 Mr Ross: I remember him writing us a letter from New Zealand where he was spending his holiday. When he came back to school he taught us a Maori song.

Grade 6 Mr Quinn: he was kind.

Year 7 Mr Ok***e: I spent a year with a caliper on one leg and he would ‘keep an eye on me’. I remember him letting me have his chair rather than sit on the floor during a whole school assembly and telling me I didn’t need to pick up papers during a litter drive.

Year 9 Mrs Burs***i: She taught us French, brought French cakes into school one day and lent me a paperback novel ‘Dickon Among the Indians’ because she thought I would enjoy it. She was also reputed to wander about her garden topless so there was a frisson of scandal about her.

Year 11 Mr Gr**t: because he was handsome and I was young and impressionable.

Year 12 Mr Ma****e: who would become so engrossed in his English literature class that he would mutter “Damn their eyes” when the bell rang mid conversation.

Year 12 Mrs Eng**h: She gave up her Saturday mornings to take me painting and came in an hour early one day a week to teach me. I was the only student in her year 12 Art class and she didn’t want to have me miss out on the opportunity to study Art.I have always felt I let her down because she said I was destined to become the first female director of the National Gallery.

Year 1 University: my English professor, a frail elderly man, entered the lecture theatre, stood behind the lectern and sang one of the Border ballads. It brought tears to my eyes because it was so moving.

What stands out in this recollection?

The teachers who inspired me did so because of their passion, their ability to extend my view of the world, but most of all because they connected with me as a person, they cared and they demonstrated their caring. That’s why I remember them. They knew me.

It’s a very long time since I was at school but some teachers have never deserted me, they continue to reside in a corner of my mind and form part of the network of experiences that have formed me and my view of what education should be about.

I keep hearing that relationships are at the heart of successful teaching.

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Filed under Behavior management, Classroom practice

Library, factory or smart phone?

I have just had the privilege of participating in five days of learning about ‘Classroom Instruction That Works’ by McREL. One of the nine research based and proven strategies to enhance student learning is looking for similarities and differences and the vcreation of metaphors is a powerful way to do this.

So, let’s have a shot at it!

Is your brain: A library?

Library

Do you somehow seem to inhabit a huge store of information and do you hunt for the place where what you need is stored every time you think? Is thinking about pulling the right ‘books’ off the right ‘shelves’ and then putting the contents of the books together in an operable amalgamation of what you know?

Or is it more like a factory?

Factory

Is your brain an incredibly complex manufacturing process? Do you feed in the raw materials of experience and perception, process them with the innate capacities of your mind and then produce thoughts, feeling and actions?

I suspect the closest metaphor for the brain is actually the smart phone.

smartphoneInside my Iphone I have a huge library of information that grows and changes every time I do anything with it. It is an electronic factory that processes every interaction it has with the world outside, be it via my keystrokes or because of its connection to the world through the internet.

The Iphone I pick up this morning will be subtly different from the Iphone I put down last night. New connections will have been made between programs, new updates will have appeared for my apps, bits and pieces will have been coming and going through the night as the internet itself has changed and grown.

My Iphone is a plastic, dynamic accumulation of interconnections housed in some protective hardware – a case that protects it from the knocks and accidents the world can inflict.

It’s amazing, but its nowhere near as powerful as the human brain.

Imagine the possibilities when we combine the power of our brains with the power of the smart phone, the tablet and the internet.

As part of my work with McREL I had the thrilling experience of visiting a primary school on Friday where those possibilities are opening up.

Every classroom had an Apple TV. The kids had Ipads and Iphones on their tables. They used them to research, to check word meanings and spellings, to share their work with others and with the class. These devices were becoming as common place as paper, pencils, and books in these classrooms. But I was aware, as were the teachers, that they are only skimming the surface.

Imagine the opportunities these media will provide as they extend children’s brain power into the internet, as they provide tools for collaboration and demonstration, as they extend the possibilities for creative, innovative thought beyond the here and now.

It makes we wish I was forty years younger so I could be around in another forty years and look at the world these kids will have created.

I am an optimist!

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Pass, Fail, Practice

Oh the power of words.

“I’m sorry. You tried and you failed.”

How many times do our kids hear or read these damning, undermining words?

Every time they hand in a paper to be graded, every time they sit a test, every time they raise their hands to answer a question, they are leaving themselves open to either a direct or an implied pass or fail judgment.

Let’s change the culture in the class room.

Let’s make it absolutely clear that we are here to learn, that learning requires risk taking and risk takers are a lot more interested in practicing things, in getting better and better at them, and not so interested in passing or failing.

What would this look like in a classroom?

Teachers ask a lot of questions.

Scenario 1

Teacher asks a question, lots of hands go up.

Student A answers and the teacher says “Thanks John, that’s right.”

What happens here is that student A knows he has ‘passed’, as does everyone else. Everyone else can now stop thinking.

Scenario 2

Teacher asks a question, lots of hands go up.

Student B answers and the teacher says “No, Lizzy, that’s wrong. Does anyone have a different idea?”

What happens here is that Lizzy knows she has failed and has to deal with this and everyone else knows that failure is an option so the risks involved in answering just got higher unless you are sure you are right.

Scenario 3

Teacher asks a question, lots of hands go up.

Student C answers and the teacher says “Thanks Alan. Who else has an idea?”

No judgment. No closing down of thinking because no doors have been closed. No fear of being wrong. Thinking continues.

If the teacher asks a question and withholds judgment, either positive or negative, the thinking will continue and risk taking will continue. Learning has a much better chance of continuing too.

Students do a lot of writing and teachers read what they write.

Grade two have been working hard on spelling patterns. They have been exploring the ‘ph’ digraph and looking for words that contain it. In a writing passage one child spells elephant like this ‘ellephant’.

Scenario 1

The teacher draws a red line through the word, indicating it is incorrectly spelled. The child has failed.

Scenario 2

The teacher places a series of small check marks above the e, the second e, the ph, the a, the n and the t. The teacher circles the ll. The child knows she got six things right but needs to work on one thing. She needs more practice. it’s not a matter of right or wrong, of pass or fail.

Share some of the practices in your classroom that change the culture from a pass/fail culture to a culture of practice.

As my daughter said to me this morning “I never fail, I just practice a lot. Sometimes I didn’t know I was practicing until later!”

 

 

 

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Filed under Classroom practice, Language and literacy, Testing