In Australia most schools will be going back this week. As I have spent the last week speaking at staff development days and to teachers who are teaching for the first time I have been fascinated at the variety of back to school tips and strategies for how to engage the students from day one. Here is a random sample of what teachers are doing to kick off their year:
Archives for January 2011
In the last post we looked at how to engage the brain in learning. We looked at how the Reticular Activating System (RAS) acts as a filter which gives priority to information that is new or alerts our curiosity. The brain is hard wired to make predictions and then will give its attention to determining if that prediction will prove true.
After the information passes through the RAS it then passes to another part of the brain called the amygdala which acts like a switch. The amygdala ‘decides’ whether the information will go to the reactive part of your brain (the part responsible for the fight or flight response) or the part of your brain that is involved in reflective thinking and conscious thought (the prefrontal cortex).
In the younger years the prefrontal cortex is not as well developed as the reactive parts of the brain, especially when exposed to situations involving:
So what does mean to us as teachers?
What do you do with a student who is inattentive or consistently distracted in class?
Each one of us are constantly being bombarded with information via our five senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing, seeing), yet not all that information reaches our conscious awareness. Each piece of information has to travel through a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS acts as a filter or a grid only allowing vital information through to our brain and therefore stopping our brain becoming overloaded with stimuli. Sometimes a student can be inattentive or attentive to the wrong thing because their RAS is not allowing the correct information through.
The brain had been programmed to allow certain stimuli through. The main type of information that will always get through the RAS to the ‘thinking brain’ is:
- Anything new or novel. For example a change in environment, a different sound, smell, sight etc.
- Anything that could be perceived as a threat.
Anything else has the potential to be filtered out.
The following two step process will help you as a teacher to engage the brain in such a way that we promote learning and we increase our chances of our lesson content getting past the RAS to the thinking part of the brain?
Once the students have made a prediction the brain will give its whole attention to finding out whether it was correct or not.
If you have read any of my past posts you would know that I like the work of Dan Pink especially his material on motivation (here is a link to the most recent post on the subject). I had the opportunity to meet Dan in Sydney at the end of 2010. Dan spoke about the changes that we are facing in the area of intelligence and how we are training our students for the past more so than the future. One of the most rapid changes that Dan talked about was the trend of outsourcing all our less cognitive jobs to overseas countries. Dan spoke of the need to train our students to be able to do tasks that required more creative thinking and problem solving skills.
Whilst I agree with what Dan was trying to share being a teacher I tend to see a different reality. The reality is that the world is changing at such a rapid rate that as teachers we cannot be expected to be able to predict what the future would look like and prepare our students for that – that would be absurd. We can however do our best to train our students to cope with change and be able to adapt to whatever they face.
There is no better example of this than the change that is taking place in our classrooms right now with the introduction of technology and the addition of the ultimate teacher (Google) to our classes. In the past the teacher was the font of all knowledge the one who knew everything that needed to be taught. His or her role was to pass that information onto their students. Now, the teacher seems to be more of a choir director and coach than formal educator. Due to the ease of access of information by the student the roll of the teacher is shifting to one where we aim to keep the class flowing and working together as each student embarks on a discovery of learning. No longer does the teacher know everything nor do they need to.
In my opinion this opens up amazing opportunities for teachers to stop needing to teach facts and begin to teach life skills. I personally would rather teach the students how to find, process, and reproduce information than blindly remember facts and information. It is my belief that in the next five years you will see a radical change in demand on teachers to be tech-perts rather than experts. Our role will become more and more that of a facilitator than a teacher. Obviously this will be more dramatic in the facts and research based subjects such as the sciences, but the other subjects will increasingly go this way with technology becoming much more prevalent in our lessons.
What do you think? Agree or disagree?
I had the opportunity a couple of months ago to meet Arthur Costa who is the man behind the habits of the mind institute.
The take away lessons from the day were:
1. That all teachers when asked how they would like to improve, regardless of which country they taught in all said that they want their students to do the following 16 things better…
- Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision
- Managing Impulsivity
- Gathering Data Through all Senses
- Listening with Understanding and Empathy
- Creating, imagining and Innovation
- Thinking Flexibly
- Responding with Wonderment and Awe
- Thinking about Thinking (Metacognition)
- Taking Responsible Risks
- Striving for Accuracy
- Finding Humour
- Questioning and Posing Problems
- Thinking Interdependently
- Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations
- Remaining Open to Continuous Learning
2. That we need to undergo a mindset shift from not only needing to know what the right answer is; to how to behave when you don’t know the answer. It would appear that this is becoming increasingly important in the world we live in. Where logical solutions are taken care of by computers leaving us to do the work that computers can’t; that is find creative solutions to questions requiring us to think outside the box.
This requires me as a teacher to be aware of how I behave when the answers aren’t immediately apparent and help model that for my students.
3. For those of us teaching Senior School – when we teach keywords we should teach the verb (the thinking skill) that enables the student to answer the question.
4. I found it interesting that the syllabus (or content) doesn’t get a mention in the 16 habits. As I talked with other teachers in the room one of the main concerns that those teachers had was how do they implement these principles when their day is already so full with a very demanding syllabus.
Quote for the day:
Thinking is the hardest work there is which is why so few people engage in it. Henry Ford
Does your school use Habits of the Mind? Have you found it to have a positive impact?
In this previous post I looked at the potential problems of relying on external rewards to help with our classroom management. Rewarding a student’s behaviour can work really well in the short term, but in the long term can encourage the student to value the reward not the learning. A classic example of this would be if you told a student that if they read three books they will get a reward, then the student will read the three books but not pick up a forth.
Now am I saying that rewards are bad? Absolutely not! They can be one of your best tools when it comes to student motivation and classroom management. What I am saying is that we need to be careful how and when we use rewards in the classroom.
When giving rewards it is best to follow these three simple principles:
Over the Christmas holidays I have been thinking a lot about classroom management and strategies to help new teachers survive the first three years of teaching. I think one of the problems with the teaching profession is that the longer you are a teacher the more myopic and insular you become. Teaching is one of those professions where it is very easy to draw your identity from your job.
Have you realised that you are a teacher regardless of where you are? You can be at the shops and one of your students is there. The fact that you are not at school is irrelevant – you are the teacher and they are the student and you relate to them as such. I can still remember the first time I encountered a group of year 7 girls in a large shopping mall. I had been teaching for a year and so was still quite naive. I went up to the girls and tried to have a ‘normal conversation’ with them…told them to call me by my first name but at the end of the day I was the teacher and they were the student.
Realise that your job does not define your identity any more than an accountants defines his or hers.
For some teachers it can become a more serious issue.
In the last post we looked at the first of 5 classroom management strategies…
1. Regain perspective – tomorrow is a new day!
2. Reflect – what happened in the lead up to my day going pear shaped? Are there any routines or habits that are causing the results you are seeing?
3. Refocus – what are you going to try and do differently?
and now for the last two:
Talk to someone who is outside the profession about something that is completely unrelated to school and teaching. One of the biggest problems I see in the teaching profession is that teachers become so myopic and insular. Teachers hang out with teachers on the weekends, all they talk about in the staff room is what this student is up to and even when they go out for a staff dinner all they do is talk about students.
One of the healthiest things you can do is talk to someone about anything other teaching or classroom management. It will take your mind off your woes and give you another focus for a while
Don’t lose sleep over this – your students aren’t! after you have regained some perspective, reflected on your day, refocused on what you are going to do differently and related to someone outside the teaching profession get a good night’s sleep. Your best chance of not repeating the dramas of today is to go back refreshed, full of anticipation that tomorrow things will be different.
So to recap the 5 R’s of bouncing back after a bad day:
- Regain Perspective
What would you add to this list?
In the last post I asked the question “Is it the teacher who has the large heart that makes the distance in teaching or are they ultimately the ones who become heart-broken and leave the profession?”
I think the answer is both.
In my observation, it is the teacher who has a positive outlook, who is passionate and interested in what they are doing, who genuinely cares for the well being of the student that is able to continue on during a tough semester or year. However it also the teacher who is enthusiastic and passionate who is most prone to becoming disillusioned with either the teaching system or the reality of the teaching workload and leaves for another job that may or may not be as rewarding but is a whole lot less stressful!
On the flip side, even worse than teachers leaving the profession in large numbers are teachers who continue to teach having lost their heart for teaching. There are far too many teachers who are hard hearted, for the most part are miserable to be around. I read the following comment today made by a teacher on the teachers.net blog
“For those high school students who just don’t want to do work, do nothing for them. Unmotivated students get zeros, maybe that can help them improve in the future. Give ultimatums for students that don’t want to work [reduce grades for late work, etc.]. Give frequent quizzes to make sure students know they must stay on track. Always check in, because if you lose sight of their work, you lose THEM. Calling parents can also help when students are unmotivated. I have found that getting the parents involved can really light a fire.”
It’s a bad day when you get to this place in your teaching!
So what can we do to guard out heart so that we don’t end up like this person?
Over the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot about the latest statistics on teacher attrition (the latest statistic is that a new teacher lasts on average less than five years). I have been wondering how much of this has to do with the condition of our hearts.
Is it the teacher who has a big heart who makes the distance or are they the ones who ultimately become heart-broken and end up leaving disillusioned and hurt?
Do a quick Google search for ‘teacher quotes’ and you will quickly find large numbers of quotes that talk about the teachers heart or they way in which a teacher sacrifices themselves for the betterment of their students. In the last week here are 3 quotes that have been emailed to me:
“God gave teachers a slightly bigger heart than the average person, for the teacher’s heart needs to be big enough to love the kid who screams ‘this is boring’…
A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.
I would thank you from the bottom of my heart, but for you my heart has no bottom.
One of my favourite quotes is:
“They may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel”
I must confess that I’m not the ‘touchy feely’ type, nor am I the type of teacher who becomes emotionally attached to their students, but my teaching style is very much based on relationship.
In fact I would go as far as to say that I think that one of my greatest assets as a teacher is my ability to quickly build rapport with students and teach based on this connection, but I have also found that the more I teach this way the more I open my heart to disappointment and discouragement.
I was speaking at a school staff development day a couple of weeks ago and one of the questions that came up time and again in the conversations in the break was “what are some practical ways we can guard our heart and not become a statistic?”
In the next post we will look at strategies on how we can do this.
What do you think? What ways do you guard your heart without becoming heartless?
I just watched this video on the TED website of Professor Sugata Mitra. Two of the great quotes in the video were:
- “If children have interest, then education happens,”
- “Students will learn what they want to learn.”
Watch the video and then I will give you my thoughts…
1. As someone who teachers on engaging generation Y and Z I was again fascinated with the research showing how well students learn when they are intrinsically motivated.
2. Sometimes teachers get too caught up on being replaced by technology – this is not the case, and I certainly don’t see that ever happening. From my observations of teachers in my travels I think that it is a fair observation to say that as a group we resist change.
When the overhead projector became available it was a massive issue! People resisted its use in the classroom and questioned its validity as a tool in education. Then computers and PowerPoint came along and the same teachers that resisted using overhead projectors now refused to give them up for a projector to project power point slides. Now projectors are on the way out and we have smart boards and mobile phone technology and every step of the way 80% of the staff I have worked with complained and resisted learning how to use these tools all the way!
So whilst teachers won’t be replaced, I believe with the rapid rate of change and cheap technology available to educators if you don’t embrace what’s coming you will be left behind.
3. Whilst I appreciate that Professor Sugata Mitra states that learning takes place I believe what he is talking about is more remembering. I would like to see the research regarding applied learning – as we all know it is one thing to be able to remember something but is a whole different skill to actually be able to apply what you have learnt! (This will be a blog post in the near future)
What are your thoughts?
In the previous post we looked at the first two steps to getting your classroom management off to a great start. Step 1 was and step 2 was. You can read the entire post here.
The last two steps are:
Step 3: Establish your class rules.
Our entire day is permeated with rules. Most of the time we don’t realise that they are there, but without these rules our routines would have no flow.
The following is a great example of why we set rules in place to enable our routines to flow.
Let’s say that you need to get to school by eight each morning. For you to arrive on time you set your alarm clock for 6AM every morning so that you can finish everything you need to do before moving on to that day’s activities. If you break your rule of getting up at 6AM it may not affect anyone else, but you will feel uneasy and stressed, and you will not have time to get everything done.
If you break your rule of getting up at 6AM you may also be forced to break other rules. You may drive faster than permitted, in which case you risk being fined. So without this simple rule your routine goes out the window!
The absence of rules creates a sense of insecurity. If you go to a place and are not sure of the customs and culture it can be very uncomfortable leaving you feeling awkward.
The problem in teaching is that we have all adopted the same rules that were used goodness knows how long ago but the rules aren’t linked to the culture and atmosphere we are trying to build in our classrooms.
Are the rules you have established a result of clear thought and planning or custom and tradition?
It is best not to have blanket rules in the classroom, but rather rules as a response to what is happening with your routine which is clearly linked to your goals.
Which leads us to our last step:
Step 4: Develop your feedback system.
Your rules are only as good as your feedback system. There are 3 forms of feedback. Recognition, praise and criticism. There is not time to go into how to best leverage feedback in your classroom; I will cover this in detail in the near future. For now you just need to know that there is no point to having rules if the students can break them and not have a consequence. You also need to understand that some forms of feedback are not as effective for some students as others. You can read more about that in the earlier blog posts here and here.
All the best for a great start to 2011. Leave a comment below letting me and other teachers reading this blog your ideas to getting off to a great start.