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Start a Reading Revolution: Flip Your Class With Blogs

 

Are kids actually reading? It's a worthwhile question. In an age when distractions seem to make readers more reluctant, one must wonder how many students actually do it.

There's evidence to support this fear. Grant Wiggins recently published a survey of a typical American high school. It found that English is students' least favorite subject, and worse, they despise reading. Here's some student feedback:

Even though the books are classics, they are very uninteresting. Almost every one of my classmates admits to never reading the books because they are so painfully boring to read . . . Also, unless the essays are written exactly how that teacher likes, you are almost always guaranteed a poor grade. You never get a chance to write in your own voice because it's so formatted and strict. No real freedom there. Overall a miserable class.
I don’t like it because all the books we read I am not interested in. Which makes it hard to read everything fully, I would rather have a choice on what books to read rather than having them choose for me.
There is no value in reading old books and making up stupid feelings that we are supposed to get from reading when none of it makes sense or it is just a stupid book.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A reading transformation can occur in your school much like it has in my classroom, replacing fear and dread with excitement and self-expression. Students will read if they choose the books. They will write with voice and clarity if they have the ability to express their thoughts. They can change from reluctant to inspired readers if it happens on their own terms. All you have to do is flip the experience, turning the practice of reading on its head by making them the creators of their own learning.

The Flip

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6 Tips for Faculty Meetings Worth Going To

Excited teacher smiling

 

Ask most teachers about faculty meetings and they'll describe a black hole of boring announcements, fruitless debate, and overwhelming agendas. In short, most of us would rather fall on a fork than attend. But what if faculty meetings could actually inspire and engage? What if they were the high point of the week? It can be done, and here are the 6 key elements to facilitating the fork-free faculty meeting.

1. Space. We have to work within the space we have, of course, but a few small adjustments can go a long way. Make sure the space is clean, that everyone can see everyone else, and consider providing food and drinks. There's something about eating together that builds goodwill and community. 

2.  Stance. Ask yourself what you're hoping to model as an instructional leader. Get clear about your pedagogical stance and make sure you're walking your talk.

3. Processes. Just like good classrooms are built on reliable systems and structures, a positive faculty meeting should utilize protocols and processes that ensure all voices are heard, that no single voice dominates, and that discussion stays focused and productive . (I personally like the protocols from the School Reform Initiative: http://schoolreforminitiative.org.)

4. Presence. If there's ever a time to be fully present and aware, this is it. Try to set aside your personal agenda, fear, or hoped-for outcome and notice what's really going on in front of you. You might be surprised by what you notice, and you'll be modeling what it is to be fully present as a facilitator. (Learn more about mindfulness practices here:  http://www.edutopia.org/blog/just-breathe-when-teachers-practice-mindful....)

5. Clarity. Figure out what you want to achieve in the meeting. What problem needs solving? What issue needs exploring? Keep the agenda brief--only 1-2 topics or questions. If you're using the meeting for announcements, stop. Anything that can be shared by email should be. We all have a limited number of hours on the planet. Choose to respect your team by using them wisely.

6. Courage. Changing the culture around meetings can be nerve wracking. Choosing to be intentional about stance, to limit your time to only the important issues, to insist that everyone engage respectfully and fully--it may not be easy. Start by asking staff if they're satisfied with the use of the time. If you build from what they identify as shortcomings, you'll get better results. 

Facilitating--rather the leading--requires a shift in the way we think about staff meetings. If done well, it raises the level of discourse, builds professional culture and community, and models the pedagogical philosophies we want to see in classrooms. How would your meetings be different if you made the shift?

Building Brain Literacy in Elementary Students

Practice Makes Perfect

For many students, the brain isn't a hot topic of conversation. This is especially true for younger students who are still trying to understand the world around them, and are still far from developing physiological self-awareness of the very thing that gives them that self-awareness.

But helping students develop "brain literacy" doesn't have to be a matter of dry science pumped full of confusing jargon. Understanding the brain can be empowering for students as they recognize their ability to strengthen it each time they use it. As a teacher, you can emphasize how using the executive functions, both in the classroom and outside of school, increases their strength for academic success. Practice makes perfect!

To reduce anxiety about new "stuff" in the classroom -- whether related to Common Core State Standards, struggles with reading, or something else entirely -- you can find opportunities to emphasize students' ability to literally build the brains they want. Remind them that, when they turn in a story, demonstrate a science principle in a skit, or even raise their hand to respond to a question, they grow more dendrites and add new layers of myelin to their axons. To them this may sound gross, but it's actually good news. By activating these brain networks, they continuously use their executive functions as they apply new learning. Like a muscle, the brain responds to interaction and activity.

Much of this kind of thinking starts with an awareness of the brain itself, and how it functions.

Helping Students Understand Their Brains

One way to help students begin to understand their brains is by explaining specific types of executive functions -- or "brain actions."

Learn More!

Engaged Teaching: "Do Now" Activities for Your Lessons

This is a follow up to a May 2013 blog about The Five Dimensions of Engaged Teaching (Solution Tree, 2013), by Laura Weaver and Mark Wilding -- a book that offers SEL and Common Core-compatible approaches to instruction. As co-executive directors of the Passageworks Institute in Boulder, Colorado, Laura and Mark share with us practical examples of how educators of all grade levels might "Do Now" in classrooms some of their suggestions.

Elementary School

Introduce a golden moment of silence to begin the day

A golden moment is an opportunity to sit in silence with each other as a way to quiet the body and mind. Ringing a chime or bell to mark the beginning and end of this "moment" is helpful. Teachers can encourage students to listen to the fading sound of the bell until they can no longer hear it. Teachers can start with a very short period of time -- even 30 seconds -- and lengthen this golden moment over time, as the students are ready and able. Use a name and rationale that makes sense to your students and fits with your current SEL and classroom routines (e.g., Calming Time, Quiet Time, Listening Minute, Settling In).

Develop a "shared agreements" process

In the first few weeks of school, students and teachers develop a list of agreements that will guide their classroom and define their classroom culture. These agreements co-exist alongside any school rules. Students are asked to brainstorm a list of what they need --from themselves and each other -- to learn effectively, speak honestly and openly, and share what is important to them. This list is summarized in five- to seven- major "agreements" and posted in the classroom as a reminder. Most should be positively worded but a couple though shalt not's are fine (e.g., put downs). Examples of agreements can be found in chapter seven of the book and in Edutopia's "Cooperative Arithmetic" video.

Learn More

17 instructional practices for social and emotional learning

social and emotional learning

 

New guide offers a look at 25 social and emotional learning programs to help practitioners hone their own programs.

Interest around social and emotional learning continues to expand, due in part to recognition that positive social and emotional skills can help improve students’ behavioral and academic outcomes in school.

Now, educators can take a look at 25 evidence-based social and emotional learning programs to learn about curricular content and other features that they can use to help student develop key social and emotional skills such as self-control, empathy, flexible mindsets, and conflict resolution.

Navigating SEL from the Inside Out: Looking Inside & Across 25 Leading SEL Programs: A Practical Resource for Schools and OST Providers is intended for elementary schools and out-of-school-time (OST) providers. It aims to give practitioners resources to compare what is taught, and how it is taught, across programs. It also explains how social and emotional learning programs can be adapted to OST settings.

The guide was written by Stephanie Jones, an associate professor in human development and urban education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a team of Harvard researchers. Jones is a recognized expert and frequent speaker on social and emotional learning.

Along with a look at 25 programs, the guide outlines 17 instructional strategies that can be used in social and emotional learning programs.

Instructional practices that help students develop social and emotional skills include:

“What this resource provides is a window into what different [social and emotional] programs focus on and how they do it. This type of information is critical for those who want to cultivate and foster these essential skills within and across different contexts,” Jones said.

Learn More

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