Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ABBA and the Industrial Revolution

Earworm Alert!

The other day, I heard Swedish pop group Abba’s song  “Take a Chance On Me”. Man! That song is an earworm! (You’re WELCOME!!)

It IS one of my favorites, though! I do love the idea of taking a chance, taking a risk with teaching. (takeachance-takeachance-takeachchchance-takeachance)

Do you remember the first time you took a big chance, as a kid or teen? Maybe you tried out for a team or a play? Maybe you asked out a boy or girl? Maybe you tried to start a band or a club or some sort of change in your middle or high school? Maybe you applied for a job or a leadership position?

Remember that nervous feeling when you took that chance? Remember about possibly failing at that try-out or that date-asking or at that office-running?

I think nerves -- and the possibility of failure -- makes many of us do our best. It CAN keep us on our toes, make us play our best game. I wrote the BEST papers in college when I was feeling the pressure and taking a risk (and, admittedly, waiting until the last minute)

Sometimes, in our classrooms, we get too comfortable. We find things that work for US and we use them, over and over again.

But times change. Kids change. Tests change. Job expectations change. New resources and research become available.  

What works for US doesn’t always work the same for each group of KIDS.

And now it’s time to step out of our comfort zones and -- in the words of the wise members of Abba-- take a chance.

In particular, I challenge you to take a new chance in this new year -- with collaboration. Take a chance on some crazy lesson with some out-of-your-comfort-zone-collaboration that you haven’t tried before or that didn’t work they way you wanted it to once before.

Take a chance on ... a thrash-out (or philosophical chairs)
Take a chance on ... a turn and talk
Take a chance on  ... an experiential activity
Take a chance on  ... any new collaborative structure

Really, what’s the worst that could happen? (ha, ha!)

Ok, your class could get out of control. Ok, they might not get the lesson.

But if you take a chance they might get a lot more out of that lesson than they do out of a comfort-zone lesson.

Don’t you have lessons that flop sometimes anyway? Like...

  • Lessons that you think are awesome but then later all your kids bomb the assessment questions?
  • Lessons where you think you’ve got your stuff together but then your kids don’t understand what to do and ask you a bijillion times how to do the task or do it wrong?
  • Lessons where you teach about the American Revolution for a week but when the kids come in on Monday, they ask “What’s the American Revolution?”, like they’ve never heard of such a thing?
  • Lessons where you are ready to use good technology but then the internet is down?

Sometimes, lessons flop. It happens to all of us.

I can still remember an awesome lesson I did in my class where they kids had to analyze two primary sources in partners and come up with a conclusion about the two. I thought it was awesome, but the primary sources were tougher than I had realized and those sources didn’t address the question well enough and the behavior expectations weren’t clear and THEN the frustrated kids stopped trying and started talking and acting up and .... It was a disaster.

But after I reflected, I realized that if I had better scaffolded the documents (with a few little hints or definitions included for the kids to use), if I had better crafted the question, and if I had explicitly taught the behavior expectations, it would have been awesome.

We don’t live in the pure industrial revolution anymore. Our kids don’t need to be trained to sit quietly in rows for their jobs anymore.

It’s 2015. Our kids need to learn collaboration as a job skill. According to Forbes, most employers want people who can communicate effectively, be team players, make decisions, and work with a team. According to the chart below (from the aforementioned Forbes.com), about half of the job skills employers listed can be practiced in collaborative structures.

If we want kids to think and process and “digest” content, we need to take a chance on collaboration. If we want kids to learn valuable workplace skills, we need to take a chance on collaboration. If we want our kids to better learn and retain our vocabulary, we need to take a chance on collaboration.

Try the thrash-out with your DBQ. Use the experiential exercise with History Alive. Have kids debate. Ask them to turn and talk.

If you change your mind
I’m the first in line (to tell)
Collaborative activi-TY
take a chance on me

(Sorry. I couldn’t resist)
Take a chance on collaboration.  

Please be brave and try a new (risky!) collaborative strategy.I put a few links to some examples above.  Check them out -- or email me for help! I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

On the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother”, one of the main characters, Barney Stinson (played by multi-talented Neil Patrick Harris), loves to use dramatic pause. One of his catchphrases is “Legen... wait for it... dary! Legendary!” He likes to add “wait for it” in the middle of sentences and words for comedic effect quite a bit.  (For the record, it usually works. He’s a pretty funny character and it’s a pretty funny catchphrase)

So this week I had Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” in my head.  And as I tried to get a word in edgewise in my home (All of us are chatterboxes in my house. Even the baby!) I thought about how much we hate silence.

We hate silence in my house. It’s why we talk so much.

I know I’m not the only one who hates silence. It’s why so many people have their TV or radio or iPod on so much of the time. It’s why our students pop on their headphones whenever they get a chance. It’s why we answer the questions we ask to our students.

We hate silence.

As Tom Petty says, “The waiting is the hardest part”. So. True.

Do you know that feeling in class? The fear of silence? I must have acted on that dislike of silence every day of my teaching career. I still do it. It goes like this:

I ask a question. I look around. When no one raises a hand in one or two seconds, I answer my own question. Sometimes I chastise the class (“Really guys? Nobody knows this one?”). Sometimes I don’t. But either way, I just answered my own darn question.

It is best demonstrated by actor Ben Stein as the teacher in the movie Ferris Bueller in the forever-immortalized words “Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?”

As he teaches Economics class he pauses long enough to ask “anyone? anyone?” before answering his own questions:

“In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the ... Anyone? Anyone? ... the Great Depression, passed the ... Anyone? Anyone? ... The tariff bill? The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act? Which, anyone? Raised or lowered? ... raised tariffs, in an effort to collect more revenue for the federal government. Did it work ? ... Anyone? Anyone know the effects? it did not work and the United States sank deeper into the Great Depression. Today we have a similar debate over this. Anyone know what this is? Class? ... Anyone? Anyone? ... Anyone seen this before? The Laffer Curve. Anyone know what this says? It says that at this point on the revenue curve, you will get exactly the same amount of revenue as at this point. This is very controversial. Does anyone know what Vice President Bush called this in 1980? Anyone? Something d-o-o economics. Voodoo economics.

(If you need to see it to laugh today, check it at  ... Anyone? Anyone? ... ) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxPVyieptwA  

Do kids learn much with the teacher-asks-and-answers-herself method? I doubt it.

According to research, in most classrooms students are given less than one second to answer a question posed by a teacher.

Less. Than. One. Second.

We know learning has to be engaging. We know that kids need to manipulate content in order to really learn it. We know that answering our own questions just shows how smart WE are. (Duh. We’re the adults with degrees and teaching jobs. We’re a pretty smart bunch)

But it doesn’t do much for kids.

I’m going to suggest something LEGEN -- wait for it -- DARY!

Wait time.

(No, don’t wait again! That’s the THING. The waiting. The suggestion is about WAITING!)

Yes, we all know about wait time. It says that when you pose a question to your class that you WAIT for them to answer. Research from the 1980s (maybe in response to Bueller? Bueller?) has been confirmed again and again over the past few decades. Increased wait time does huge things for student learning. When you increase wait time from one to FIVE seconds you will see the following benefits:

  1. The length of student responses increases 400 to 800 percent.
  2. The number of unsolicited but appropriate responses increases.
  3. Failure to respond decreases.
  4. Student confidence increases.
  5. Students ask more questions.
  6. Student achievement increases significantly.
(Seriously? Only five seconds? It takes me longer to make my legen-waitforit-dary jokes again!)

It’s hard to do. I get that. But it’s totally worth it.

This week, try to increase your wait time. Record yourself (audio or video will work) or have a colleague come observe and time your wait times. It can be powerful. It can be engaging. It can be legen-waitforit-dary.

 So this week, think of Barney Stinson. Think of Ben Stein’s “Bueller, Bueller”. Think of The Sound of Silence. And think of Tom Petty singing “The waiting is the hardest part”

And increase your wait time.

As always, I love to hear how it goes! Drop me a line!  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tiger Wooooooods!!!

Happy New Year!
I had the coolest experience in a classroom back before break. This is the conversation I overheard in an EBD classroom (Emotional-Behavioral Disability)

“Mr. X, I don’t get this.” said student So-and-so
“Are you asking for help?” said Mr. X “Say it...”
Mr. X! Okay. I need help.” said student So-and so
“Did So-and-so just ask for help?”, asked the teacher to the rest of the class
“TIGER WOOOOODS!!!!!!” yelled the class
The teacher grabbed a golf club out of the closet, gave it a swing, laughed, and put it back. He then went to So-and-so and helped her with her question.
The class laughed along with him and then got back to work.

Wait -- what???

It was a weird -- but profound -- scene.

Of course, I couldn’t resist asking a few minutes later, “Uh -- Mr. X, what’s up with Tiger Woods?”

The teacher chuckled and explained that he had shared with the class about Tiger Wood’s caddy at the beginning of the year. Tiger Woods is one of the most successful (and highest paid) golfers of all time. He has gotten just about every golf award and honor he can and makes more than most of us can dream of.

But Tiger Woods is known for “checking his ego at the door” -- when he’s uncertain of his next shot, he calls his caddy over for a consult. Mr. X taught his kids that even though Tiger Woods is one of the most successful and wealthiest athletes in the world -- he still asks for help when he needs it.

Mr. X then made it a routine and a part of the classroom culture to ask for help. He taught his kids that nobody has all the answers and so there is honor and courage and brains in a good help request. He made it fun and powerful for his students. His kids ask for help -- by saying the actual words. And then, the rest of the class celebrates that asking by shouting encouragement and reinforcement. And -- it’s fun and silly to yell “Tiger Woooods!!!” in the middle of class.

I admit that it’s unorthodox. Not a lot of teachers could pull off the “whole-class-shouting-out” thing without everything getting crazy.

But there are a lot of teachers who CAN build a classroom culture of asking for -- and sharing -- help when needed. It would make a nice New Year’s Resolution in your classroom to emphasize the honor and courage of asking for real help when necessary. (*Note -- I’m not talking about the kid who asks for help when he’s having a lazy day. That is best handled through the power of your relationship with your students. I’m talking about a student who genuinely needs help. True, it’s often hard to know the difference. I tend to err on the side of helping).

Students who ask for help when they need it are more successful. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? But not a lot of people DO ask for help.

There are many reasons people don’t ask for help when they need it -- often they don’t want to seem weak, needy or incompetent. I’m pretty sure I have refrained from asking for help before for those reasons.

As you think about teaching your students to ask for help -- I want you as a professional to think about your own asking for help.

We as teachers have crazy-tough jobs. We have to teach, motivate, engage, inspire kids. Kids with complicated home lives and personal issues. Kids with learning disabilities and enormous gaps in background knowledge. Kids who don’t care about our courses as much as we do. Kids who have too many other courses to keep up with. Kids who are more worried about the next boyfriend or girlfriend than they are about our content. Kids who are kids.

It’s a super-tough job. No teacher is perfect.

Let me say that again. No. Teacher. Is. Perfect.

Not me, not you, not the teacher of the year. Not Marzano himself.

So, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, in addition to fostering a spirit of asking for help in your students, I want you, as a professional to ask for help too.

Because if Tiger Woods asks his caddy for help, surely you and I can ask a colleague, a neighbor, an administrator, a coach -- for help.

  • Sometimes, another teacher knows something about a student that would help you understand or better connect with him or her.
  • Sometimes, a neighbor down the hall has a great motivational strategy that you might get some mileage from.
  • Sometimes, a colleague or an administrator has a solution to a problem that you haven’t thought of.
  • Sometimes, an instructional coach or a friend might have a different teaching activity to try with that class that isn’t “getting it” with your usual lesson.

SO ASK!!!!

Ask that neighbor, colleague, administrator, coach, or friend.  It doesn’t have to be a person in your department. It doesn’t have to be a person at your school. It can be a colleague that you met at a training or in the lunchroom.

Ask for help.

If Tiger Woods can put his ego aside and ask for help, so can you and I.

In what areas do you want to ask for help? Are you as imperfect as I am? Can you pull a “Tiger Woods” and ask for help?

As always, I love to hear from you! Email me!