Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Life Hacks and Teaching Hacks

The internet is full of “Life Hacks” -- simple things you can do to make your life easier.

Some are silly. I have no interest in cooking noodles in my coffee maker. I have a pot and a stove top and I don’t want coffee-tasting noodles.

I will not put my bagel in an old CD spindle. Why do I need a bagel tote? What’s wrong with a ziplock bag? And how many old CD spindles are you storing in your home anyway?

C’mon, people! Don’t FORCE this whole lifehack thing...

My favorites ACTUAL life hacks?
  • The carabiner-clipped-grocery-bag = trash bag for your car. Genius.
  • Nail polish on your keys -- so you know which key is which. Fun AND sparkly!
  • Putting smelly shoes in the freezer (in a bag) to kill whatever bacteria are making them stinky.
  • Use toothpaste to patch nail-holes in your apartment walls. Or to make pimples go away. Or to fix scratches in CDs. Or to clear up hazy headlights... Toothpaste is the best lifehack.

What’s my favorite Teaching Hack?
It’s called “Turn and Talk”.

So simple. So quick. So powerful.
So underused.

The average teacher probably uses turn and talk once or twice a week.

How do I do it?
Step One: Ask a question, preferably higher-order (you do this a million times a day anyway)

Step Two: Give a time limit. I like 30 seconds, but you can choose a larger or smaller time frame depending on the question, your time frame, your students, etc.

Step Three: Have your students turn to a neighbor and discuss your question
*Use some explicit instruction -- teach them how to do this. I know you THINK they know how, but your expectations and your next-door colleague’s expectations may be a bit different. Teach your kids:  
  • how to stay seated
  • how to actually TURN their heads and shoulders toward their partners
  • how only 2 (or three in an odd-numbered class) per partnership
  • who should turn to whom
  • go over your group expectations  (mine are the Five Ohs: On task, On topic, Only your partner, One-level volume, On (in) your seat)

Step Four: This is the most important step. Walk around your room and LISTEN to the students turning and talking. If you don’t listen, you aren’t holding students accountable. How do you know that they’re not talking about Snapchat or whatever? If you don’t listen, the kids pick that up pretty quick and will never make this work right. *Fix the problem if kids are not on task and on topic.

Step Five: Ask each group to share out, either something they said or something they heard. Again -- to make sure EVERY kid has some thinking going on - and to make sure that every kid’s thinking matters!

Why is this a great Teaching Hack? (I thought you’d never ask...)

Here’s another Life Hack: People love countdowns. Spin it countdown style, and people love to find out the #1 answer.....  

So here are my Top Five Reasons To Do a Turn-and-Talk, countdown style

5. Because students turning and talking can break up monotony, make the pace pick up, and better “chunk” content.

4. Because when a teacher voices a great discussion question -- and then takes raised hands, the teacher only holds the students accountable who have raised their hands. The rest of the class can tune out and daydream and get away with slacking off. Turn-and-talk holds ALL kids accountable.

3. Because when students turn and talk -- and the teacher listens carefully -- the teacher can correct misconceptions and mistakes right there on the spot, instead of waiting until the quiz or test next week.

2. Because a kid who is talking about content is engaged in the learning. He or she is interested. His or her brain has woken up. Endorphins from talking about their own understanding and ideas can flow.

1. Because when kids get to talk, they get to try out their ideas and words -- and they OWN those ideas and words. The talking and thinking doesn’t belong to the teacher anymore. The learning belongs to the kids! And then they UNDERSTAND THE CONTENT BETTER. It seriously makes kids actually learn better!!!!!

It seems like we don’t have 30 seconds of class time to spare. But if those thirty seconds mean that the kids better understand and retain content -- they we don’t have time to NOT turn and talk.

If you take your class discussion questions (where you often take raised hands) and turn those into turn and talks -- you might actually GAIN learning time. (Hypothesis: it takes longer to call on 5 raised hands than it does to turn and talk for thirty seconds and share out? Someone test this one for me!)

I want to challenge you to use turn-and-talks obsessively. Every day, multiple times a period.  How many times a period can you turn-and-talk? 5? 10? 15? 20? more?

The more your kids turn and talk -- the more they retain. Period.

Best. Teaching Hack. Ever.

Let me know how it goes! As always, let me know!

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