Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wake Up Sleeping Beauty

My five year old daughter is kind of a princess. Despite my best efforts to NOT create a Kardashian-style princess-narcissist, princesses are unavoidable in my house. They creep into my house through books, costumes, t-shirts, bags, toys, even princess soup!

I am learning to adapt to my initial dislike of princess culture. But I’m holding out on one.

I can’t stand Sleeping Beauty.

Seriously -- the girl is asleep pretty much the whole story.  Most boring -- and useless -- princess ever.

Do you ever feel like your students are kind of like sleeping beauties (minus the whole prince thing)?

Like they’re the title and the point of the whole thing (the “thing” being school) -- but that they’re asleep or not engaged half the time?

Well, take away the icky kissing metaphor and let’s come up with a solid instructional plan to wake the princesses (and princes) in our classes. Sometimes we need kids to physically, actually wake up, and sometimes we need them to wake up their brains and get engaged in their learning.

If you’ve been spending time with your Marzano Framework (always some light reading before bedtime, right?) you may have noticed Design Question 5 -- which is all about engagement.

Marzano himself says that “Nobody has students engaged all the time”, which, at first, I thought was kind of weird. But then I thought about myself-as-a-student, how even in a GREAT training, my mind sometimes wanders or I try to jump ahead in the training or jump back or make a connection that isn’t necessarily related or think of my to-do list or.....

What makes a class engaging is the ability to bring me back to engagement when I mentally wander. Or, really, Marzano Element #24 which says “Noticing when students are not engaged”.

But once you notice . . . what the heck do you do to keep ‘em or bring ‘em back?

Marzano, of course, has a list (Elements #24-32). Let’s look at my three favorites...
  1. 1. Lively Pace Element #28: I know, I know,  I am a caffeinated teacher. I know that it takes a lot of energy to do what we do. But a class that moves too slowly or too fast-paced will lose a lot of kids. How can you tell that your class is moving at a “lively” pace? You have multiple activities in a class period, your students are moving through them with minimal “what are we doing again?” moments, the kids are “with you” and not dozing off from snail speed nor unable to keep up. And you are adapting your pace to the needs of your class.
Check with your lesson today. What kind of speed is it? Are you keeping it hoppin’? Moving at warp speed? How can you adjust to meet the needs of your students?

  1. Movement Element #27: I hate sitting down all day. It’s tough on me -- and I’m not hyperactive (or regular) kid. Find a way to get your kids to move -- whether they do a gallery walk or just take a stand-and-stretch break, get your kids up twice during a traditional class period (three times or more during block). There are instructional uses (like four-corners or dramatic interpretation of history content) or just getting up to get materials or turn something in. Get your kids out of their seats (in a controlled manner) and your kids will wake up and learn more. I promise.
Again, keep an eye on your own classes today. Do your students get up? How many times? For how long? How is their engagement before they move? How about after? What do you notice about your own class?

3. Enthusiasm: The third of my favorite ways to increase engagement is Element #29: Demonstrate intensity and enthusiasm. Seriously. This one is one of my favorites -- act like you like what you do and what you teach and the kids might pay attention. Confession time -- when I taught US History, my least favorite unit was the Colonial unit. Ugh --  I just found the colonies boring. So do you know what I did? I wore a complete Colonial Lady costume and served tea (to set the stage of colonial culture before the Boston Tea Party and all that). You fake it (the enthusiasm) until you make it (you actually FEEL enthusiastic).
Again -- check your own classes today. How much enthusiasm do you have today? Is it contagious enthusiasm -- meaning, are your kids picking up the intensity that you’re putting out in class? Are they catching some of that enthusiasm from you? How can you demonstrate that enthusiasm?

Check your classes today! How is your student engagement? Are you noticing when kids lose engagement? How can you MANAGE your student engagement?

Wake up those sleeping beauties -- those lovely princes and princesses in your classes -- and let me know how it goes! As always -- email me at

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