Friday, September 26, 2014

Engagement, Not Compliance

The following article, 4 (Secrets) Keys to Student Engagement, explains the difference between students being compliant versus engaged in the classroom.

As I read the article, I thought about my first years in teaching when I incorrectly correlated student compliance with my teaching effectiveness. As I matured as a teacher through experience and guidance from mentors, I came to realize that it wasn’t compliance but engagement that mattered in the classroom. The more comfortable and confident you become as a teacher, the less worried you are about controlling all aspects of your classroom. (I also erroneously used to equate a quiet classroom as a productive one.)

I really enjoyed the second and third paragraphs that contrast a compliant classroom from an engaged one.

I love so many aspects of Trinity, but tops on the list is how we engage students and respect and trust them as individual learners. 

A personalized classroom is messier than a compliant classroom, yet I am proud to be a part of a school that lifts up student engagement and excitement toward learning as an essential student outcome!



There is a clear distinction between compliant and engaged students.

The compliant, dutiful learner is easy to manage, does what’s expected, and participates when there’s little risk of being wrong. They follow directions, complete assignments, and get good grades, but their hearts aren’t in it.

Engaged students, on the other hand, follow their own train of thought, focus on the learning, and share their thoughts without being prompted, sometimes without consideration of their classmates. Straightforward questions bore them, but questions that are personally relevant or that require teasing out ambiguity fascinate them. These learners take risks; they’re not afraid to try something new. Engaged learners can be needy. They’re often annoyed by interruptions, they question everything, and they’ll follow an idea even if it takes them outside the parameters of the assignment.”

Compliance may make for a smoothly run classroom, but it doesn’t help students expend the effort they need to meet the demands of challenging standards or take what they’ve learned and apply it to their lives.

How do we get real classroom engagement?

Provide clarity. When you’re in the weeds of daily instruction, you may lose sight of the larger purpose. It’s vital you make sure that every assignment, question, and conversation is connected to a clear learning goal. Ask yourself, what am I asking students to do? How do all these pieces fit together? What’s the point of learning this? How can students track their progress over time? Students should ponder big-picture essential questions about the unit.

Offer a relevant context. A teacher can become frustrated when she introduces a new unit on perimeter and area and students ask, Why do we need to know this? Why is it so important to be able to do this? and Why will we ever need to know this in life? Our students need to know that the work they’re being asked to do is relevant and important to them – right now. Someday is not a day of the week.

Create a supportive classroom culture. Students get discouraged and disengaged when their work is criticized and given low grades. Can students access the material, understand the discussion, and meet the challenges you’re giving them? Have likely misconceptions been anticipated, have students been introduced to difficult vocabulary, is there a scaffold for handling new concepts, and is individual support available to help them revise their work when it isn’t up to par?

Provide an appropriate level of challenge. Students may be able to complete assignments that can be easily Googled or “Khanified”, but they don’t respect them and there’s little value-added. We have to train them for the world they’ll inherit, and in that world it’s unlikely that employers will pay them to solve a non-problem. Teachers need to give assignments that ask students to frame ideas, questions, or predictions; to figure out a real problem; and to risk failure to get to the final product. Offer experiences that enable them to play with ideas; solve complex, real-world problems; and dig deeper – for example, interviewing a personal hero, figuring out a way to cover themselves so they won’t get poison ivy next summer, and designing headphones that won’t cause long-term hearing problems.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Science of Teaching

This week's article summary comes from the New York Times.

Building a Better Teacher highlights teacher habits that positively impact student learning.

It's nice to see how the five qualities below connect to Trinity's overarching curriculum goals of deepening learning, personalizing learning, and empowering students.

Enjoy the weekend!


It’s a myth that teaching is an innate talent.

Research shows that the most effective teachers can be extroverts – or they can just as easily be introverts. Some are humorous, but others are serious. Some are as flexible as rubber; others are as rigid as a ruler.

It’s not personality that makes a teacher great, but a specialized body of knowledge that must be learned – and that often goes against what comes naturally.

Here are five teacher actions that have the greatest impact on student learning:

They use students’ mistakes to improve instruction: Researchers have found that teachers who are best at spotting why a third grader would think that 307 – 168 = 261 are the most successful at improving students’ math performance. The best teachers put themselves in their students’ shoes, and grapple with how they arrived at the wrong answer in order to set them right.

They are precise in their instructions: “Shhhh” to a noisy class is ambiguous. Are you asking the kids not to talk, or are you asking the kids to talk more quietly? Best practice is to eradicate ambiguity, respond to misbehavior with specificity, and describe the desired behavior rather than the problem. 

They encourage deeper thinking: Researchers who observe classrooms internationally have noticed that there are more “explain how and why” questions in higher-performing countries like Japan, Singapore, and Finland – questions that get students thinking at a higher level – for example, How did you find the area of this triangle? Why is the area 17? In American classrooms, there are more “name/identify” questions: What kind of triangles have we studied? What is the length of this shape?.

They cold-call: Calling on students whose hands are not raised gets much more mileage from each question, increasing the chance that all students will be thinking through the answer. It’s also effective to ask the question first, pause, and then call on a student.

They show more than tell: Telling students to read a passage again or make a weak essay better is not very helpful. It’s most effective to show students the invisible mental steps that go into effective performance – making your thinking visible. By taking students through each mental leap, one at a time, teachers can help them see the exact processes they’ll need to complete to be a better reader, write a better essay, or make a better argument.

Friday, September 12, 2014

So How Was School Today?

It is a common parent lament that their children don’t share the fun and exciting things that happen at school.

I don’t like all of her questions (some, to me, lead with the negative), yet I agree with her understanding that specific, detailed answers are aided by specific, detailed questions.  

By asking more interesting questions than the generic “How was school today”, parents might learn more about school and also about their child.

Enjoy the weekend!



This year, Simon is in fourth grade and Grace is in first grade, and I find myself asking them every day after school, “So how was school today?”

And every day I get an answer like “fine” or “good,” which doesn’t tell me a whole lot.

So the other night, I sat down and made a list of more engaging questions to ask about school. They aren’t perfect, but I do at least get complete sentences, and some have led to some interesting conversations… and hilarious answers… and some insights into how my kids think and feel about school.

1. What was the best thing that happened at school today? (What was the worst thing that happened at school today?)

2. Tell me something that made you laugh today.

3. If you could choose, who would you like to sit by in class? (Who would you NOT want to sit by in class? Why?)

4. Where is the coolest place at the school?

5. Tell me a weird word that you heard today. (Or something weird that someone said.)

6. If I called your teacher tonight, what would she tell me about you?

7. How did you help somebody today?

8. How did somebody help you today?

9. Tell me one thing that you learned today.

10. When were you the happiest today?

11. When were you bored today?

12. If an alien spaceship came to your class and beamed someone up, who would you want them to take?

13. Who would you like to play with at recess that you’ve never played with before?

14. Tell me something good that happened today.

15. What word did your teacher say most today?

16. What do you think you should do/learn more of at school?

17. What do you think you should do/learn less of at school?

18. Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to?

19. Where do you play the most at recess?

20. Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is he/she so funny?

21. What was your favorite part of lunch?

22. If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?

23. Is there anyone in your class who needs a time-out?

24. If you could switch seats with anyone in the class, who would you trade with? Why?

25. Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today at school.

So far, my favorite answers have come from questions 12, 15 and 21. Questions like the “alien” one give kids a non-threatening way to say who they would rather not have in their class, and open the door for you to have a discussion to ask why, potentially uncovering issues you didn’t know about before.

And the answers we get are sometimes really surprising. When I asked question 3, I discovered that one of my children didn’t want to sit by a best friend in class anymore — not out of a desire to be mean or bully, but in the hope they’d get the chance to work with other people.

As my kids get older, I know I am going to have to work harder and harder to stay engaged with them — but I know it’s going to be worth the work.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Questions for a Joyful, Kind, and Reflective Classroom

This week's article summary comes from a teacher blog entitled Questions for a Joyful, Kind, and Reflective Classroom

The article's title caught my attention as the three adjectives "joyful, kind, and reflective" capture three important goals we look for in our students--engagement and excitement in school and learning, collaboration and inclusivity, and metacognition (through My Learning and learning progressions).

The questions are simple but potentially powerful!



Here are ten questions that connect learning across content with reflective questions that set the stage for joyful learning as well as reflection.

I posted these 10 questions in my classroom.

Before I even mentioned the questions, kids were talking around them. They had noticed the questions and started thinking about them.

It has been easy to use these questions for general conversations, and the kids have been amazing in the ways they are thinking about themselves and their learning.

I have the questions posted and I plan to give them a copy of the questions on a single sheet for their notebooks.

These questions were a great way to kick off our school year and to help kids begin to think about what our year will be like.

What are you most looking forward to today as a learner?

What do you have to celebrate today?

What did you learn about yourself as a learner today?

How were you kind today?

How did you get through something challenging today?

What do you understand today that you didn’t understand before today?

What are you excited to share with someone today?

What did someone do to help you today?

How were you brave as a learner today?

How did your thinking change today?