Friday, January 29, 2016

Happiness in 15 Minutes A Day!

This week’s article summary is The Secret to Happiness Takes Only 15 Minutes Per Day

Although the article comes from Business Insider and is not technically about the classroom, its a-ha’s about happiness have obvious applications for schools.

I have always considered myself lucky to by nature a positive attitude toward life. I’ve also known many people who view their life,  job, relationships with others, etc. through a negative, deficit-obsessed lens.

Is one’s attitude toward life (think of the cliché of viewing a glass either half full or half empty) simply a roll of genetic dice?  Or can happiness and a positive attitude be learned and practiced, and, if so, what might schools do to support those who don’t more naturally view things through a positive and optimistic perspective?

The article below believes happiness can be developed through practice, intentional thoughts of altruism, and by taking fifteen minutes per day to literally “think happy thoughts.” 

See if you can find daily the fifteen minutes recommended below—and maybe even have your kids spend a few minutes a day (15 just seems too long for kids) training the brain to be positive.

Who knows, maybe one of you will someday supplant Matthieu Richard as the ‘happiest person on the world!"

Who is the happiest man in the world? Matthieu Ricard, 69, is a Tibetan Buddhist monk who has been called "the world's happiest man."

That's because he participated in a 12-year brain study on meditation and compassion. Sensors were attached to his head and the resulting brain scan “showed that when meditating on compassion, Ricard’s brain produces a level of gamma waves – those linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory –never reported before in the neuroscience. The scans also showed excessive activity in his brain’s left prefrontal cortex compared to its right counterpart, allowing him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity."

Here's Ricard’s advice for how to be happy.

Stop thinking 'me, me, me.'

To Ricard, the answer comes down to altruism. The reason is because thinking about yourself, and how to make things better for yourself all the time, is exhausting, stressful, and ultimately leads to unhappiness. “It's quite miserable, because you instrumentalize the whole world as a threat, or as a potential sort of interest to yourself."
If you want to be happy, Ricard says, you should strive to be "benevolent," which will not only make you feel better, but it will also make others like you better. 

"If your mind is filled with benevolence, this is a very healthy state of mind that is conducive to flourishing. So you are in a much better mental state and your body will be healthier.”
Sounds great in theory, but how does a person actually become altruistic and benevolent and not let selfish thoughts creep in?

Start training your mind like you'd train to run a marathon

Ricard believes everyone has the ability to have a lighter mind because there's a potential for goodness in every human being (unless you're, say, a serial killer, and there's something actually chemically abnormal going on with your brain).

But, like a marathon runner who needs to train before running 26.2 miles, people who want to be happier need to train their minds. Ricard's preferred way of training is meditation.

"With mental training, we can always bring our level of happiness to a different level. It's like running. Through training I might not become an Olympic champion, but there is a huge difference between training and not training. Why shouldn’t that apply to the mind as well? Benevolence, attention, emotional balance, and resilience are skills that can be trained, and if you put them all together, happiness is the result.

How does one train his/her mind to be happier?

Just spend 15 continuous minutes a day thinking happy thoughts.

Typically when we experience feelings of happiness and love, it's fleeting and then something else happens, and we move on to the next thought. Ricard says, concentrate on not letting your mind get distracted and keep focused on the positive emotions for the next stretch of time. And if you do that training every day, even just a few weeks later you can feel positive mental results. 

And if you practice that for 50 years like Ricard has, you can become a happiness pro too.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Formative Assessment

This week’s article summary is  Misconceptions About Formative Assessment

As a teacher I made every every mistake a teacher could with respect to assessment: I graded homework, I gave surprise quizzes on previous night’s homework, I graded classroom participation.

In my naiveté, I thought by  grading almost everything that occurred in class, I was accurately ‘quantifying’ a student’s performance, growth, and understanding. 

When it came time for progress reports and quarter or semester grades, I had a ton of data, but I obviously missed the bigger point of my job: how was I helping kids to learn and fostering in them continued engagement in and excitement of learning and school.

Last week’s article summary was advice from Grant Wiggins who was a proponent of ensuring assessment focuses on both achievement (more objective) and progress (more subjective). He liked to use ‘running’ as an example. I may be a slow runner (from an objective standpoint) but over time I might improve the time it takes me to run a mile (from my personal, subjective standpoint). 

One of our focus areas for our SAIS accreditation Self-Study is ‘how are we empowering kids in their learning.' Providing ample opportunities for formative assessment is essential to helping kids learn to be more reflective and evaluative of their learning—to assess where they are, what they know and don’t, and what strategies they will employ to reach their goal (both in terms of achievement and progress). 

Back when I was more of a data collector, I wasn’t empowering my student, even though I thought I was. 

Take note of the example at the end of the article about high school English class where the teacher is giving voice and power and decision-making to her students. 



Here are three common misconceptions about formative assessment.

That annual standardized tests improve teaching and learning (only formative assessments have the potential to do that).

That formative assessment is an event (it’s actually a day-to-day process to give students and teachers a stream of information for next steps in learning)

That assessment results often discourage students (Good formative assessment keeps students believing that success is within reach if they keep trying).

Ideally, formative assessments do three things: (a) clarify the learning target for students; (b) tell them where they are with respect to the target; and (c) provide insights on how they can close the gap. “Do you see where the locus of control resides? It’s with the student.”

Should formative assessments be graded? Students’ progress should be monitored and shared with them, using clear performance criteria and student-friendly feedback. Sometimes formative assessments provide more-accurate information on students’ skills, knowledge, and understanding than formal assessments.

I caution against grading day-to-day checks for understanding: My admonition is that while learning is going on and we’re diagnosing and providing good feedback, the grade book remains closed.

Here is an example from a high-school English teacher working with her students to establish criteria for a term paper they’d just been assigned. First, she gave students a copy of an exemplary term paper, had them identify what made it so effective, and had them synthesize the characteristics. Then she passed out a poorly written paper and went through a similar exercise. “OK,” she said, “let’s talk about the differences between these two papers. What was it about the good paper that differentiates it from the bad paper?” This discussion, and small-group work that followed, produced a consolidated range of quality on several essential criteria they should be aiming toward in their own papers – their own rubric!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Grant Wiggins: Three Lessons for Teachers

This week’s article summary is Three Lessons for Teachers from Grant Wiggins.

As most of you know Grant Wiggins was a proponent of ‘backwards’ curriculum design: start with the end first (what you want the students to learn, know, and to be able to apply) and then design lessons, activities, assignments, and assessments (both formative and summative). 

The article below provides three quick and succinct reminders for all teachers, not only about curriculum development but also about the importance of specific--not generic--feedback and of never forgetting what it’s like to be a student who is not following what’s going on in the classroom.

Especially as we have just returned from Holiday Break, his reminders below are great checks for us as we and our students rev up for the the second semester!



Always keep the end in mind: When teachers plan curriculum, assessments, and learning experiences “backwards,” their goals will be more clearly defined, their assessments more appropriate, their lessons more tightly aligned, and their teaching more purposeful. This goes well beyond coverage. Rote learning of discrete facts and skills will simply not equip students to apply their learning to novel situations. The idea is to plan backwards from worthy goals – the transferable concepts, principles, processes, and questions that enable students to apply their learning in meaningful and authentic ways. Framing Big Ideas and Essential Questions will lead students to understand the content at a deep level.

Feedback is key to successful learning and performance: Grades and exhortations (“Try harder!”) aren’t very helpful. Truly effective feedback: is timely; describes specific strengths and weaknesses; uses student-friendly language; gives students opportunities for self-adjustment. The outcome: students know exactly what’s on target and what needs to be fixed. Teachers should constantly seek feedback on their work – from students (exit tickets and questionnaires); from colleagues (reviewing unit plans and assessments); from formative assessments (“tasting the soup” as it’s made); and by analyzing student work (like coaches viewing game films) and adjusting classroom strategies.

Remember what it’s like to be a learner: Experts frequently find it difficult to have empathy for the novice, even when they try. That’s why teaching is hard, especially for the expert in the field who is a novice teacher. Expressed positively, we must strive unendingly to be empathetic to the learner’s conceptual struggles if we are to succeed. Teaching isn’t telling; understandings must be constructed – earned – in the mind of the learner.  One of the most powerful ways to gain empathy for students is to shadow a class for a day and reflect on the experience.