Tag Archives: student engagement

5 Tips for Teaching the Tough Kids

I (Clare) found this post on Edutopia very interesting. I think that many of techniques would/could/should work with all students. As Josh Work notes every teacher remembers his/her first “touch kid” experience. Mine was with a young boy Tommy who seemed incorrigible. I wished that I had followed the advice provided below. Here is the link to the article.  Teaching the Tough Kids

Guest blogger Josh Work shares five techniques for dealing with middle school students who present ongoing discipline issues. His underlying theme is recognizing these kids as adolescents seeking ways to cope with stress or complicated lives. Source: 5 Tips for

Every teacher remembers his or her first “tough kid” experience. Maybe the student ignored your directions or laughed at your attempts to utilize the classroom discipline steps. We all have at least one story to share, and for some teachers, teaching a tough kid is a daily challenge. It seems that no matter what teaching techniques you try to pull out of your educator hat, nothing changes their behavior.

I’ve had the privilege of teaching some tough kids. I say “privilege” for a reason. Teaching these students pushed me to be a better educator and a more compassionate person. I’ve detailed below five methods that have reduced misbehavior in my classroom and, better still, helped transform these students into leaders among their peers.

1. Set the Tone

I firmly believe that a student’s misbehavior in the past does not necessarily equate to future indiscretions. At the beginning of the school year, I would walk down to the sixth grade teachers with my new class lists and ask questions. I would inquire about who works well together, who probably should not sit next to each other, and who caused them the most grief. Not surprisingly, teachers would share the names of the same students that were their “tough kids.” If I had the privilege of having any of these students in my class, I looked forward to it instead of dreading it.

Usually during the first week of school, I would try to have individual conferences with these tough kids. I’d take this as an opportunity to clear the air and wipe the slate clean. Often, these students can feel disrespected because their teachers already have preconceived ideas about how they are the troublemakers. Explain that you respect them and have high expectations for them this year. Lay the foundation for the student’s understanding that you believe in him or her, because you might be the only one who genuinely does.

2. Be a Mentor

Unfortunately, it has been my experience that some of the toughest kids to teach come from very difficult home situations. Inconsistent housing, absentee parent(s), lack of resources, and violence are only a few examples of what some of these students have to face every day. Kids that are neglected at home can act out in school to receive attention, good or bad. They want someone to notice them and take an interest in their lives.

Don’t forget how important you are in helping your students develop not just academically, but also socially. Make an effort to show you care about them, not just their grades. Be proactive instead of reactive. The key to being a good mentor is to be positive, available, and trustworthy. One year with a great mentor can have a lasting, positive impact on a tough kid’s life.

3. Make Connections

Part of being a great mentor is your ability to make connections with these tough kids. Since these students sometimes don’t have anyone encouraging them or taking an interest in their lives, have a real conversation about their future or dreams. If they have nothing to share, start talking about their interests — sports, music, movies, food, clothing, friends, siblings, etc. Find a way to connect so that they can relate to you. Start off small and show a genuine interest in what they have to say. Once you’ve made a positive connection and the student can trust you, you’d be surprised how fast they might open up to talking about their hopes, fears, home life, etc. This is when you need to exercise professional discretion and be prepared for what the student might bring up. Explain that you do not want to violate his or her trust but that, as an educator, you are required by law to report certain things.

4. Take it Personally (In a Good Way)

Teachers need to have thick skin. Students may say things in an attempt to bruise your ego or question your teaching abilities. Remember, we are working with young children and developing adults. I’m sure you said some hurtful things that you didn’t mean when you were growing up. Students can say things out of frustration or boredom, or that are triggered by problems spilling over from outside of your classroom. Try to deal with their misbehavior in the classroom — they might not take you seriously if you just send them to the office every time they act out. These are the moments when they need a positive mentor the most.

Once trust has been established, remind these students that you believe in them even if they make a mistake. I’ve vouched for kids during grade team meetings only to have them get into a fight at lunch the same day. They make mistakes, just like we all do. It’s how we respond to their slip-ups that will determine if they’ll continue to trust us. Explain that you’re disappointed in their actions and that you know they can do better. Don’t write them off. Tough kids are used to being dismissed as hopeless. Instead, show them that you care and are willing to work with them. Helping a tough kid overcome personal issues isn’t something that happens overnight, but it is a worthwhile investment in his or her future.

5. Expect Anything and Everything!

All of our students come from a variety of cultures, nationalities, and home environments, and these five techniques that have worked for me might barely scratch the surface of how you interact with the tough kids in your classroom. If you have another method that has helped you reach out and connect to a tough kid, please share it below in the comments section.

Source: 5 Tips for Teaching the Tough Kids

Slowing Down to Learn: Mindful Pauses That Can Help Student Engagement

There has been so much attention to mindfulness in the last while. My (Clare) colleague, Chriss Bogert, VP at the Lab School, send me this great post about mindfulness in the class. Here is the link: http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/02/17/slowing-down-to-learn-mindful-pauses-that-can-help-student-engagement/

By MindShift  February 17, 2015

The excerpt below is from the book “Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom,” by Patricia A. Jennings. This section is from the chapter entitled “Orchestrating Classroom Dynamics.”

Mindful Wait Time

Image source: Mindshift.org
Image source: Mindshift.org

One way to promote engagement and learning is to consciously create pauses throughout the day. We can create a sense of spaciousness in our classroom by slowing down the pace of our speech and punctuating our lessons with silence. Introduced well, this practice can improve classroom discourse.

The speed at which we can process information varies from person to person (Droit-Volet, Meck, & Penney, 2007). Some people process auditory information very quickly, while others tend to have more visual or sensorimotor strengths. In any case, when we have more time to process information, the quality of our thinking and learning improves. Younger children require more time to process than do older children, and adults often forget this as they zoom through content as if they were speaking to other adults. No matter what their ages, when we give our students just a little more time to process information, they learn better.

When I introduce this idea to teachers, I often hear concerns that they will be wasting valuable time doing nothing. It’s important to recognize that during the pauses, you and your students are not “doing nothing.” Your students may be considering several alternatives; they may be mulling a picture over in their mind; they may be making associations, comparisons, and contrasts. They may be trying to drudge up the right word from their vocabulary. When we give them this time, their processing becomes richer, deeper, and more abstract. When you rush through a lesson, you may deliver content more quickly and efficiently, but your students may not absorb the content very well, if at all.

The added bonus of these pause punctuations is that they give us as teachers a few moments to practice mindfulness. When this becomes an intentional part of our lessons, we can take the time to notice our body in space, the whole classroom, each student, and the small details that surrounds us, in the present moment. We give ourselves a short break—a micro-vacation from the constant activity of a busy classroom.

We can use the time to tune in to ourselves and our students. We can ask ourselves, “How am I feeling right now? How are the students feeling? What’s happening right now? What do my students need? How can I explain this better?” By taking mindful pauses, we are modeling mindful behavior for our students and letting us all have some time to process the information we are exploring together.

Typically we pause after we ask a question and before we call on someone to answer. Most of the time, this pause is only about one second long. Students who process information quickly are at an advantage under these conditions. They tend to be the ones who always raise their hands immediately. While the speedy students are answering the question, the slower students are still trying to process the question, so they may not hear and comprehend the answer or be able to assimilate it into their existing knowledge. If the quick pace of the session continues, some students may feel left behind.

However, educational researchers have discovered that if the pause between the teacher’s question and the student’s answer lasts between three and five seconds, significant changes occur in student behavior (Rowe, 1987). Students are more likely to respond appropriately to the questions, answer the questions correctly, and offer longer and more complex answers. There are fewer “I don’t know” or non-answer responses. Over time, many more students show higher levels of engagement (Honea, 1982; Swift & Gooding, 1983) and achievement test scores and school retention levels increase (Tobin & Capie, 1982).

Wait time has a positive effect on teachers as well. With conscious use of wait time, teachers’ questioning strategies become more varied and flexible, and they ask follow-up questions that require more complex information processing and higher-order thinking (Casteel & Stahl, 1973; Rowe, 1972; Stahl, 1990; Tobin, 1987).

Robert Stahl (1990) identified eight categories of wait time. When we formally introduce wait time, these periods of silence are trans- formed from periods of awkwardness into valuable moments of silence. The first category is the type of wait time we’ve already discussed: the time between a teacher’s question and the student’s answer. The other seven are as follows:

Within-student’s-response pause time. This is a three-second or longer pause that occurs when a student pauses or hesitates during the process of delivering a response to a teacher’s question. Teachers tend to interrupt students when they are thinking through their answers and take time to pause. However, when given the time, students often follow these periods of silence by successfully completing their responses.

Post-student’s-response wait time. This is a pause after a student has finished a response and other students are considering adding comments or reactions. This gives the other students time to think about what was said and to decide if they have anything to add.

Student pause time. This is a pause after a student has initiated a question, statement, or comment but doesn’t complete the thought. It may seem strange to formalize this type of pause, but this situation arises more often than we might realize because the tendency is to ignore the question rather than allow for a pause. This happens to me a lot. I have a thought, idea, or question. I’m getting ready to tell someone, and my mind goes blank. I can’t remember what I was going to say. When this happens to one of our students, we can give ourselves and the student a little time to recover, rather than just letting it drop.

Teacher pause time. This is a pause that the teacher intentionally initiates to consider what is happening, appraise the situation, and consider the best course of action. A particularly beneficial time for a teacher to pause is when a student has asked a question and the answer requires a complex answer. Taking time to consider how to frame the answer can improve student learning.

Within-teacher-presentation pause time. This is a pause that the teacher intentionally initiates during lecture presentations or other extended periods of content output. The teacher intentionally stops the flow of information to give students three to five seconds of silence to absorb the information and to consolidate their thinking. This type of pause requires no response from the students; it’s simply processing time. Using silence this way, teachers can chunk their content into bite-sized pieces to help students absorb and process the information better.

Student task completion work time. This is pause time intended to allow students to complete an academic task that demands undivided attention. The length of the pause should be related to the time it takes to complete a task. The challenge involved in this type of pause is how to handle the variation in completion time among students. If students learn the value of pausing and some of them finish early, they can use the time to extend their thinking about the subject in some way.

Impact pause time. This is the use of pause time to create impact or drama. When we pause, we can create a mood of anticipation. A dramatic pause can generate feelings of suspense and expectation.

Wait time can be challenging. Many of us get so excited about sharing our own thoughts and ideas that we tend to interrupt students, leaving no space in the discussion for students to process information and respond thoughtfully. In the skill-building practices at the end of this chapter, you will learn more about how to apply wait time in your classroom.

Patricia A. Jennings is an associate professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.

Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves | Edutopia

I (Clare) found this interesting article on Edutopia. I thought it would be of interest to educators especially since it is the beginning of the school year. Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves | Edutopia

Consider using autonomy, competence, relatedness, and relevance as practical classroom strategies to reinforce the intrinsic motivation students need for making the most of their learning.

Editor’s Note: This piece was adapted from Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and Beyond by Larry Ferlazzo, available March 21, 2015 from Routledge.

My previous post reviewed research on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and described the four qualities that have been identified as critical to helping students motivate themselves: autonomy, competence, relatedness, and relevance.

In this post, I’ll discuss practical classroom strategies to reinforce each of these four qualities.

Autonomy

Providing students with freedom of choice is one strategy for promoting learner autonomy. Educators commonly view this idea of choice through the lens of organizational and procedural choice. Organizational choice, for example, might mean students having a voice in seating assignments or members of their small learning groups. Procedural choice could include a choice from a list of homework assignments and what form a final project might take — a book, poster, or skit.

Some researchers, however, believe that a third option, cognitive choice, is a more effective way to promote longer-lasting student autonomy. This kind of cognitive autonomy support, which is also related to the idea of ensuring relevance, could include:

  • Problem-based learning, where small groups need to determine their own solutions to teacher-suggested and/or student-solicited issues — ways to organize school lunchtime more effectively, what it would take to have a human colony on Mars, strategies to get more healthy food choices available in the neighborhood, etc.
  • Students developing their own ideas for homework assignments related to what is being studied in class
  • Students publicly sharing their different thinking processes behind solving the same problem or a similar one
  • Teachers using thinking routines like one developed by Project Zero at Harvard and consisting of a simple formula: the teacher regularly asking, “What is going on here?” and, after a student response, continuing with, “What do you see that makes you say so?”

Competence

Feedback, done well, is ranked by education researcher John Hattie as number 10 out of 150 influences on student achievement.

As Carol Dweck has found, praising intelligence makes people less willing to risk “their newly-minted genius status,” while praising effort encourages the idea that we primarily learn through our hard work: “Ben, it’s impressive that you wrote two drafts of that essay instead of one, and had your friend review it, too. How do you feel it turned out, and what made you want to put the extra work into it?”

But how do you handle providing critical feedback to students when it’s necessary? Since extensive research shows that a ratio of positive-to-negative feedback of between 3-1 and 5-1 is necessary for healthy learning to occur, teachers might consider a strategy called plussing that is used by Pixar animation studios with great success. The New York Times interviewed author Peter Sims about the concept:

The point, he said, is to “build and improve on ideas without using judgmental language.” . . . An animator working on Toy Story 3 shares her rough sketches and ideas with the director. “Instead of criticizing the sketch or saying ‘no,’ the director will build on the starting point by saying something like, ‘I like Woody’s eyes, and what if his eyes rolled left?” Using words like “and” or “what if” rather than “but” is a way to offer suggestions and allow creative juices to flow without fear, Mr. Sims said.

“And” and “what if” could easily become often-used words in an educator’s vocabulary!

Relatedness

A high-quality relationship with a teacher whom they respect is a key element of helping students develop intrinsic motivation. What are some actions that teachers can take to strengthen these relationships?

Here are four simple suggestions adapted from Robert Marzano’s ideas:

1. Take a genuine interest in your students.

Learn their interests, hopes, and dreams. Ask them about what is happening in their lives. In other words, lead with your ears and not your mouth. Don’t, however, just make it a one-way street — share some of your own stories, too.

2. Act friendly in other ways.

Smile, joke, and sometimes make a light, supportive touch on a student’s shoulder.

3. Be flexible, and keep our eyes on the learning goal prize.

One of my students had never written an essay in his school career. He was intent on maintaining that record during an assignment of writing a persuasive essay about what students thought was the worst natural disaster. Because I knew two of his passions were football and video games, I told him that as long as he used the writing techniques we’d studied, he could write an essay on why his favorite football team was better than its rival or on why he particularly liked one video game. He ended up writing an essay on both topics.

4. Don’t give up on students.

Be positive (as much as humanly possible) and encourage a growth mindset.

Relevance

Have students write about how they see what they are learning as relevant to their lives. Researchers had students write one paragraph after a lesson sharing how they thought what they had learned would be useful to their lives. Writing 1-8 of these during a semester led to positive learning gains, especially for those students who had previously been “low performers.”

It is not uncommon for teachers to explicitly make those kinds of real-life connections. However, research has also found that this kind of teacher-centered approach can actually be de-motivating to some students with low skills. A student who is having a very difficult time understanding math or does just not find it interesting, for example, can feel threatened by hearing regularly from a teacher how important math is to his or her future. Instead of becoming more engaged in class, he or she may experience more negative feelings. These same researchers write:

[A] more effective approach would be to encourage students to generate their own connections and discover for themselves the relevance of course material to their lives. This method gives students the opportunity to make connections to topics and areas of greatest interest to their lives.

What other strategies do you use in the classroom to reinforce any of these four critical elements of intrinsic motivation?

Source: Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves | Edutopia

Dilemma for Educators: Focus on Pisa Scores or Improve Quality of Education

Colombian FlagClive and I (Clare) are going to Bogota and Cartagena to present at two conferences: one for teacher educators and one for teacChildren in Colombiahers. (More about our experience to follow.) In our correspondence with our Colombian hosts, who have been incredibly gracious, we get the impression they are very focused on improving Pisa scores. From our reading about Colombia we recognize there is grinding poverty yet they have made huge strides in improving literacy rates. We appreciate the dilemma faced by the Colombians –improve test scores on international measures yet education is under resourced. Being inspired by Pasi Sahlberg (and in keeping with the findings from our research as described in our new book Growing as a Teacher), the focus should not be unilaterally on improving Pisa scores but should be broader — provide quality education. Good teaching will improve literacy achievement and which in turn improve scores on Pisa. As Sahlberg’s data shows, the countries focused on controlling the curriculum and on teaching to the test have declining achievement on Pisa. (See April 19th blog post on this topic.) Drills and mindless worksheets will not engaged those children who do not see themselves as readers. So our message will be – let’s support teachers so they know how to provide relevant, engaging, and appropriate curriculum. The scores on Pisa will take care of themselves. We would love to hear from others who have worked in Colombia.

Truly Engaging Students and Meeting Their Needs: Reconciling Our Ideals with Their Realities

 

John LoughranAs our team continues its research and writing on teaching, I (Clive) have been re-reading John Loughran’s wonderful book What Expert Teachers Do (Routledge, 2010). http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415579674/
This week I came across a section that reports a common gap between teacher and student views of good teaching (pp. 210-11). For example:
Teacher view:
Students should have opportunities to be active and think about their learning experiences
Student view:
Learning is associated with gaining right answers, and thinking and personal understanding are just different and often frustrating ways of achieving required outcomes
Teacher view:
Linking experiences from both within and outside school greatly assists learning
Student view:
The final grade is the critical outcome and the basis by which progress is judged

Loughran’s colleague Jeff Northfield, on whose teaching experiences these findings were based, was able to bridge the gap to a degree, but only by “listening carefully to his students [and] capitalising on opportunities as they arose.”Cover of What Expert Teachers Do
This helped me see that in developing ideas about good teaching (and good teacher education) we must work closely with our students, listening to them as they describe the realities of their world. Together we must come up with a pedagogy they understand and accept, one that both meets their immediate needs and ensures deeper gains for the long-term. We need to reconcile broader ideals with hard realities.
I think this can be done; but we must actually do it. Part of what is involved is practicing with our students the constructivism and dialogical teaching we believe in, and that really does work.  Clive