Environmental Factors that Influence Learning

Nature or nurture?  Which has more impact on a child's potential for success?

This debate has waged on for decades but scientists now believe that environment is far more important to student success than genetics.

As an educator, this is GREAT news because it means that what we do makes a difference...everyday.  In other words, "High performing teachers overcome the deficiencies of low-performing students almost every time." (Ferguson, 98)

Someone once told me that effective teaching is not rocket science.  I agree...it's far more complicated.

One thing is for certain, the young brain is HIGHLY influenced by environment.  There are many factors that influence student success so let's take a look at the ones that matter most.

Relationships

First, learning is about relationships.  Relationships between the teacher and students, new content and old content and subject matter content and its application to the real world.  

A teacher who builds positive relationships with students decreases the affective filter, or level of discomfort, in the classroom and students perform better.  Teachers who make connections between old and new knowledge and tie both into the real world also have students who perform better.

Stress

A little bit of stress can be good as the body releases adrenaline to address it which in turn stimulates our brain to "fire on all cylinders," if you will.  

However, students who are in chronically stressful environments tend to have lower levels of aptitude, immunity, concentration and comprehension skills.  Why?  The young brain (3-20ish years old), as a result of the overly active amygdala, is especially susceptible to stress and has extreme responses to it.  

Most students can only do two things when stressed, act out or zone out. 

To prevent this negative behavior and combat stress in the learning environment, consider these ideas:  

*establish routines for certain activities and times of day so students know what to anticipate

*use visuals, project based learning, discussion, and pre-during-post comprehension strategies so students are able to learn new skills and put them into practice, which develops competence and confidence

*build positive relationships with students so they know you are for them, not against them

*clearly define and provide examples of how students can be successful in class by providing rubrics, assignment samples and opportunities for on-going feedback

*allow reflection and retakes for large tests and assignments so students can learn from their mistakes and have the opportunity to demonstrate how their proficiency levels increase, even when initially failed

Sleep

Students need 9-13 hours of sleep per night.  Period.  They average 6 hours.  

Sleep helps the brain to learn and process new information. It also aids in cell renewal, sugar metabolization, neural connections, immunity, logical reasoning, comprehension and fine motor skills.

Teach kids healthy sleep habits, such as eliminating caffeine and sugar after 12:00pm, lowering lights and noise in the evenings and eliminating technology for a few hours before bedtime.

Exercise

Experts recommend 2 hours of sweaty exercise per day for the young brain.  

According to Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, "The three requirements for human life are food, drink and oxygen.  But their effects on survival have very different time lines.  You can live for about 30 days without food, about 7 days without water.  Your brain however, is so active that it cannot go without oxygen for more than 5 minutes without risking serious and permanent damage."  

He goes on to say, "Exercise does not provide oxygen and food.  It provides greater ACCESS to oxygen and food via stimulated blood vessels...that penetrate deeper into the tissues of the body.  The more you exercise, the more tissues you can feed and the more toxic waste you can remove.  That's why exercise improves the performance of all functions."

Teach kids the benefit of exercise; it actually makes us smarter.  Also, incorporate energizing brain breaks into your lessons so students see and feel how oxygenated blood flow helps them to concentrate and learn more.

Nutrition

Eating healthy foods allows our bodies to function at the highest level.  Processed and sugary foods cause inflammation that leads to decreased blood flow and slowed body functions, decreasing concentration and memory. 

Encourage students to eat lean proteins, fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables and drink plenty of water, at least half their body weight in ounces.  

The old adage, we are what we eat, is very true.

Laughter

The brain does not discriminate between fake laughter and real laughter.  Both times, the brain will release four "happy" chemicals: serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins.  

These chemicals help our bodies to increase blood flow, concentration, engagement, memory, T cell production and immunity.  These chemicals also decrease stress, anxiety, blood pressure, toxins and muscle tension.

Share funny stories and jokes with your students throughout the day and remember to laugh, laugh, laugh your way to increased success!

The young brain is HIGHLY influenced by environment.  

Everything we say and do in the learning environment has the potential to positively or negatively impact student competence, confidence and comprehension.  Be strategic and cultivate the positive and healthy learning environment our students need.  Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com

To learn more, check out these books:

Brain Rules, John Medina

Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning, Judy WIllis

Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Eric Jensen

The Primal Teen, Barbara Strauch

 

 

Three Rs to Consider This School Year

The new school year often brings both excitement and anxiety for students, families and educators as we embark on another journey of learning about the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic.  As an educator, remember what it was about school that made you excited about learning and incorporate those ideas into your own instruction.

Here are a few more Rs to consider to shake things up and start off right.

Relationships

Dr. Rita Pearson states in her Ted Talk, "Kids don't learn from people they don't like."  I have found this to be very true.  

If you are wondering what type of "business" educators are in, we are in the RELATIONSHIP and SERVICE business.

In real estate it's all about location, location, location. In education, it's relationships, relationships, relationships. 

Educators often ask me what is the fastest and most effective way to increase student achievement? The answer is...build positive relationships with them. 

Students who feel valued and have a positive connection with their teachers perform better because kids strive to please those they admire and respect, thereby putting more effort into their assignments.  They also are not afraid to seek input and help from those who provide them positive support and guidance, an important component in being successful.

In addition, educators are in the SERVICE business.  In order to be successful, we must find out what our "clients" need and then strategically meet their needs. 

Studies show that our students (clients) need positive interaction, engagement, accountability for learning, continual feedback, clear expectations, and opportunities for revision. So these should be part of the "service" we provide. 

A colleague once made an important clarification for me.  She said, "Students do not work for us, we work for them." 

Many educators lack this mindset; therefore they misunderstand what our purpose is...to build relationships and serve student needs.

Reflect

Much research has documented the benefit of setting goals and reflecting on what went well and what needs improvement.  

Consider establishing goals regarding your health, your learning needs and your student achievement levels; reflect often on accomplishments and areas for improvement. 

For example, when I first started teaching, I was exhausted and overwhelmed at times by the demands of the profession.  Therefore, I set a goal of exercising 4 mornings per week at 5am to get my brain and body ready for the energy required (and stresses encountered) in this profession.  I set that goal nearly 20 years ago and I still adhere to it.  

The oxygenated blood flow to the brain (a result of exercise) is extremely helpful in critical thinking, stress management, emotional regulation, increased neural connections, and maintaining a sense of control in our often hectic lives. 

Exercise strengthens me to be a better teacher and colleague. 

Professionally, I endeavor to study a few educational books per semester which has tremendously enhanced my pedagogy and expertise.  

A few to consider are: 

Teach Like a Pirate (Burgess)

Mindset (Dweck)

Digital Leadership (Sheninger)

Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning (Willis)

Game Changers~7 Instructional Practices that Catapult Student Achievement (my latest book)

I reflect on what I learned and put into practice those ideas I find helpful to my students. As I reached my reading goals and assessed my students' needs, my instruction changed over the course of the years, as it should.

In my classroom each year, I would look at the proficiency levels of the students coming to me and I would set a goal of increasing their proficiency levels 20-30% by doing certain things over the course of the year.  

I might include more Timed Readings and writings, pre, during, and post strategies, PBL, or explicit vocabulary instruction. Again, adjusting my practices after reflecting on my students' needs.

I would also incorporate the same goal-setting and reflection process with my students. I would share with them their strengths and areas for improvement based on previous data from assessments and grades. Then students would set their goals and strategies for improvement.  

Guess what?  It worked.  

Simply raising students' awareness of their performance and giving them a toolkit of strategies for improvement, did increase their achievement.

Setting goals and reflecting on our strengths and areas for improvement are powerful components to increasing our success.

Retakes

When I first started teaching, I never allowed students to redo an assignment or test because I thought that made the class too easy and students wouldn't take it seriously.  When discussing the topic with a colleague, he told me that he didn't allow retakes as he was preparing kids for the "real world" in which there are no retakes.  At the time and with my limited experience in working with students, his sentiment sounded reasonable. 

However, after working with students for years, I noticed that about 10-20% of my students weren't ready to demonstrate proficiency on an assignment or test the day it was given.  They simply hadn't developed enough understanding (neural connections) with the content to be successful.

When I allowed students a few extra days or weeks to practice the content and redo an assignment or test, they would have much higher levels of mastery simply because they had more time to learn and connect with the content. In other words, they were afforded the luxury of turning the light bulb on!

In order to qualify for a retake, a student might need to complete a few extra practice assignments or watch a review video in order to have more time practicing the content. 

The retake quiz or assignment may look a little different than the original and that's OK. You also might not allow re-dos for ALL assignments, just the major ones that test for essential skill development, and that's OK too.

So if you think you are preparing kids for the "real world" by not allowing retakes, consider this, all major tests: driving tests, real estate license tests, the bar exam, contractor licensing, medical boards, etc., all allow retakes.

Perhaps a more important life lesson is to teach kids to learn from their mistakes and fix them in order to not make the same mistake--that is what retakes allow.

If our goal as educators is to help our students develop mastery in our content area, then we should consider all ways in which to permit students to demonstrate it, including retakes.

I hope your year is full of great relationships, reflection and retakes.  I encourage you to try something new and reflect on the process as you continue to find more ways to connect kids to learning and success.

 

The Leader's Brain--Are They Born or Made?

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more

and become more…you are a leader.

John Quincy Adams

 

John Quincy Adams nailed it when he said that a leader is one who inspires and cultivates others to BE and DO MORE.  Many studies have been conducted on the characteristics and strengths of effective leaders endeavoring to answer the question, “Are leaders born or made?”  

Are Leaders Brains Different?

Yes, studies have identified that there are indeed differences in a leader’s brain that strengthens certain skills.  For example, there is often more activity in the pre frontal cortex, the executive functioning center of the brain responsible for processing cause and effect, communication, emotional regulation and organizational skills.  There is also often more activity in the right anterior temporal lobe, which is directly responsible for increased creativity, factual knowledge, memory, and problem-solving skills.

Yet some studies show that the emotional and intuitive areas of the leader's brain are also more active than others, showing that effective leaders often employ a combination of logical problem-solving and emotional intuition to create solutions.  Previously, it was believed that effective leaders employed logical analysis void of emotional connection to make great decisions.  Neuroleadership studies are proving otherwise, read more about it in "The Inner Workings of the Executive Brain."

This begs the question, can we further develop leadership in those who have inherent skills?  More importantly, can we promote leadership in those who do not possess natural inclinations?

Are Leaders Born or Made?

Are leaders born? 

In my experience, yes.

I have seen very young children exhibit innate organizational and leadership skills early on and they continue to develop those skills as they mature. 

Do all of them grow into successful leaders as adults?

No. 

Why?  

For whatever reason, some natural leaders choose not to cultivate those leadership skills or choose not to pursue opportunities to demonstrate those skills publicly.

Are leaders made?

In my experience, again, yes. 

When people are explicitly taught organizational, communication, relationship and problem-solving skills, they too can become extremely effective leaders.

Research shows that leaders are both born AND made and that is GREAT news to educators as we are in the business of cultivating effective leaders.  Many say that effectual leadership is 30% genetics and 70% environmental influence.  Studies and surveys have shown that perhaps the most important qualities of effective leaders are their abilities to reflect, grow, exhibit social intelligence and model a growth mindset (Dweck); these attributes can be mastered even if they are not natural. 

Again, this is great news as we can identify leadership strengths and promote them in each other. For ideas, check out the Flippen Group's video clip: 3 High Value Activities Each Leader Should Master and the article, "How Emotional Intelligence Became a Key Leadership Skill."

What Can We Do to Strengthen the “Leadership Areas” in the Brain?

There are twelve activities we can participate in to strengthen the creative, problem-solving, relational and communication areas of the brain that are important to leaders.

Here they are in no particular order:

*Exercise--150 minutes of sweaty activity per week is recommended for adults, 840 minutes is recommended for youth under the age of 20

*Consume adequate fruits, vegetables, fiber and water

*Socialize--collaborate and learn with several different age groups

*Learn a new skill--practice the growth mindset

*Read fiction and non-fiction texts

*Laugh--5 seconds per day strengthens the brain for up to 12 hours

*Play games (Sudoku, crosswords, board games and cards)

*Serve and bless others

*Sleep--adults need 7-8 hours daily, youth under age 20 need 9-13 hours

*Pray/meditate--2 minutes per day

*Weigh both the pros/cons when making decisions

*Reflect--what went well and what needs improvement?

***What are you doing to strengthen the leadership areas of your brain?

Characteristics of Effective Leaders

If you think about effective leadership traits demonstrated by leaders you know, you would probably identify these (and leadership research supports them).

Effective leaders:

*Actively demonstrate a servant’s heart

*Model effective communication

*Develop and share a common vision

*Display courage--it takes courage to stand up and speak, courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen (Churchill)

*Exude professionalism

*Demonstrate optimism

*Develop positive relationships with ALL stakeholders

*Exhibit effective problem-solving skills

*Model integrity

*Achieve positive & productive results

Perhaps one of the most imperative skills an effective leader can have is the mindset that leadership is not about having a fancy title or being in charge, leadership is taking care of those in your charge.

Leaders are Born AND Made

Max De Pree, author of Leadership is an Art, sums up leadership in this way, "Effective leadership is much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do."  

Efficient leaders are both born AND made; though, it appears the most important qualities are relational, communication, and optimistic problem-solving "conditions of the heart" that can be cultivated. In essence, we indeed, can "grow" game changing leaders who positively impact our future and success.   Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com

**Recommended reading for leaders:

The Flip Side--Break Free of the Behaviors that Hold You Back

Developing the Leaders Around You

Wooden on Leadership

Strengths Finder

The Leadership Challenge

The Leader's Brain

Your Brain and Business

Learning to Lead

Leadership is an Art

 

Are Women Fashioned to Reign?

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Recent studies have compared male and female leadership styles, strengths and weaknesses and the results are in... women are skilled leaders. 

From Oprah Winfrey to Linda Darling-Hammond, Sheryl Sandberg to Yingluck Shinawatra, female leadership around the world is increasing, and with good reason.

Female Leadership is on the Rise

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51% of management positions in the U.S., up from 26% in 1980.  Hanna Rosin’s TED Talk “The Rise of Women,” notes that of the 15 careers that will grow the most in the next decade, women dominate 13 of them.

In the book Man Down, journalist Dan Abrams investigates several areas in which women dominate, from driving, to investing, to practicing medicine, studies show that women are far more effective in their problem-solving and decision-making, than often perceived.

According to Bob Sherwin, “Why Women are More Effective Leaders Than Men,” both male and female employees rate women higher in 12 of 16 leadership characteristics such as initiative, inspiration, collaboration, follow-through and integrity.  Mr. Sherwin also notes that as women age, they become even more effective because they continue to seek input from others in how to improve and they make adjustments based on feedback, whereas men sometimes do not.

Male and Female Brains

In several studies, neuroscientists have discovered many characteristics in the female brain that increase the propensity for leadership success.  For example, the Pre-frontal Cortex which is in charge of impulse control, problem-solving, analyzing cause/effect, and organizational skills, develops 4-6 years faster in women and continues to remain more active throughout life, compared to males.  The Corpus Collosum connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain; it is often thicker in females allowing more whole brain connections and engagement instead of the “compartmentalization” often found in the male brain.  Also attributed to more whole brain connectivity is the fact that women often have up to 10x more “white matter” in their brains which allows information to be communicated between the two hemispheres at a faster rate. In addition, females have more oxytocin, which many believe results in increased impulse control and collaborative and relational connections, strong characteristics for successful leaders.

Perhaps the most intriguing difference in the female brain is the XX Factor.  A female is comprised of an XX chromosome combination and a male, an XY combination.  The X chromosome carries over 1500 mutations, the Y only has 100.  Genetically speaking, the X chromosome is the cognitive hot spot involving critical thinking and communication abilities.  Because women have an XX combination, they have over 3000 cognitive combinations compared to a male with an XY pattern who has only 1600.  This is the reason that many scientists believe that males are more likely to suffer from disorders such as schizophrenia and dyslexia; if their X is damaged, they do not have a cognitive backup.  If the female X is damaged, she employs what is called "X inactivation" and engages the other healthy X chromosome.

Healthy Female Brains

As we age, females are very sensitive and susceptible to hormonal and chemical fluctuations and those fluctuations can drastically alter brain effectiveness.  Doctors such as Dr. Daniel Amen, recommend that women over 35 regularly monitor (every 18-24 months) several health components that are not part of a routine check-up, including: a complete blood count, metabolic panel with fasting blood sugar and lipid panels, HgA1C, vitamin D, thyroid, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, ferritin, free & total serum testosterone, cortisol & sulfated DHEA, estrogen and progesterone. 

The gut has just as many nerve endings in it as the brain and doctors often refer to the gut as the "second brain". The gut, or intestines, are responsible for 80% of our immunity and they regulate good and bad bacteria levels in our body.  Due to fluctuating hormones, diet and stress, our gut can get out of balance fairly quickly and that can lead to weight gain, fatigue, headaches, aches and pains, insomnia, depression and emotional upheaval.  

Unhealthy leaders are not as effective. To avoid these issues, doctors recommend taking a pre/probiotic supplement to regulate bacteria levels and maintain healthy brain function.  After trying several products, I have found tremendous success with a product called Thrive Probiotic.  It is a 3-step daily routine that incorporates pre/probiotics, vitamins, antioxidants, and protein to regulate the digestive and adrenal system and it WORKS! If interested, order it here

Females are also very sensitive to Adrenal Fatigue, which is the body's response to stress, resulting in the overproduction of adrenaline, DHEA and cortisol, all of which can hamper brain activity.  Thus, effectively managing and lowering stress should be a top priority. 

We have all witnessed successful and unsuccessful male and female leaders; but what is of utmost importance is that we don't stereotype a gender in order to put limits on it.  

Females have tremendous leadership strengths and often a unique and intuitive perspective that can be utilized to produce positive change that benefits all.  

Effective female leaders...may we know them, grow them, and be them.

To learn more, check out these books and articles:

Brain Rules

Unleash the Power of the Female Brain

The Female Brain

Brain Differences Between Genders

Do Men and Women Have Different Brains?

How Male & Female Brains Differ

Lean In and Why Women's Brains are Wired for Leadership

Male and Female Brains are Built Differently

The title, "Fashioned to Reign," is from Kris Valloton's book, which takes an inside look at the Christian perspective of women in leadership.

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, www.effectiveteachingpd.com 

Cultivating Digital Literacy, Citizenship & Leadership

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Whether for good or bad, the Internet and the information revolution have impacted nearly every aspect of society and social organizations, including our schools…and the challenge becomes how to address that impact. Technology and the Web have changed how students learn, study, and research, as well as how they interact with information, teachers and each other.  From Khan Academy to 1:1, it is increasingly clear that this is, “Not your father’s school,” and educational leaders who don’t respond and plan accordingly, will see their students left behind.” Jonathan Martin

As technology changes our society, our schools too must adapt. It is important for educators to understand three elements regarding technology in education: digital literacy, digital citizenship and digital leadership, and then provide instruction in all three so our students develop proficiency.

Instead of banning technology and social media on our campuses, it would better benefit our stakeholders if we taught our students the responsible ways in which to use the tools our society and economy have come to depend on.

Research is clear; our brains are extremely influenced by environment. If we cultivate a literacy and tech-infused environment of innovation, responsibility and critical thinking, then our students will understand how to positively use tech to communicate their ideas and harness the power of it in a productive manner. 

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Don’t get me wrong, as an English and social science teacher, I will be the first to say that technology DOES NOT replace effective teaching.  An ineffective teacher without a device will often be an ineffective teacher with a device, “a fool with a tool is still a fool.”

I advocate first training teachers in best instructional practices that increase student achievement such as: essential questions, writing and communication skills, critical thinking, note-taking, content literacy and engagement strategies.  After teachers have incorporated these effective learning practices, the environment is ripe for the induction of tech tools. 

A balanced tech adoption in which students read, write and create on paper, in addition to reading, writing and creating on their devices, is most advantageous.  Though I still believe in teaching students to read and write in cursive (GASP!), I have come to respect digital devices and witnessed the tremendous opportunity they provide in giving students equitable access to 21st Century methods.

Because technology is not going away, who better than educators, can educate our students to use tech for good, not for evil? 

In order to do this, we first must understand how technology positively and negatively affects our brains.

How Does Technology Impact the Brain?

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Depending on the study referenced, technology can have positive and negative neurological influences.

**Some say technology decreases:

*attention span

*face to face communication skills

*information retention

*complex reading abilities

*writing and grammar skills

*physical activity

*healthy eye development

**Some say that it increases:

*visual and spatial skills

*reaction times

*eye to hand coordination

*cause & effect processing

*neuroplasticity

*skimming and scanning for main ideas

Whether a tech opponent or proponent, both agree that technology has changed our brains.  Just as students need explicit instruction in solving linear equations and annotating complex text, they also benefit from instruction, modeling, and practice in digital literacy, citizenship and leadership.

I do not subscribe to the idea that our students are ‘digital natives’ and therefore are adept in overall tech literacy.  Though they may be skilled in a few areas, most don’t understand how SEOs (search engine optimizers) work, how to skillfully research accurate and relevant information on a topic, or how to project a positive digital footprint that will aid, and not harm them in the future.  For more about this topic, check out the article, "Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web."

Thus, the need for explicit instruction in a few tech areas, is vital to student success.

According to Jess Bolluyt, author of “5 Ways Tech is Disrupting Education,”  tech has positively changed education in these ways, it:

1. Allows for adaptive, personalized learning

2. Encourages collaboration among students and teachers

3. Enables students to learn and consume content in a social manner

4. Provides anytime/anywhere learning

5. Provides formative and summative centralized assessments that provide more data for teachers to use to drive their instruction

Tech is here to stay; consider teaching these components in order to prepare students for the changing tech needs of our society.

DIGITAL LITERACY

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Digital Literacy (DL) is having the ability to:

*analyze and evaluate content for trustworthiness and relevancy

*understand digital platforms and how SEOs operate

*collaborate using tech to create original content

*use fonts, backgrounds & graphics to convey a message

*understand one’s digital tattoo/footprint

*engage in responsible Social Networking

*use a variety of tech tools to produce, communicate & evaluate information

The “How & Why”

We can help students develop this type of literacy by teaching students the “How & Why” of the tools that we use.  For example, when students use Keynote & Prezi to create a presentation, they are utilizing a tool that allows them to visually and linguistically convey a message (what the Common Core State Standards refers to as “create a claim and support it with evidence”).  Or when we use Edmodo or Schoology, we are respectfully sharing, learning and debating ideas related to our class content. Using Scratch or Minecraft allows students to “code” in order to animate learned content or create new content, while fostering cause and effect and decision-making skills.  

Ultimately, we use technology to increase our critical thinking, expedite communication, and expand our repertoire of tools to accomplish tasks. Teaching the “How and Why” of the tech tools we use in class, helps students to understand which tool to choose in order to complete a task.

What?  Everything on the Internet is not True?

Another component of DL is to determine whether Web content is relevant and reliable.  Teachthought, one of my favorite educational sites, compiled a list of valuable e-resources in their article, “100 Search Engines for Academic Research."  These sites have been deemed trustworthy for teacher and student research.

**In addition to using trusted sites, here are a few questions students can use to personally evaluate Internet content:

Is the site reader-friendly (using titles, subheadings, pictures, captions and charts)?

If timeliness of the information is important, is it kept up to date?

Does the author provide contact information if there are questions about the content?

Does the author add in personal commentary and/or use absolutes and superlatives such as “always, never,best, excellent” to describe the information?

Are the sources clearly listed so facts can be verified?

Does the site provide helpful live links to other resources?

Does the author seem to have a personal agenda he/she is trying to push?

Is the author affiliated with an organization?

Is the author trying to sell something?

**A few Digital Literacy sample lessons to consider are:

*Find examples of effective/ineffective company infographics and determine what could make them better? Consider symbols, color, wording, etc.

*Use coding programs such as Scratch to create an animated lesson based on content learned; include music and voice narration.

*Find evidence to support AND refute a topic such as human cloning, global warming or the existence of Big Foot—create a claim and provide evidence to support it.  Then, produce a multi-media presentation and upload it to YouTube.

*“Gamify” a unit.  Develop a game and point structure students can play to earn points when they complete certain assignments.  The more assignments they complete, the more points they earn and the farther they advance in the game. Here are a few resources to gamify your instruction: "Trying out Gamification in the Classroom? These Tools are for You," an article by Katie Lepi, and a YouTube video:"Level Up: Five Steps to Gamify Your Class."

*Utilize Twitter or TodaysMeet during a lesson to post questions and allow for running commentary throughout a lesson to engage all learners.

**Four resources for teaching Digital Literacy & Citizenship are:

Cybraryman Internet Catalogue

Digitalliteracy.gov

CommonSense Media

ikeepsafe.org

DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP

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Digital Citizenship is primarily concerned with establishing a positive online presence.  According to Microsoft’s 2014 “Safer Online” Report, private citizens spend billions of dollars annually attempting to repair their online damaged reputations and billions of dollars are lost in estimated income due to damaged digital footprints. 

In a nutshell, Digital Citizenship can make or break a person’s personal AND professional life.

A responsible Digital Citizen (DC):

*upholds Acceptable Use Policies

*establishes a positive digital footprint

*demonstrates proper use and care of technology

*skillfully navigates between face to face and digital communication

*participates respectfully in online discussions and demonstrates “Netiquette”

*appropriately evaluates the effects of individual tech use on the greater community

*adheres to guidelines for buying & selling products online

*does not participate in cyberbullying

*uses electronic precautions to protect one’s identity

*establishes healthy limits on tech use

One area that educational institutions sometimes need help with is in the development of “Acceptable Use Policies” for both employees and students.  Edutopia provides guidelines for this task, “How to Create Social Media Guidelines for Your School” in addition to a slew of other Digital Citizenship resources, such as Matt Davis’ article, "Digital Citizenship: 6 Resources for Educators."

Increase Search Visibility & Develop a Positive Digital Footprint

People can increase their Internet search visibility by owning their domain name, blogging, and participating in Social Media Platforms that have strong Search Engine Optimizers such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and BrandYourself.com.

However, when we engage in Social Media, we should model appropriate behavior and filter what we post. Only post what is truthful, positive, helpful and interesting, and for goodness’ sake, limit the SELFIES!

I once heard, “The Internet doesn’t make us stupid; it just makes one’s stupidity more visible.”  That can certainly be the case when one posts evidence of questionable behavior, endless rants and selfies. As many have learned the hard way in the 21st Century, nothing chases away professional opportunities faster than negative online behavior.  

In summary, when it comes to Digital Citizenship…don’t be stupid online.

DIGITAL LEADERSHIP

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First, when it comes to Digital Leadership, a Digital Leader (DL), doesn’t have to know EVERYTHING about technology.  According to Todd Whitaker, “Though it is beneficial if leaders can model the use of technology, it is more essential that they support the use of technology.”

The benefit in being a Digital Leader is the ability to communicate to ALL stakeholders, the school’s vision, mission, activities and successes, while also promoting a culture focused on continual learning and innovation. In order to do this, a DL can use just a few tech tools well. He/she does not have to use all of them; in fact, I caution against it.

A Tremendous Opportunity

A school or district has an online brand, or presence, whether established by those within the organization, or not.  There is a tremendous (and FREE) opportunity for educators to positively impact how others view education, while demonstrating Digital Leadership, and that is by simply sharing in online communities, all of the great things happening in schools.

I have read many times, the negative, often fictitious, attacks against a school or educator, launched by a disgruntled parent, etc.  Unfortunately, studies show that people believe what they hear most, and if most publicity about an educator or educational organization is negative, then that wll influence the public’s perception.

Here are a few tools Digital Leaders can use to positively communicate a message and demonstrate Digital Leadership:

*Twitter—free 24/7 professional development and connection with other educators

*Remind + Stamps—free and secure texting service to send out reminders to staff, parents and students and allow for a quick response

*Blog—communicate the great successes of your school and provide resources

*Google Drive—create forms, communicate & track data with ease

*Evernote—combine lists, handwritten notes, articles, video, photos, etc., in one spot

In addition to using tech tools, consider these ideas to promote collaboration and learning:

*Host “appy” hour to highlight a few tech tools for educators and parents--provide snacks & music, etc.

*Partner up techies with non-techies to learn and practice 1 tech tool monthly--provide release time each month to accomplish this

*Send educators to tech conferences

*Host a “Tech EdCamp” at your school and bring in local “experts” to share ideas and tools

In closing, there is no doubt that technology has indeed changed our society.  If our goal as educators is to prepare students for the future, then education must include the productive ways in which to use technology.

Focusing on a balanced approach for "Old School" handwritten Literacy and "New School" Critical Thinking, Digital Literacy, Citizenship and Leadership, promotes a culture of learning and creativity that benefits all of our stakeholders and positions our students for 21st Century success.

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com, September 2014

Fostering a Positive School Culture - 8 Best Practices

May, 2014

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There is no reason why schools cannot compete with Disneyland for the title “Happiest Place on Earth.”  Educators play a vital role in developing an environment that is conducive to learning, resulting in students who are competent, confident and compassionate.

In working with many schools, I have noticed several commonalities in those sites that have exceptionally positive and healthy school cultures that foster a love of learning and high levels of student achievement:

1. Caring and friendly staff, united by a common goal...developing relationships.

The most important component of a healthy learning environment is the attitude of the staff and their focus on developing positive relationships with students.  Dr. Rita Pierson shared in her TED Talk, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like, and research supports that sentiment.  From the school secretary, to the custodians, counselors, teachers and the administrative team, the attitude of the WHOLE staff will make or break a school.

Smiling, sharing, teaching, mentoring and patiently coaching students, makes a collection of buildings full of books and desks, a productive and enjoyable setting for learning. In addition, a shared goal of doing what is best for students, focuses the staff on what the real purpose of the organization is…a system designed to meet students’ social, emotional, and academic needs.

2. Teachers study and collaboratively use research-based critical thinking and comprehension strategies and model a continual love of learning.

Schools that have implemented best instructional practices such as essential questions, project-based learning, note-taking, pre/during/post lesson plan design and writing strategies, etc., develop a common vernacular for instruction, resulting in a a collaborative and productive instructional setting.

Best instructional practices also emphasize that teaching information is not the goal, but teaching students how to be independent critical thinkers, is.  Students appreciate the consistency in using common strategies across the content areas and they develop competence and confidence in consistently using the integrated methods.

3. Encourage a "Growth" Mindset Instead of a "Fixed" Mindset

Dr. Carol Dweck wrote the book Mindset; it has become a widely read non-fiction text in middle and high school English classes and for good reason.  She explains how students often develop a “fixed” or “growth” mindset during childhood; one is detrimental to learning and one is necessary.

A “fixed” mindset believes one is only as good as what he is born with~~if a child inherited math skills then he should be a naturally skilled math student.  But what if mathematical, musical, or athletic talents are not in the genes?  Should a person just not pursue excellence in those areas?  Of course not, but the “fixed” mindset believes that idea to be true.

We have all heard our students lament, “I’m just not good at math.” Or, “I’m not a good reader.”  Those are myths that must be debunked.  A “fixed” mindset believes there is no use in working hard to develop what is not inherent and that "fixed" idea shuts down learning.

A “growth” mindset is extremely beneficial to student achievement and it can be developed by modeling and practicing perseverance and hard work and praising effort and actions, not natural talent. When a student states, “I’m just no good at _______,” Dr. Dweck recommends we tell them to add “yet” to that sentence and then we explicitly teach the child the skills he needs to be successful.

This type of thinking focuses on improving our natural skills through grit and practice and it gives the student hope that if he does not first succeed, try, try, again. This "growth" mentality provides a sense of ownership in the learning process as well as hope in the fact that through practice and perseverance, we can increase our success in all areas.

4. Explicitly Teach Neuroscience & Model Healthy Habits

Many children think their environment is out of their control; it sometimes is as many don't have the freedom to make their own choices.  This feeling of helplessness can increase stress and emotional instability.  By teaching students how their brains work and what sleep, nutrition, exercise and stress management needs they have, they can make healthier decisions that will lead to increased success. They will also develop a sense of confidence as they understand they do have control over many aspects of their lives.  As the old adage goes…when we know better, we do better.

5. Implement Positive Behavioral Supports

When students are isolated or suspended, learning stops.  Consistent and appropriate school expectations are vital, and explicitly teaching appropriate behavior and self-regulation, greatly impacts student success.

In addition, frequently providing positive reinforcement, choices and personal connection, reduces discipline issues and recovers instructional time faster than a punitive system. (Sugai)

6. Encourage and Develop Leadership Skills in Teachers and Students

Strong leadership characteristics include: optimism, integrity, perseverance, critical thinking and collaborative problem solving and communication skills; studies show that these traits can be explicitly taught.

Leadership roles for teachers and students can take a variety of forms. For teachers, serving as a resource provider, instructional or curriculum expert, mentor, department chair, staff book club organizer, PD coordinator, tech support, committee member, coach, club coordinator and overall learning facilitator, are excellent ways for educators to flex their leadership skills and share and learn with others.

Student leadership may be fostered by providing leadership opportunities, communication and debate classes, LINK crews, peer mediation training, ambassador programs, campus and community projects and mock trials.

When the administrators are the only “leaders” on campus, a great opportunity is missed to share and expand the wisdom and resources that teachers and students have.

7. Implement the 4 Conditions for Learning

Studies have shown that there are four basic tenets identified in safe and productive learning environments:

1.    Students feel safe, both physically and emotionally.

2.    Students are supported through meaningful connections with adult caregivers on campus, anti-bullying campaigns, conflict management, counseling services and academic support.

3.    Students are challenged and engaged via project-based learning, meaningful assignments with real-world connections, and even opportunities that allow for late assignments and retakes so students can show improvement.  The goal is for student work to be excellent in quality, even if it takes a few times to get it right.

4.    Students are taught to be socially capable by learning about emotional intelligence, persistence, healthy habits, communication, and responsibility and then provided opportunities to showcase their skills at school and in the community.

8. Communicate & Increase Parent & Community Involvement

Schools and districts cannot over communicate their resources, opportunities and great successes.  Emails, banners, updated websites, texts and phone call blasts are effective ways to share what is happening.  

When educators do not communicate, the public fills in the blanks and sometimes the blanks are not positive or even accurate.  Control the message.

There are a variety of ways to tap into a school’s community resources and reach out to parents.  Offering “Parent University” sessions to parents in basic mathematical, writing, note-taking and comprehension strategies, is very beneficial.  Neighborhood and campus beautification days, Job Fairs, local business partnerships and mentoring, chess and art clubs with community members acting as mentors, etc., are all ways to connect the school with the families and community and improve the culture.

As with any “systemic” change, improving a negative school culture can be a daunting task, but it can be done.  Perhaps tackling just one idea at a time makes the challenge manageable. The positive outcome makes the task worthwhile as there is simply far too much at stake to let negativity, politics and personal agendas infect the true “happiest place on earth.”

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, www.effectiveteachingpd.com

The Nuts & Bolts of the New Common Core State Standards

10 Facts for Educators & Parents

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1.  For the first time in American history, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will provide a general set of educational standards, focusing on critical thinking and analysis, for students across the country (or in the 46 states that have voted to adopt them).

“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."   www.corestandards.org

Previously, each state established its own content standards and assessment system; some believed this made it difficult to compare students from state to state, and nearly impossible to compete globally as a student’s zip code determined the type of education he received.

The CCSS were authored by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

2.  The CCSS are content standards only for K-12 English and math courses and states have voted to adopt none, one or both sets of the standards.  The CCSS make up 85% of the standards to be taught, each state then has the option to add up to 15% additional standards to customize their education based on their needs.

New national science standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, have been developed but not by the same groups that developed the CCSS.  The science standards can be adopted by each state just as the Common Core Standards; several states such as California, have already voted to adopt the new science standards as well but they are not part of "Common Core" standards.

3.  The CCSS are internationally benchmarked, meaning they were developed using data from successful educational systems around the world to determine which standards are developmentally appropriate to teach at each grade level and which are necessary to teach in order to compete globally.

4.  Ambiguity was one of the complaints of previous state standards so the CCSS clarify and elaborate on several standards:

Example:

*The previous California Content Standard for English (3.2) “Comprehend basic plots of fairy tales, myths, folktales, legends and fables.”

*The new Common Core State Standard for English (3.2) “Recount stories, including fables, folktales and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson or moral and explain how it is conveyed using key details from the text.”

5.  The new Common Core math standards ask for fewer concepts to be taught but that each topic is taught in more depth, particularly in the elementary grades.

The new standards focus on 8 mathematical practices:

*Make sense of problems and persevere to solve them

*Reason abstractly and quantitatively

*Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others

*Model with mathematics

*Use appropriate tools strategically

*Attend to precision

*Look for and make use of structure

*Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

One of the criticisms of the previous math standards was that the same topics were taught year after year with some not being taught in the order in which they were needed.

The new standards have a ‘spiral effect’ meaning that a concept is taught that is necessary and connected to the next concept.  For example, students in seventh grade will be taught to master ratios and proportions via real world examples such as in calculating interest, because those concepts are necessary to understanding the upcoming equations. The new CCSS focus on the student developing a better understanding of mathematical practices instead of primarily memorizing mathematical procedures.

6.  There are 2 assessment choices that states can adopt; one comes from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), the other from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).  In 2015, states will administer whichever test they chose via computer, though there is discussion that hard-copy versions will also be made available, as many schools do not have the technological infrastructure to support school-wide computerized testing. Visit: www.smarterbalanced.org and www.parcconline.org for sample test questions.

7.  Several private and charter schools, who operate with nearly full autonomy and are not bound by many state adopted educational guidelines, are transitioning to the CCSS because many college entrance exams and standardized tests, such as the SATs, are being aligned to the new standards.

8.  The Common Core State Standards are not a national curriculum.  Standards are not curriculum; standards merely identify what students should know and be able to do by the end of the school year, while curriculum chosen by teachers and districts, defines exactly how the standards will be taught (using specific texts and assignments).

For example, Standard 5:10 of the new CCSS for English in grade 5 reads:

“By the end of the year, students will read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 4-5 text complexity band, both independently and proficiently.”

This standard does not specify how or what teachers are to do to accomplish this, as that would be the curriculum. Districts and/or teachers can choose which curriculum they want to use to teach this standard. (“5 Myths About the Common Core State Standards,” Robert Rothman, Harvard Graduate School of Education)

9.  The CCSS promotes a balance between fiction and non-fiction literacy and instruction.  The recommendation to K-5 educators is to teach each genre equally (50/50). This does not mean that educators should spend 50% of the time in novels and 50% of time in textbooks; it means that if a class reads The Little Red Hen, a fiction piece, then supplement it with non-fiction readings about hens and farm animals, or baking bread, etc., to provide some of the factual background knowledge referenced in the story.

Previously in the early elementary grades, fiction was often taught far more than non-fiction, which created a literacy gap when it came to non-fiction or “content area literacy.”  Since we live in the Information Age and the information is non-fiction, research recommends a balanced diet of the two genres from the earliest ages to best prepare students for high school and beyond.

The CCSS recommends a 70% non-fiction emphasis in grades 9-12, which realistically, is already in place as fiction is often read in the English class (accounting for approximately 30% of the overall reading in high school), while non-fiction reading tends to dominate the other content area classes.

10.  Though only the math and English standards have changed under the CCSS, there are new content literacy and critical thinking standards for history, science and other technical classes.  This means that ALL teachers will be responsible for teaching literacy and critical thinking, not just the math and English teachers.

The new content literacy standards for all subject areas emphasize 21st Century critical thinking and writing skills, in addition to the content.

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, www.effectiveteachingpd.com

Resources:

Bill Honig: Why CA Likes the Common Core Standards

www.corestandards.org

www.achievethecore.org

www.myboe.org

www.learnzillion.com

www.teachingchannel.org

What is "Close" Reading?

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Close reading is the idea that students will re-read certain texts in order to develop a deeper understanding of the layers of meaning embedded within. Not all texts should be read in this manner, if a student can read and clearly understand a text during an initial reading, then the text is probably too simplistic to use for a close read.

However, many texts are worthy of close reading, and for these complex and rigorous texts, consider the following three-step process:

1. First, read the text in its entirety to get the feel and sentiment of it.

Ask students to complete a simple re-telling (first-then-finally) after the first reading, to identify their initial impressions of the beginning, middle, and end.

2. Next, read the text again to analyze the author's words and devices to gain deeper understanding. 

Annotate (add comments and questions in the margins) to study the deeper meaning.  The following questions address both literal and inferential meaning as well as the writer’s craft, structure, and integration of ideas; these general questions can guide analysis during the second reading:

*Is the text formal or informal-how do you know?

*What literary devices does the author use?

*What mood does the author create?

*What genre is the text (persuasive, summary, cause & effect, etc.)?

*Why does the author write a six-word sentence next to a twenty-five word sentence?

*Can you define 2-4 of the unfamiliar words?

*Is anything being compared or contrasted?

3. Read the text a third and final time and analyze 2-4 of the following:

*What claim is the author making?

*What evidence does the author provide to prove the claim?

*What is a picture or symbol you could sketch to summarize the main idea?

*How is this text similar or different than others you have read?

*Did the author omit anything that would have helped the reader better understand the text?

Tips to Incorporate Close Reading Across the Content Areas

 *To introduce and model close reading, the teacher may choose to initially read the text aloud to students and then guide students through the process using the different questions for each re-reading.

 *Students can work in pairs or small groups to practice close reading, though the ultimate goal is for students to internalize this skill set and use it independently.

*Keep the texts short, less than one page or so, and utilize both fiction and non-fiction passages. Poems, auto/biographical excerpts, lyrics, primary source documents, novel exerpts and speeches are excellent for close readings.

*Although front-loading is one of the most effective ways to build background knowledge and engage students in a lesson, consider not front-loading the text before this type of reading, as this process is focused on the reader gaining as much knowledge as possible from the re-readings, not from the discussion beforehand. In addition, the goal of this method is to develop independent analysis skills so when students are alone and the text is not front-loaded for them, they have an idea as to how to tackle it.

 *As with any skill development, ongoing practice is vital; though this style of reading does not need to happen daily, consistent practice is important for student mastery.

Is Close Reading a Strategy or Goal?

Close reading is purposefully reading a text while paying attention to the author’s word choice, sentence structure, and devices used to embed layers of meaning within. It involves reading the same text multiple times, each time studying a different aspect to encourage the reader to analyze what and why the author did what he did to communicate the point.

Close reading is considered by some to be a strategy and by others to be an outcome.  Either way, being able to closely read complex fiction and non-fiction and analyze and synthesize it for deeper meaning is a skill worth developing.  Students' critical thinking and independent comprehension increase with this type of structured reading.                       Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, www.effectiveteachingpd.com

What do Good Readers do?

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Many struggling students believe that one is either born a good reader or not and there is little one can do to become a more effective reader.  This is a "fixed" mindset myth (Carol Dweck) that educators must debunk immediately as it is detrimental to student competence and confidence. 

The truth is that being a "good" reader requires work; skilled comprehenders often utilize an arsenal of  "soft" skills when they encounter difficulty with comprehension. These strategies don't require a fancy hard-copy graphic organizer, thus the "soft" skills reference. 

Here are 10 of the most effective strategies that proficient readers use to boost comprehension: 

*re-read

*read slower

*pre-read & predict

*connect to prior knowledge

*guess and check

*visualize

*question the text/author (what does the author mean when he says this?)

*evaluate (What did I learn? What do I still need to know? What is most important?)

*retell (first, then, finally)

*summarize (who, what, when, where, why, how). 

Explicitly modeling these methods will greatly improve reading comprehension and communicate to students that good readers "work" at being good readers and we can all become more effective readers when we use these strategies.   Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, www.effectiveteachingpd.com

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Instructional Leaders

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The Game Changers of Educational Leadership

Studies show that schools that go from "good to great" always have a strong Instructional Leader (IL) at the helm.   (“School Leaders Matter” study) and (McRel study)

This is great news as we learn more about what these GAME CHANGING leaders do; we can educate, support and grow more leaders who make the difference when it comes to student learning.

Having worked with some of the best ILs in the world, these are the collective characteristics I have witnessed them share.

Highly Effective Instructional Leaders:

#1.  Understand Neuroscience

The young brain is very different than a mature brain.   Science shows that a female brain does not fully develop until 20 years old (approximately) and a male brain fully develops as late as 24 years old.  The last part of the brain to develop is the pre frontal cortex, which is in charge of processing cause and effect, impulse control, organization skills, attention span and emotional stability.  This has serious implications for educators as we sometimes place the same expectations on the young brain that we have for the mature brain, essentially setting a child up for failure.

Instructional Leaders are knowledgeable regarding the latest neuroscience and they share ideas with colleagues to ensure routines, expectations, and assignments are developmentally appropriate, while simultaneously fostering healthy brain growth.

#2. Provide PD in Critical Thinking & Content Area Literacy

Instructional Leaders are educated in best instructional practices and establish a climate that is conducive to learning for students AND adults.  On-going PD, coaching and support is necessary for teachers to be prepared and accountable for implementation of best practices that boost student comprehension and competence.  Professional development is most effective when sessions are provided by in-house and outside experts who can provide on-going coaching so implementation can occur.  On-going training, collaboration and support for the adults allows for a healthy and productive learning environment for the students.

#3.  Understand the 4 Types of Teachers & Utilize the 4 Strategic Conversations

Instructional Leaders are effective communicators; therefore, it is essential that ILs are well-versed in the 4 types of teachers:

*high will/high skill

*high will/low skill

*low will/high skill

*low will/low skill

In addition to identifying the type of teacher, ILs determine a goal for each type and then utilize one of the 4 strategic conversations (reflective, facilitative, coaching, directive) most appropriate to meet the goal for each teacher.  Dr. Robyn Jackson’s book, The Instructional Leader’s Guide to Strategic Conversations with Teachers, explicitly outlines the 4 types of teachers and conversations and provides scenarios to enhance productive communication between the IL and teacher-a worthwhile book to have in your arsenal.

#4.  Implement Instructional & Peer Coaching

Instructional Leaders understand the difference between instructional coaching and peer coaching and they utilize both to increase teacher effectiveness.

Instructional coaching involves an outside expert mentoring a teacher via training, observing, and coaching in best practices over an extended period of time, usually 2-3 years.

Peer coaching is allowing teachers to choose a colleague to partner with so they can observe each other and collect data in an area the observed teacher has asked for feedback in, such as questioning, modeling, feedback, etc. The observing colleague does not act as an expert, his/her role is to simply collect data and then ask reflective questions of the observed teacher so he/she can analyze his own practices in a non-evaluative manner.

The more teachers analyze and discuss instructional practices, the better instruction becomes.  Instructional coaching allows for an expert to share best practices and hold the teacher accountable for using them, while peer coaching allows for data collection from a trusted colleague so one can analyze his own practices.  Both types of coaching are necessary to develop teachers who are pedagogically sound.

#5.  Develop PLCs and Use Meeting Time Wisely

PLCs are a strategic gathering of educators focused on data analysis to determine what students need to succeed and what needs to happen to meet those needs.  It is helpful if teachers receive on-going training in best practices so when a student need is identified, educators have a repertoire of strategies in which to analyze and implement for student success.

I have witnessed PLC time used to discuss the school fundraiser, etc.  If that is what the discussion is centered around, it is not a PLC meeting.  Productive PLC sessions include: incorporating a webinar to learn a best practice, allowing teachers to share a favorite app or strategy that boosts student learning, analyzing student work with colleagues and discussing the various types of feedback that would benefit the student or determining how to best organize a unit so student engagement and learning are maximized.

PLCs are focused on increasing teacher and student learning; the meeting time is precious and should be focused on sharing best practices to meet the learning and growth needs of the students and teachers.

#6.  Are Connected & Cutting-Edge

Student and teacher needs change, from MOOCs to PBL to 1:1 deployment, education is an evolving entity.  To stay current and cutting-edge, it is imperative that ILs are voracious readers of educational content and connected to the experts and think tanks who share new ideas and studies; one of the best ways to accomplish this is through Twitter.

Twitter is a powerful and free personal learning network (PLN) fostering collaboration with educators all around the world via “chats” and webinars centered on topics such as Common Core Standards, edtech, ELs or PLCs.  I always learn new ideas from ILs and they invariably share they learned them by reading such and such book or on Twitter.

#7.  Foster Positive Relationships

“People forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

The secret behind great leadership is fostering positive relationships. Relationships are particularly important to Instructional Leaders because they are often asking educators to spend time and energy changing their practices, or essentially sacrificing the sacred cow.  Change is difficult, but it is helpful when undergoing the process to have powerful and positive communicative relationships with each other.

Though educators are surrounded by people all the time, it can be an isolating and overwhelming profession.  Positive relationships reinforce what we are called to do…accomplish what’s best for students…every time.

Which of these "Habits" are you already skilled at and which would you like to improve? 

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, www.effectiveteachingpd.com

10 Things Parents Can Do to Foster Happy, Healthy & High-Achieving Children

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“Help!  My child is moody, stressed and not doing well in school! What can I do to help?”

As an educator, I often hear this sentiment as it is a common and frustrating phenomenon.  There is good news; there are many things parents can do to support their child’s social, emotional and academic success during the school years.

A young brain is very different than a mature brain and sometimes we treat children as though they were mini-adults and we get frustrated when they don't act like adults.  The problem is the pre-frontal cortex in the young brain is not functioning at full capacity until a child is in his early twenties and that can pose major obstacles when it comes to analyzing emotions and situations, concentrating, understanding cause and effect, retaining information, focusing and controlling impulses. 

For more information about adolescent neuroscience, read my blog titled: "10 Adolescent Brain Facts Educators Should Know."

Here is my “TOP 10 List” of things parents can do to increase their child’s happiness and potential for success:

5 Critical Thinking & Comprehension Ideas to Boost Achievement:

1. Predict

Have your child predict what will happen next while reading, watching a show or discussing an event and then analyze whether it was accurate.

2. Retell (first, next, finally)

Ask your student to stop periodically while reading and explain what happened first, next, and finally.

3. Summarize

Encourage your child to explain the who, what, when, where, why and how of an event or reading.

4. Re-read

Get your student into the habit of re-reading portions of text, especially if the text is difficult or confusing.

5. Practice the 3-2-1

After reading or watching an educational program, have your child share 3 ideas he learned, 2 personal connections he can make to the content and 1 comment or question he has about the topic and then you do the same.

 

5 Ways to Establish an Environment Conducive to Healthy & Happy Brain Development:

 

6. Establish healthy sleep, nutrition and exercise rituals as a family

Children ages 5-19 need 9-13 hours of sleep every night for healthy brain and body development. If your child has difficulty meeting his/her sleep needs, consider these tips: after dinner, have your child take a warm bath or shower, turn down the lights, turn off the technology and get them into bed and read.  These practices encourage the brain to release melatonin to signal the body to get sleepy.  Also, cut out caffeine, excess sugar and fat (as a family, for best results) and make sure your child is vigorously active for 1-2 hours daily.

7. Implement routines and check-off lists

The young brain is not naturally organized, in fact it is very chaotic! To increase your child's success, implement routines for doing homework, feeding the dog, getting ready for school, doing the dishes, etc. Create check-off lists for kids when they are young so they know exactly what to do each day (without having to yell at them).  

Kids develop a sense of accomplishment when they can check things off their lists.  When my daughters were in elementary school, I had a morning “To-Do” list for my them that included making their beds, eating breakfast, feeding the dogs, and brushing their teeth and hair.  They would have to have all items checked off and be ready by 7:40 each morning and when they had succeeded in doing so all week, we went to the park on Saturday as a reward.

8. Ask open-ended questions

Many times adults ask kids yes or no questions and then we wonder why kids often provide only mono-syllabic responses.  To increase communication and critical thinking, incorporate these phrases into your conversations: how, why, what do you think, or tell me more about…

9. Model explicitly what you want your child to do

Don’t “assumicide” that kids know how to effectively complete a task such as: cleaning their room, organizing their binders, answering the phone or loading the dishwasher.  Explain how to do something, why it should be done that way, model it, have them show you and then provide constructive and encouraging feedback.  

As a parent, we can sometimes become exasperated because something wasn’t done the way we wanted. The developing brain needs explicit modeling and explanation as to why a task needs to be completed a certain way because it does not process cause and effect the way a mature brain does.

10. Read and listen to your child

Make reading to and with your child, even if he is a teenager, a consistent routine.  He learns fluency and inflection from hearing you read and he even wants you to listen to him read.  If he makes a mistake, don't correct unless it affects the comprehension.  Reading is a wonderful bonding experience so take turns reading sections and discuss/question/predict/summarize what is happening.

One last idea to consider: my grandmother told me that God gave us two ears to listen twice as much as our one mouth should talk.  Listen to what your child has to say, ask him what he thinks and don’t jump in to interrupt.  The young brain will communicate extensively when given the opportunity to do so.

There are many things we can do as parents to increase our children's social, emotional and academic confidence and competence; pick a few of these ideas and put them into practice and you will see your student’s attitude and aptitude improve quickly. Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com

What are the Characteristics of Rock Star Teachers?

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The Game Changers of Education

Having worked with thousands of educators all around the world, I have had the privilege of observing and learning from many Rock Star Teachers and found that they share several characteristics.  No, they don't need to set their classrooms aflame, but they do ignite a fire for learning and positively impact student achievement.

Rock Star Teachers have/do this:

*A Desire to Learn and Transform

~Rock Star Teachers (RSTs) never believe they have learned it all.  They eagerly participate in educational conferences, PLCs, trainings, research, edcamps, Twitter, classes, NBCT programs and book studies.  Their commitment to bettering themselves is evident in their instruction, as they rarely will be doing the same thing in class as they did 10 years ago.

*Ability to Engage Students

~Rock Star Teachers engage students by providing learning tasks to students every few minutes.  Students in RST classes are continually asked to explain, justify, defend, critique and create content.  One will never see students just ‘sitting and getting’ during a 60-minute lecture in these classes; students talk about the content just as much or more than the teacher as RSTs know the importance of student involvement and create continual opportunities for students to engage and share in the learning.

*Reflect and Take Risks

~Rock Star Teachers are not afraid to pilot a curriculum or tech tool and ask questions.  They continually reflect on what the students need and how to supply those needs; and they perfect methods to accomplish the learning goals even more effectively next time.  You may hear them say that they have never taught a perfect lesson, but don’t be fooled; they are as close to perfection in the classroom as possible.  Soak up their nuances and pearls of wisdom, for lessons learned from a RST can save a novice years of consternation and frustration.

*Explicitly Teach Content AND Skills

~You will never hear a RST say, “It is not my job to teach my students to read, write, or comprehend, because I only teach math, etc.” RSTs embrace the reality that they are indeed responsible for teaching comprehension, in addition to their content. They actively search out and utilize the vocabulary, writing, critical thinking and engagement strategies, materials and tech necessary to teach students both the skills and content they need for mastery.

*Utilize Essential Questions

~Rock Star Teachers hook students from the beginning, often by commencing with an Essential Question. They use lesson, unit and course essential questions to aid students in making universal connections, thus enhancing learning.  They foster discussions and debates focused on the EQs throughout the learning process so students are focused on the learning objective and are able to cement new information to prior knowledge. 

*Passion & Enthusiasm

~RSTs are on fire with excitement for their students, lessons and profession.  Their positivity affects others and they refuse to let negativity infect them.  You will not hear them complaining about this initiative or such-and-such curriculum, as they are too focused on the positives in education…our fantastic students!

*Effective Parent Communication

~RSTs reach out to parents in the beginning of the school year to make sure the first contact is informative and positive.  They continue to use multiple methods of communication throughout the year to reach parents. In addition to emails and newsletters, they often develop class websites, and Twitter and Facebook school accounts to share student learning and expectations with families.

*Outside Connections with Students & Families

~Rock Star Teachers know it is vital to have connections with kids in and out of the classroom.  They coach teams, oversee clubs, direct school plays, chaperone crazy extended cross country or even out of the country field trips, attend athletic and academic events and make a point to stop at the corner coffee house that little Johnny works at on Saturday mornings.  RSTs understand that kids ‘don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.’

*Exhibit Professionalism

~RSTs dress professionally, arrive early and leave late, make positive connections with colleagues, families and the community, don’t engage in gossip, curse, or complain about “lazy” students.  They take teaching seriously and they demonstrate the qualities that any profession would admire.

*An Overwhelming Belief that Students Matter

~This elite group perhaps shares one of the most important characteristics and that is why they are true Caped-Crusaders, Game Changers and undeniable Rock Stars. They believe that educators are to do what is best for the students (not what is most convenient for adults); whatever “the best” entails, however painful, exhausting, frustrating and time-consuming it is, it is worth it because our students simply deserve our best everyday, no excuses.

It gives me chills to see a “Rock Star” in action.  They embody the art and science of effective teaching, demonstrating that teaching is not for those who can’t, but for those who can and choose to. For teaching is THE profession that allows for all other professions to exist and it is not for the faint of heart, it is for the fearless and the passionate path forgers…the Rock Stars. 

A motto fit for Rock Star Teachers:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels.  To the ones who see things differently.  They are not fond of rules and they have no respect for status quo.  You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them or vilify them.  But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.  Because they have the passion and courage to do what needs to be done. They are the ones who are crazy enough to believe they can change things and those who believe... are the only ones who do.” Steve Jobs, modified

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, www.effectiveteachingpd.com

A Link to another article on this topic, “The World Needs More Rock Star Educators”: http://www.daisydyerduerr.com/the-world-needs-more-rock-star-educators/

Meaningful PLC & Staff Meetings-STOP the DEATH by BULLET POINT!

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"One goal of a staff meeting is to get teachers excited about teaching the next day." Todd Whitaker

As more focus is placed on critical thinking and content literacy comprehension, administrators are asking how to best utilize their staff and PLC meeting time so the emphasis is on instruction and best practices.   

In years past, staff meetings have notoriously been used to collectively discuss the school fundraiser or to subject colleagues to "death by bullet point" presentations.  Experience has taught us that spending precious staff meeting time reading what could have been sent out in a memo is a detrimental and wasteful practice that must end.

Here are 20 ways to increase collaboration and focus school culture on best instructional practices, but most importantly, get teachers excited about teaching:

*Establish the idea that there is no room for negativity at a staff meeting-too much is at stake for negativity to hijack a meeting.  If there is a complaint/concern, meet privately with those who can make a change to remedy the situation and bring at least one solution to the private meeting.

*Start meetings with a focus on the positive-have teachers share 1-2 positive student outcomes or experiences with each other to start the meeting off on the right foot and to remind each other why we chose this sometimes crazy, exhausting, frustrating, but wonderful profession.

*Devote a chunk of time in each meeting to best instructional practices by having 1-2 teachers share a strategy that has made a difference in their instruction. Then provide teachers time to discuss the practice/s and how to utilize them in their own classes.

*Blog study-have teachers choose an educational blog to read and then share/debate with a partner some of the topics.  Some to consider are: jimmycasas.blogspot.com, effectiveteachingpd.com, edunators.com, tomwhitby.wordpress.com, coolcatteacher.com, classtechtips.com, thenerdyteacher.com, esheninger.blogspot.com, edudemic.com, edutopia.org, georgecouros.ca/blog, etc.  

*Identify an outcome/objective for the meeting-stay focused and direct conversations to meet the objective.

*Share child neuroscience ideas-the young brain is fascinating and very different from the adult brain.  Have each educator research and share 1 neuroscience fact and put all facts on a chart in the staff room as a reminder of the intricacies of the young brain and the implications for classroom instruction.

*Utilize Twitter-educators should be on Twitter!  Devote 10-15 minutes at meetings for everyone to read a few educational articles on Twitter and then share them with others. Also, create a hashtag for your staff meeting time for teachers to post their (positive) ideas to throughout the discussion, this is called "backchanneling."

*Provide time for teachers to fill out positive postcards to send home to parents and then collect them and mail home.

*"Flip" your meetings-provide teachers with 3-4 educational videos to choose from before the meeting, utilizing a site such as Teaching Channel (full of Common Core classroom videos and reflection questions); they choose one video to view before the meeting, then during the meeting teachers get into groups based on which video they chose, and analyze ideas from the video. Or skip the "meeting" all together and teachers can share what they learned on a google doc or edmodo.

*Reflection-the best educators are reflective educators.  Ask teachers to video 3 short segments of their own instruction and then analyze their lessons with a partner at the meeting using these questions as a guide (the partner does not need to view the videos):

1. What was the content objective of the lesson? (What info did the students need to learn?)  

2. What was the skills objective?  (What critical thinking skills were the students' using/developing?)

3. What did the students do to meet both objectives?  (What strategies/tasks were completed by the students?)

4. What is one change you would make to the lesson if you retaught it?

*Research-have teachers choose one educational topic to research, complete a 3-2-1 (3 facts learned, 2 comments/connections, 1 question) regarding what they learned during their research, and have them bring in 2-3 articles about their chosen topic to discuss/share with others.

*Book Club-have staff choose a book to conduct a book study around-one chapter for each month.  Some great ones to use: When Kids Can't Read, Focus, Teach Like a Pirate, Reading & Writing Info Text in the Primary Grades, The Art & Science of Teaching, Readicide, Ignite, Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Mindset, or my book titled Game Changers, etc.

*Have departments or grade levels take charge of a meeting to share the great things they are doing to reach & teach kids.

*Determine an instructional focus such as note-taking or engagement and have teachers bring ideas to share with others.  

*Share student work-bring in a few student writing samples (a high, medium and low student example works best) and the scoring rubric and share with a partner to determine if the rubric has inter-rater reliability and brainstorm the types of feedback that would benefit each student.

*Have students (yes, invite students to your meeting) share Project Based Learning (PBLs) examples and their outcomes.

*Watch and discuss a TED talk. 

*Have an "appy" hour or "tech-talk" devoted to sharing and practicing a few of the effective tech tools on campus.

*“Speed Geek” your meeting~participants engage in an activity similar to “Speed Dating” but with technology or instructional strategies.   Each of 7 students and/or teachers prepares a 5-7 minute presentation around a tech tool or instructional strategy that increases student learning, and small groups of teachers rotate through each group every 5-7 minutes.  This is such a powerful way to connect kids and teachers to new tools and learning!  

*End meetings with "appreciations."  Volunteers share 1-2 things they appreciate about someone else on staff (someone who volunteered at the fundraiser, a coach who always encourages kids, a teacher who hosts after-school tutorial, etc.).

It has been said that once teachers start teaching, we become the most uneducated of professionals about our own profession, failing to research and implement the cutting-edge best practices that make the difference in student engagement and learning.  We can't use 20th century practices with our 21st century students.

In order to encourage and even demand curiosity, creativity, learning, sharing and growing in our students, we must model those traits within our own profession; a staff meeting is the perfect time to cultivate these skills within and among our colleagues.

Staff meetings are precious and help to establish the culture of the school. There is a time and place for a short PowerPoint or collective discussion about the upcoming fundraiser, but consider using a "Google Doc" to get input ahead of time so an hour is not devoted to brainstorming such time-consuming topics.   

The important idea here is that educators need to have buy-in in order for meetings to be positive and productive.  Buy-in comes from choice and also from relevance; teachers want to share and learn ideas that they can take back to their classroom. Staff or PLC meetings that are focused on the school's mission: how to best prepare and support students (and teachers) for the demands of the 21st century, is an effective way to engage and focus everyone in the mission. Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com

Creative Closure-Cementing Information in the "Post" Phase

There are many ways to assess student knowledge in the "post" phase of a lesson and educators who utilize a creative and flexible repertoire outside of scantrons, can increase student engagement and have a better understanding of student mastery.

 

The 21st Century "Post" critical thinking skills that need to be developed are: retelling, summarizing, identifying causal connections/main idea and supporting a claim with evidence.   

 

One flexible "post" assessment is the Somebody Wanted But So (SWBS). It is a "scaffolded" summary sentence that helps one determine the perspective, main idea, conflict and resolution of a fiction or non-fiction reading, in addition to developing many of the above mentioned skills.

 

A fictional example would be from the story Cinderella. Students would identify the SOMEBODY of the story as Cinderella, then identify what she WANTED (main ideas and details), then identify the BUT (the conflict) and finally, formulate the SO part (resolution).

 

Fiction Example:

SOMEBODY: Cinderella WANTED: to go to the ball to meet the prince BUT: her mean and jealous step-mother and step-sisters treated her unfairly and locked her up so she couldn't attend SO: her fairy godmother gave her everything she needed to look beautiful and attend the ball and Cinderella captured the heart of the prince and they lived happily ever after.

 

The teacher could assign several "SOMEBODIES" to analyze differing perspectives in the same story, such as: the prince, the fairy godmother, the step-mother, the step-sisters, etc.

 

This strategy works just as well with non-fiction.  In social science or science, the "Somebody" might be the Federalists or Anti-Federalists, Axis Powers, Allied Forces, Napoleon, Cell Nucleus, Non-Metallic Atoms, Endangered Species, Metallic Atoms, etc.  

 

Non-Fiction Example:

SOMEBODY: Metallic atoms WANTED: a complete outermost shell BUT: they have too many electrons SO: they give away electrons to non-metallic atoms to form an ionic bond.

 

Other creative, non-multiple choice "post" strategies include: Claim/Evidence/Summary, 3-2-1, or a Summary of Informational Text Writing Frame. Each strategy is engaging and flexible, and assesses different skills/levels of knowledge at the end of a lesson.

 

There is a time and place for scantrons but an effective educator is flexible and creative in the multiple types of assessments he implements.  The "post" phase of the lesson is important in cementing essential lesson content so short-term information can be transferred to long-term memory.  The use of these simple yet effective closure strategies such as the ones mentioned, helps information to be "chunked" into small memorable pieces that aid in the retention process.  Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com  

 

10 Adolescent Brain Facts for Educators

1. Brains do not fully develop in girls until about age 20, in boys, as late as 24.

2. The last part of the brain to develop is the Pre-Frontal Cortex-it controls impulses, organization, moral reasoning, emotional stability, concentration and prioritizing.

3. Adolescents often do not fully process cause & effect (another skill of the pre-frontal cortex) so they really DO NOT know why they just did something stupid or why they got in trouble for it.

4. Kids need 9-13 hours of sleep daily to concentrate, metabolize sugar and retain information effectively.

5. Chaotic, unpredictable and cluttered environments are detrimental to student learning; routines, organization and clear expectations are beneficial and for goodness’ sake, clean up your classroom!

6. When kids act out or zone out, it is an INVOLUNTARY response to stress or boredom AND boredom is stressful to the young brain.

7. Kids can misinterpret instructions and emotions up to 40% of the time.  Be clear in your expectations and explicitly model, explain and give feedback to children whether you are teaching them to organize their binder or load the dishwasher correctly.

8. Optimal brain engagement occurs when there is a positive emotional connection between student and teacher-relationship, relationship, relationship-it makes a considerable difference in the learning environment.

9. Information is only stored in short-term memory for about 20 minutes; when information is connected to prior knowledge and emotion, it can be stored in long-term memory.

10. Young brains need learning breaks to reset their attention span clocks.  Every 4-8 minutes, engage students in a "Learning Brain Break" such as turning and talking or retelling (first, then, finally) what was just learned with another on the other side of the room. 

Every 15-30 minutes, students need to be moving around, even for just a minute or two, to reset their attention-use an "Energizing Brain Break" to get their blood pumping (www.energizingbrainbreaks.com). Numb buns=lame brains.        

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com

*Recommended Resources: Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning (Judy Willis), Your Child’s Growing Mind (Jane Healy), Teaching Smarter with the Brain in Focus (Sarah Armstrong), The Primal Teen (Barbara Strauch), Teaching with the Brain in Mind (Eric Jensen), Brain Rules (John Medina), Secrets of the Teen Brain (Sheryl Feinstein)

 

 

 

Steps to Increasing Vocabulary Acquisition

“Vocabulary knowledge is the #1 predictor of long-term student achievement.” Louis Terman

“Assumacide” (Kelly Gallagher) is a term used to explain the problem that teachers encounter when we “assume” our students understand a concept; therefore, we don’t explicitly teach it, resulting in BIG comprehension problems for our students. 

During my first few years as a teacher, I was guilty of assumacide regarding my students’ vocabulary acquisition levels.  I was mistakenly under the impression that if my students could correctly “decode” or pronounce a word, they could also define it and use it correctly.  Boy, was I surprised, embarrassed, (and saddened), when I realized what a horrible and faulty assumption that was. 

As a teacher, there is much consternation as to what to teach and when, but time spent explicitly teaching both academic and content specific vocabulary, is time well spent. In my experience, there are a few areas of vocabulary instruction that educators can emphasize to greatly increase student vocabulary knowledge and comprehension.  First, I want to clarify three terms: “content,” “academic,” and “superfluous” vocabulary.

“Content” vocabulary (the Common Core refers to them as 'domain-specific') are terms specific to a content area such as: equation, characterization, musicality, photosynthesis, etc., and they are a foreign language to our students.  The Common Core refers to these words as “Domain-Specific” though some reference them as “Tier 3” or “Brick” terms.  Students only hear these terms during our lessons and do not use or encounter them outside of our class.  This leads to a disconnect in their level of understanding as one only develops proficiency and fluency in what is utilized often, and content vocabulary is often used only by the teacher but rarely by the student.  Essentially, students are “lost” in our content area classes because we are speaking a foreign language.

“Academic” vocabulary are those terms more general, seen across all content areas in both fiction and non-fiction text.  These terms include: analyze, compare, determine, associate, particular, etc., and are sometimes referred to as “High-Utility,” “Tier 2,” or “Mortar” words.   These words, when used in student speech, help to sophisticate their level of conversation. In addition, having knowledge and the ability to use these terms can greatly enhance students’ overall text and testing comprehension.

“Superfluous” words are those that are rare and unique (often adjectives) often encountered in fiction, but can be seen anywhere-words such as: superfluous, loquacious, ubiquitous, etc.  They sometimes carry importance but often are not vital or common enough to warrant extensive instruction in.  These terms also tend to be the focus of many ELA vocabulary programs, though students would benefit more from instruction in content and academic vocabulary.  Keep in mind, just because a word is underlined by the publisher, doesn’t mean it necessitates extensive instruction.

So what can a teacher do to boost student vocabulary knowledge and fiction/non-fiction comprehension? 

Step 1: Develop Academic & Content Word Lists

Identify the essential content and academic terms your students must know for your class each week and try to limit them to 3 (total) per class/content area in the lower grades (K-4) and 12 per class in the upper grades.  This doesn’t mean that you cannot teach more words than that, just be aware that student word acquisition is limited, so emphasize those words that will be utilized often throughout your course. 

Many teachers and PLCs create Content and Academic Word Lists that identify the essential terms for a course; this is helpful for vertical articulation so those who teach the preceding or subsequent courses to your classes are aware of the vocabulary you teach.

When narrowing down your list of essential words to teach, ask yourself these questions; if your answer is “yes” to all three, teach it:

*Is the word essential to understanding the lesson?

*Is this word important to my content area?

*Will students see this word often?

Step 2: Be Consistent & Prepared

Many teachers use a different method to teach each word and this chameleon type of instruction is confusing to students.  Explicitly teach your essential terms using a consistent step-by-step process and have students take notes using some type of Vocabulary Study Chart (there are samples on my site under “Trainings” and then “Workshop Examples”).

Step-by-Step Process to Teach Essential Words:

*Say the word & provide the part of speech (helpful for ELs so they know how to use it) and have students rate their knowledge of the word

*Have students repeat 3-5x (builds pronunciation fluency of multi-syllabic terms)

*Provide kid-friendly definition (avoid dictionary language-keep it simple)

*Provide example sentence and picture/symbol (so students have an accurate reference and visual)

*Ask a checking for understanding question

*After teaching, have students again rate their knowledge of the word

Example:

*Jubilant, adj., rate your knowledge of the word on a scale of 1-4

*Repeat after me:  jubilant, jubilant, jubilant

*Jubilant describes one who is really happy or excited.

*I was jubilant after winning the race! :)

*Would you be jubilant if I assigned you a 10-page essay?

*Now re-rate your knowledge of the word, 1-4

Step 3:  Use a Variety of Strategies to Review

Review vocabulary every class session for 5-8 minutes.  Yes, that is correct; I didn’t stutter, 5-8 minutes daily...this can be part of your bell-ringer/frontloading strategy.

Students need multiple opportunities to see, say, and manipulate words to develop acquisition.  Experts consider the following strategies "substantive and robust" in building acquisition skills:

“Clozed” Sentences/Paragraphs (fill-in the blank)--extremely scaffolded activity-best initial review strategy

*Teacher writes a sentence/paragraph using essential word/s, then deletes the vocabulary terms and puts them in a word bank, the students use the word bank to complete the sentences/paragraph using the context clues as a guide.

EX: I was ________________ after winning the race.  jubilant

Yes/No/Why?--less scaffolded

*Teacher provides accurate/inaccurate sentences using the vocabulary terms and the students determine whether the sentence makes sense according to the definition and explains in a complete sentence response.

EX:  I was jubilant when the officer issued me a $300 speeding ticket.

Yes, this sentence makes sense because…

No, this sentence does not make sense because…jubilant means really happy or excited and I would not be happy if I received a $300 ticket.

Independent Clauses --no scaffolding-upper level thinking

*The teacher provides a complete sentence with the vocabulary term in it followed by a semi-colon.  The student then provides another complete sentence after the semi-colon that has a synonym or example of the vocabulary word, demonstrating knowledge of the term.

EX: The student was jubilant; he was thrilled when he earned an A on the midterm exam.

Double Definitions--no scaffolding-upper level thinking

*The student writes a formal definition of a term that may be used to describe a word to the principal and then writes an informal definition of the same term using slang/symbols to describe it to a friend.

Crossword Puzzles, Vocabulary Bingo & Vocabulary Relay—

*Vocabulary acquisition games are an engaging review method that builds acquisition and a productive and fun way to begin or bring closure to a lesson.

Step 4:  Assess Separately

Have you ever given an exam and had a number of students fail?  It is difficult to know whether it was the vocabulary or the concepts themselves that were the proficiency saboteurs. One way to remedy this is to assess your vocabulary separate from the content exam a few days ahead of time.  This will provide you with data to determine whether your students need more instruction in the unit vocabulary before the final exam. 

If they all do well on the vocabulary assessment, then they are more likely to succeed on the content exam; if they mostly fail the vocabulary assessment, (yikes!) spend more time reviewing and practicing the vocabulary so they are better prepared for the content exam. 

Effective vocabulary instruction is key to comprehension and long-term retention of our content.  In a foreign language class, the teacher often spends +70% of the time on vocabulary acquisition just so the students can engage in and comprehend the lesson; however, a content area teacher devotes less than 2% of time to vocabulary instruction (Scott, 2003).

It is difficult for anyone to develop proficiency when instruction and assessment are in a foreign language.  Assumacide is dangerous when it comes to skills instruction-explicitly teaching vocabulary for a few minutes a day is an excellent way to improve content comprehension and foster the 21st Century College/Career Readiness skills our students need. Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com

 

 

 

Just Say "No" to Popcorn Reading

One question often posed to me by teachers is, “How can I engage and break up the monotony of long sections of oral reading in class?”  Great question!  As educators, we know the importance of reading aloud in class; whether a student is in 3rd grade or AP Calculus, hearing someone skillfully read sections of text promotes fluency and comprehension of both fiction and non-fiction.  However, reading aloud can be monotonous if we use the same method or only have one or two readers involved, as it renders most of the students passive.

Popcorn reading (randomly calling on students to read aloud-whether their hand is raised or not) is a common practice, though I recommend the strategy be banned or at least modified in the following way.  Some teachers assign a different section of text to be read by each student, the first student then begins reading and others don’t follow along and comprehend because surprise, they are all reading the section in which they were assigned. If a teacher insists on doing reading like this in class, then please allow students a few minutes to read and rehearse their part before anyone starts reading aloud.  This way, students will not be anxious about reading their section as they have already practiced, and once prepared, they can focus and follow along with the current readers.

Popcorn reading, when used as a classroom management tactic to “catch” those who are not paying attention, in my opinion, should never be used. It increases the "affective filter" or level of discomfort in the classroom as many don't like to be "put on the spot" to read aloud, especially when so many of our students struggle with reading in general.  Reading should never be used as a management tool or punishment.  For more reasons as to why this method is frowned upon, please read Todd Finley's article , "11 Alternatives to Round Robin Reading."  

So what are other ways to read text aloud in class?

I recommend teachers chunk sections (every few paragraphs, use a different method) of oral reading alternating these six methods:

Teacher Reads Aloud-this is perhaps one of the most effective methods for improving student fluency and comprehension, as the teacher is the expert in reading the text and models how a skilled reader reads using appropriate pacing and prosody (inflection).

Echo Reading-teacher reads aloud section then students “echo” back using the same pacing and prosody.  This is a good opportunity for teachers to emphasize certain words and even practice reading a passage using different emotions (angrily, sarcastically, sadly, etc.) to show how meaning can change just by changing one’s tone.  Have students re-read the section quietly to themselves.

Choral Reading-teacher and class reads passage aloud together matching pacing and prosody.

Partner Reading-students can alternate reading sentences from a section to each other or can chorally read a section together.

Oral “Cloze” Reading-the teacher reads aloud a passage and randomly omits words while reading, the class chorally fills in the omitted word.  Have students re-read the section quietly to themselves as some will be distracted by this technique because they are so focused on which words the teacher is omitting.

Silent Reading-students read silently to themselves.

It can be helpful to read one section using one method and then switch to another method for the next section then another and then another.  So I may start a text by chorally reading a section with the class and then the next section only I will read aloud to them, the next section they can read quietly to themselves and the final portion can be done in partners. 

This “chunking” technique engages all of the readers all of the time and controls the pacing of the reading as well.  My slower readers have assistance in that they are not reading a text alone in its entirety and my faster readers have to stay engaged with the class and cannot speed-read through and then doodle the rest of the time.

It is also a great practice to choose a few important sections of text that will be re-read daily.   Every time we re-read, we gain about 15-20% more comprehension, so re-reading is an important “soft” skill (see my blog titled “What Good Readers Do” for more info on “soft” skills) to model and practice.  Let students know that one reading is sometimes/often not sufficient and the best way to increase comprehension is simply to do multiple re-readings.

There is of course a time and place for independent or teacher reading only; however, alternating oral reading methods can increase comprehension and allow for greater discussion of a topic as all students are held accountable for engagement during all phases of a reading.  Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com

 

Fostering Metacognition in the "During" Phase

"Students come to school to watch their teachers do all of the work."

Dr. Bill Daggett

 

As mentioned previously, an effective lesson has Pre-During-Post phases, with each phase intended to develop a specific skill-set.  

 

The sentiment expressed above by Dr. Daggett is particularly true in the "During" phase of a lesson. During this segment, educators often spoon-feed too much information, not allowing students the opportunity to develop or utilize the metacognitive processes needed to analyze the information for themselves.

 

The "During" phase is designed to develop the following skills: visualizing, questioning, inferring, identifying main ideas, and most importantly, monitoring comprehension. 

 

The following are effective reading techniques students can employ to increase critical thinking, engagement and comprehension in the "During" phase; these skills are referred to as "Close" reading skills in the Common Core:

  • Read text SLOWLY acting as an investigator, identifying the most important who, what, when, where, why, and how for each sub-heading section 
  • Re-read sections to gain more comprehension-once is often not enough 
  • Retell (first, then, finally) each sub-heading section  
  • Discuss the text with a partner or two, coming to a consensus on the important details
  • Sketch a picture to visualize and foster connections to the text
  • Connect the new knowledge to one idea learned the day before
  • Infer and develop two predictions as to what may happen next based on newly acquired knowledge
  • Write 2 questions that come to mind for each sub-heading section
  • Use graphic organizers such as the Double-Entry Journal, Evidence Guide and Episodic Notes  

These strategies can be used alone or combined as needed to boost critical thinking and hold students accountable for engaging with the text.

 

Students who struggle with comprehension are often under the false impression that one is just born with those abilities.  It is our responsibility as educators to develop the 21st Century College & Career Readiness skills the new Common Core emphasizes.  When we model and practice the aforementioned methods in the "During" phase of a lesson, text competence, comprehension and confidence increase and students develop the "During" reading skill-set necessary for success. Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com

 

Essential Questions-Hook & Hold 'Em

 “I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” Lily Tomlin

An effective way to increase critical thinking and long-term retention of your lessons is to utilize essential questions.  EQs answer the two essential questions that students have, “What are we doing today?” and “Why do I have to learn that?”

There are three levels of EQs: lesson, unit and course.  An example of a lesson question may be, “What led to the fall of the Roman Empire?” The unit EQ might be, “What factors contributed to the rise AND fall of the Roman Empire?”  An EQ for your course may be, “How can we structure our government and society so we don’t suffer the same failed fate as others?”

Sometimes simply turning your standard or objective into a question can be your EQ; for example, if the lesson standard is solving linear equations, then your EQ may be, “How do I solve linear equations?”  In this case, there is a clear right/wrong answer to the EQ.  Turning your standard into a question instead of leaving it in a declarative form, increases critical thinking because when we are asked to formulate an answer to a question, engagement and focus naturally increase.

However, some say that simply turning one’s standard into a question is too simplistic as an EQ should increase critical thinking and be at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy (analyze, synthesize, evaluate).  In this case, there may not be a clear right or wrong answer when the EQ is provided to increase critical thinking, the weighing of evidence, and debate.  So if the lesson standard is about comma usage, then simply asking, “How do we use commas correctly?” may be too simplistic and lack the oomph (is that a word?) to excite and engage students.  Maybe wording it like this is better, “How can knowing and using proper punctuation make the difference between life or death?”  Then the teacher can share the internet viral example,

“Let’s eat, Grandpa."

“Let’s eat Grandpa.” 

A little comma definitely does make a life-saving difference in this scenario and rephrasing the EQ in this manner elicits interest, retention and a chuckle from students.

*More EQ examples from across the content areas:

How and why do things fly?

What influence has the study of genetics had on society?

How do shapes/colors/mediums influence artistic impression?

What is the role of geometry in advertising and architecture?

How does the selection of genre shape the author’s message?

Why is winter often colder than summer?

What is justice?

How many ways can we use models to determine and compare equivalent fractions?

Why/how is exercise beneficial to your mental & physical health?

How do word parts help us understand meaning?

**Google EQs for more ideas in your content area!**

*Some questions to consider when developing EQs are:

What are the BIG ideas I want students to remember?

Do the EQs expand students’ critical thinking and make connections to larger concepts?

Are they flexible enough so students of differing skill levels can answer them with appropriate depth?

Most importantly, including EQs in your instruction emphasizes that your lesson/unit/course is not about memorizing facts and regurgitating them on a test; your class is valuable because it respects and encourages student inquiry and it increases engagement and critical thinking. Of course, if you start class with an EQ, be sure to end it by answering and discussing the possible answers.  

"There is a BIG difference between information and knowledge, for information to become knowledge, THINKING must occur." Harvey, Goudvis

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com

What Makes a Teacher Effective in the Common Core Age?

Students are given too much gum to chew and not enough time to chew it.

For decades, research has concluded that student success is directly linked to the effectiveness of the teacher. But what makes a teacher “effective” in the Common Core age?

Regardless of content area, an “effective” educator divides a lesson into three phases: Pre-During-Post. He/She then judiciously implements comprehension strategies that teach BOTH the skills AND the content during each phase of the lesson, which is a foundational component of the new Common Core Standards. Therefore, just as much time is devoted to increasing students’ critical thinking skills, as is given to the content itself. This practice separates the “good” teachers from the GREAT and is vital to fostering the versatile 21st Century thinkers needed in our global economy.

As mentioned, the effective lesson plan has three phases, with each phase designed to teach a specific skill-set.

For example, in the Front-loading or “Pre” phase of a lesson, the essential skills to develop are:

*connecting to prior knowledge

*predicting

*building academic & content vocabulary acquisition

Some of the more effective “Pre” strategies are: Anticipation Guides, Probable Passage, Vocabulary Study Charts and Vocabulary Word Maps. These methods foster the prior knowledge, predicting and vocabulary skills helpful to engage in the lesson.

In the “During” phase of a lesson, the skills to be developed are:

*visualizing

*analyzing

*comparing and contrasting

*inferencing

*questioning

*monitoring comprehension

Practical and skill-building “During” strategies are: Episodic Notes, Evidence Guides, Double-Entry Journals and Venn Diagrams.

The “Post” phase skill-set emphasizes:

*clarifying

*supporting a claim with evidence

*identifying main ideas

*analyzing cause & effect

*retelling (first, then, finally)

*summarizing (who, what, when, where, why, how)

Post strategies that bring closure to a lesson and build 21st Century skills are: Summary of Informational Text, Cause & Effect organizers and Somebody-Wanted-But-So.

If the teacher fails to utilize a strategy in one of these three phases of the lesson, the student is not afforded the opportunity to “chew” the content and develop the skills he needs to be an independent critical thinker…a critical objective in teaching.

Hence, the “effective” teacher does not just cover content, he/she develops a comprehensive lesson plan that incorporates pre-during-post strategies, thus teaching the content AND the College & Career Readiness skills the Common Core emphasizes.

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, effectiveteachingpd.com