Educational Theory, Professional Development, Recent + Research-Based, Technology

Looking to 2020: New Year's Teaching Resolutions!

With a new year comes new opportunities to reflect one the year, which many do with a look towards health, habits, and perhaps even new gym memberships (go for it!). Why not do the same in the classroom? In January, I wrote about how teachers can use the new year as an opportunity to re-evaluate classroom norms, habits, and goals. As we round out the year, let’s take a look at what we can reflect on and look forward to as teachers in the new year. What will I be doing? Check out my 5 resolutions!

Audit My Classroom Library

Library Audit BINGO, created by Dr. Katherine Fishman-Weaver; from Edutopia

Dr Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, faculty at the University of Missouri, recently created a brilliant Classroom Library Audit BINGO, as featured on Edutopia. The audit itself addresses common problems in classroom libraries and is an invaluable, even fun, resource. Fishman-Weaver’s BINGO game is especially helpful for any teachers who feel intimidated by the grand task of ensuring they have representative and inclusive libraries.

Expand Classroom Inclusivity

It’s 2020, and dialogue has changed significantly. Things on the news become more and more raw, real, and scary and include difficult topics, such as consent, racism, homophobia, violence and terror, hate speech, and more. Our students are witness to these things daily, from the news to YouTube to all sorts of social media platforms, and beyond. While it’s ultimately up to each family to decide how, when, and in what manner they talk to their children about the real, raw, and scary, as teachers it is a disservice to ignore these topics. At times, however, it’s challenging to know where to begin. The most trusted and courageous resource I have found is Teaching Tolerance. This website includes easily adapted lessons, learning plans, student tasks, teaching strategies, learning plan tools, film kits, and posters on a wide range of topics for grades K-12. My resolution is to use 1 resource per month from Teaching Tolerance.

Experiment with Apps for Inquiry

Just a small sampling of the TONS of games and resources available through the Goose Chase app.

Confession: technology is not intuitive for me, particularly when it comes to using apps. I find I’m always a bit clumsy with respect to how to best incorporate apps into the learning, rather than have the app take over the instruction and learning entirely… though I’m learning sometimes this is okay, too (for example, MathGames or RAZKids). I’m going to challenge myself this year to get comfortable and plan a lesson around ONE app, and go from there. (I like setting goals I know I have some hope at achieving!). The app I’m thrilled to try is Goose Chase: an interactive, customizable scavenger hunt app and one that is easily adaptable and lends itself well to discovery, student-directed learning, and inquiry. I was introduced to the app as an online Learning Design student through the Harvard Extension School, and I loved it! I’m particularly excited to dive into the full Game Library that Goose Chase provides, which includes topics from Christmas wreath coding (cool!) to English language learning to ecology to field trips, and seemingly everything in-between!

Practice Responding Over Recreating

As mentioned in my November post regarding B.C.’s curricular overhaul, Indigenous knowledge and philosophy are critical pillars and lenses for learning and teaching. One of the key learnings for me in navigating and re-calibrating my positionality in response to these curricular changes has been the notion of responding to, instead of recreating, cultural practices, traditions, and art. My resolution in this regard is to continue to challenge my lessons and applications of the First People’s Principles of Learning, particularly in the way of how students can respond to art, stories, and lessons. Specifically, I’m creating my own essential question: What is the most valuable, meaningful, and authentic way students can connect to their own and other’s cultures? Luckily for me (and all B.C. teachers), there is the First Nations Educational Steering Committee (FNESC), who have SO generously provided extensive lesson plans and classroom resources addressing this very need. B.C. Ministry of Education also has some excellent resources to help guide me on this question.

Learn!

This one may seem like an obvious one, but too often, teachers can get bogged down in the many day-to-day details that go along with loving and wanting the best for our students and their learning…that we forget to take a breather and look around. My goal/resolution there is simply to keep my ears perked and stay curious about new ways of teaching and learning. All of our students are so beautifully unique, and any expansion of our pedagogical toolkits can only help everyone. Recently, I’ve been diving down the rabbit hole of Whole Brain teaching...which seems great and also quite controversial (is this not true of everything to some degree?). To be honest, I don’t know much about it! If you do, what should I know?

  • What are your teaching resolutions for 2020?
Must-Reads, Recent + Research-Based

BOMish: April 2019

Photo from Goodreads
  • The Stats: 416 Pages, published January 2014 (but online resources are consistently updated)
  • Who Should Read It: Teachers, school administrators, educational program designers
  • My Rating (out of 5 ♥): ♥♥♥♥
  • My Thoughts: As classroom educators, there are a few key pillars that ensure success during the school year. Besides student and family relationships, one of the surefire ways to elevate learning (and peace of mind) in the classroom is routine… but not just routine for the sake of routine. Excellent routines lead to habits and habits stick. Having had a classroom which relied on routines and a classroom that did not, I can surely say routines and habits are essential for teachers and students alike.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg sheds valuable light into the creation and maintenance of habits, from rising early to exercise to personal growth to marketing hacks and even teeth-brushing. Drawing from a wide range of research, Duhigg serves as a lively interpreter, translating scientific data to easily digestible stories and visuals. Habits, as boiled down by Duhigg, are a predictable cycle of cues and rewards that inevitably establish themselves into routines. These can be positive (as in the case of developing exercise routines) or negative (as in the case of avoiding exercise routines).

How can this be used in the classroom?

Habits in the classroom can also be positive or negative. We might see this with how students use the cue of free time (what are the rewards their after?) and how these eventually lead to habits (such as completing work or distracting their friends). Classroom routines are generally decided upon by teachers, however, they are only successful with student support and action. Creating classroom habits as a class is necessarily unique and curated specially for each classroom. Some examples of how to harness habit in the classroom are as follows:

CUE

  • Students struggle to focus when reviewing units in class before an assessment
  • Students have a hard time transitioning from recess and/or lunch period into academic classes
  • Students begin coming to school late and a high percentage of the class is tardy and productivity suffers

REWARD

  • An engaging, game-based activity that equally promotes learning
  • Students are given a time to transition from recess to classes in an individual, non-academic way
  • All tardies need not be punitive, but timeliness should be encouraged

ROUTINE

  • End-of-unit reviews include scavenger hunts and clue-based games
  • Use chime-time (a mindfulness activity), quiet music, or independent writing time after recess
  • Alter the schedule such that the day begins with choice-blocks
  • How might you use habits in your classroom?
  • How can you change existing habits?
  • What habits have been positive in your classroom?
Must-Reads, Recent + Research-Based

Reflections on My Edutopia Binge (Part 1)

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Anyone else been following Edutopia’s “How Learning Happens” video series? I just tuned in this week and have been binge-watching the series.

I’m hooked.

What’s the deal?

In Edutopia’s own words:

“More than a year in the making, the series explores teaching practices grounded in the science of learning and human development. The videos highlight the importance of a safe, nurturing school environment and positive relationships with peers and adults. Get an inside look at practices that build students’ academic confidence and foundational skills such as problem-solving and self-regulation.”

In my own words:

This series tackles the question of how holistic learning actually happens. Rather than remove all of the variables of a student’s experience (social dynamics, past trauma, and so on), these videos embrace them. They provide tangible strategies on how to leverage social-emotional learning across all subjects, grade levels, and classrooms.

Tell me more!

The series contains 5 major topics, which follow a robust introduction:

  • Cultivating a Belonging Mindset
  • Fostering Positive Relationships
  • Building Academic Confidence
  • Developing Foundational Skills
  • Establishing Positive Conditions for Learning

Within each of these topics is a series of videos that share background information, highlight successful strategies in action from real schools (read: real teachers and students). The videos are quickly digestable, relatively short, and provide small steps that can be taken in individual classrooms.

From the perspective of an educator, the strategies pack a punch. They are simple enough to use in your classroom without the pomp and circumstance required for a overhaul (a la flipping the classroom), yet powerful enough to make a remarkable difference in the classroom.

Talk Moves, a strategy fostering safe participation practice, speaks to this. In theory, small group discussions are a great idea, but unless each student is given the same set of expectations and opportunities, it’s no different than any other squeaky-wheel conundrum (one student does all the talking because they perceive no one else will; everyone else is afraid or indifferent to talk because they perceive the talker to have established the vocal territory in the class as theirs).

Talk Moves is a strategy that puts all students on the same playing field, whether they are gregarious or more reserved in sharing their opinion. It gives students shared vocabulary- and more importantly, shared strategy- on how to engage in dialogue. As educators, we can make the error of assuming all of our students know the rule of dialogue– that participation is the goal and however you insert yourself is the strategy. But, what about the students that come from an entirely different set of cultural norms and thus, conversational rules? Perhaps it’s impolite to offer your opinion before being asked. Perhaps it’s uncomfortable and uncouth to debate at all. Or perhaps a student identifies as an analyst– one who prefers to hear all opinions and facts before they decide.

Not convinced? See for yourself:

In short, this is one strategy that allows students to bring their own experiences, ideas, opinions, and backgrounds into a discussion. It serves as the map to help students dive deeper together, (mostly) eliminates competition and judgement, and creates pathways to community. (Side note: interested? Use the free template in your own classroom!)

What’s the point?

If the whole series was just Talk Moves, it wouldn’t be particularly compelling as a series, and the video series encompass a broad range of strategies and approaches, all primarily rooted in social-emotional learning and it’s unequivocal connection to the science of learning.

Check it:

My main takeaways are:

  • A child’s brain is exceptionally responsive to experiences and relationships
  • Relationships and experiences affect brain development
  • Adversity can lead to uneven development of foundational skills (think self-regulation), which will in turn affect more advanced skills required in contexts of learning; in contrast, belonging and safety can help flourish these skills
  • Intentional skill-building aids in developing both foundational and advanced academic skills, creating whole learners
  • Classrooms with manipulatives, tools, and collaborative tasks build foundational skills and encourage social-emotional learning

The video is introduced by Dr Pamela Cantor, the founder and Senior Science Advisor for Turnaround for Children. In her words:

“The 20th-century education system was never designed with the knowledge of the developing brain. So when we think about the fact that learning is a brain function and we have an education system that didn’t have access to this critical knowledge, the question becomes: Do we have the will to create an education system that’s informed by it?”

Well, that’s a hard-hitter, isn’t it? Cantor is also part of an expert cross-disciplinary team studying the science of learning and development, and has dove deep into the role nurturing plays in educational settings…and how this actually affects the very nature of a child.

Cantor is also the founder of Turnaround for Children, an organization that began following 9/11 attacks “to address the impact of trauma on New York City public school students,” per the website. Indeed, trauma-informed practices are a central tenet in the series.

Trauma-informed teaching strikes me as equal parts essential, relevant, heartbreaking, and uplifting. We see growing acts of abuse, violence, and cruelty around the world, but especially so in the USA with 288 school shootings and no efforts to stop them. It’s true also that trauma, social-emotional learning, and a holistic perspective of a child’s experience inside and outside of school are finally recognized as critical pieces to the learning puzzle and that these types of initiatives are truly tying it all together and creating effective and powerful strategies teachers can use in their classrooms everyday, regardless of the subject or grades they teach.

What’s Next?

I can’t possibly recap the entire science of learning initiative into one post, so a series of my Edutopia Binge is forthcoming.

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  • Have you binged on this series?
  • What strikes you as most relevant in your classroom or setting?
  • What did the series nail, and what did it leave out?

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[Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash]