My intention with this article is to equip educators with three easy to implement strategies. I've used them and so have thousands of other successful teachers. But, putting them into service without laying the foundation fundamentals won't do much good.
I've journeyed in successful careers covering business and education. Both endeavors have unique and specific foundation characteristics; those qualities that can make or break success. Let's take a minute to review what must be put into practice to have learning opportunities show up – no matter where your classroom is located or what subject is being discussed. To review current research on the ideas being covered here you can browse the resources at Education Reporting (TM).
Foundation Characteristic # 1
An OAR is the essential tool for teaching. It's the tool that allows you to guide your lesson, measure knowledge transfer – learning, and make adjustments along the way. It's true that every educator has their style of an OAR , but all teachers, new and experienced, must use an OAR every day. Let's define the its' characteristics.
Objectives : this is derived from the curriculum standards set forth by your District. The learning objective needs to be clearly visible to students during class.
Activities and Assessments : The activity is students collaborating, in small groups, on specific tasks with the necessary materials. The assessment is presented using a rubric and reviewed with the class before task work of activity is begun.
Resources : These are the materials needed to carry out an activity.
Foundation Characteristic # 2
An effective teacher harnesses the undeniable power of student collaboration: students participating in well defined activities, which are actively monitored by the teacher using structured classroom management techniques. This collaboration is the perfect vehicle for learning because students can apply or practice what they are studying. For example, talking about how to add specific measurements is less meaningful than using a student collaboration activity to determine how much paint is required to cover classroom walls. Another example, reading about history engages less student attention than using an activity to design a radio show or play to act out certain segments of historic events. Class activities require students to pay attention and participate in order to be successful.
Foundation Characteristic # 3
Effective teachers excel at the right effort (s) to build lessons, communicate, direct, and listen while they also make a sincere effort to contemplate their teaching practices. It's easy to get caught up in the drama of a class session. However, taking a few minutes during lunch or at the end of class period to jot down some words, or phrases, can be enough to capture poignant reminders that help you decipher what worked and what didn't work. This kinda effort: applying wisdom gleaned from today's lesson to tomorrow's lesson demonstrates a blue-ribbon practice that Fortune 100 companies pay big-dollar consultants to teach their employees. In the education world, it's "active teacher research" and looks very good on your professional development plan.
I have talked to hundreds of teachers who are bored with what they are doing, but that's no surprise to me. They won't stop regurgitating dusty lessons. All over the internet you can find lesson sites; they're sprouting like weeds. They boast tons of free lessons on every subject under the moon. Personally, I think they're just a waste of time. I'm a big fan of local teachers helping each other. If your school doesn't have a Professional Learning Community (PLC) then start one. I think the brightest lighting rod to improve student performance is teachers sharing their wisdom with each other. You'll find some comprehensive PLC information here. After all, if we want students to collaborate then we must collaborate too.
Strategy # 1: Always and often associate learning with quality of life.
Successful teachers have a lesson that facilitates creativity.
There is a rhythm to teaching that must be followed. It's comparable to a map. First you have to pique student curiosity and then you must provide opportunities for them to quench that curiosity. When that happens, students become confident with finding solutions – quenching their own thirst. That confidence is necessary for two reasons: 1) it naturally builds student interest and 2) its building the scaffolding to reach the learning objective. Listen as creativity expert Ken Robinson discusses, "Are schools killing student creativity?" As teachers we need to demonstrate our own creativity to students because, like it or not, we're role models. To understand this in a 21st century context watch Will Richardson talk about social media use in classrooms and education. This article in a Manila newspaper is perfect for simply detailing the important leadership qualities for teachers. Divulge connections between community, school, and living. Engaged students understand the connection between what is studied in class and the world outside of school. Help them connect those dots by constantly articulating connections between class and life. There are a couple of ways to do this: 1) talk about how every situation in life has proper procedures and / or behaviors and 2) relate a specific idea you are discussing in class to how that idea is used to be successful in life. A couple of ideas for you to explore to substantiate those points:
A. Explore the dimensions of social and emotional variables in learning at CASEL.
B. Check out Robert Lang as he discusses using origami to teach math.
C. Consider integrating service learning because it's taking root in schools across the USA. Right or wrong, the president is seriously discussing mandatory service for high school students. You can find six excellent teachers resources, packed with ideas, at Tuft University.
Extol the virtue of perseverance.
All students struggle at one time or another. There is nothing wrong with discussing how to be more motivated individually. At the very least, when students are getting discouraged, point out how that happens in life too. You may want to show this video clip or just watch it yourself; it's Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) musing on nurturing creativity. More than once I've had a student ask me, "What can I do?" Now you have a five star resource for that answer, just take a look at the Giraffe House Project.
Fine tune a lesson by installing one or more character education ideas. Good character simply means being ethical, responsible, and caring. Those are values all people in countries around the world share. In education it can address issues of student absenteeism, discipline problems, drug abuse, gang violence, and teen pregnancy. You can easily post these eleven character education principals in your class. Another good resources is Partnerships in Character Education; a government sponsored web site.
Strategy # 2: Purposefully forge critical thinking skills in your students.
Acknowledge quality thinking strategies when students express' em. Before school starts, on a sticky note write 2 or 3 words about thinking behavior (s) you want to recognize today. Then, place it where you can glance at it often. Make a point to verbally acknowledge students in each class when they do that behavior. Why? This sets a tone for learning. It builds mutual respect. I think that most importantly it shows you are paying attention. To learn more about what critical thinking is and understand doable strategies you can explore the K12 resources at the Critical Thinking Organization.
Induce student responsibility to fuel lessons.
There are two types of responsibility opportunities. One is social responsibility and the other is individual responsibility. Behavior in class is clearly an individual responsibility and that needs to be dealt with using consistent and equitable classroom management techniques. As your teaching skills evolve, you'll use more student activities instead of long lectures, worksheets, or individual reading. In group work the dynamic of responsibility is cogent. Students want everyone to pull their load of the work, so students begin to actively support all group members in participating, which is reinforced that with your active monitoring of groups.
Extend the boundaries of your teaching skills.
Tackle new teaching tools and methods to improve your pedagogy. In the Journal of Experiential Education you can connect with organizations and get hands-on teaching ideas. I like the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) site because it has research and contacts dealing with service learning. When you explore the Integrative Learning site, you'll get ideas on improving student with cross curriculum lessons that connect academic, personal, and community life. The Carnegie Foundation funded several projects, resulting in Inside Teaching – a web site offering teacher perspectives and resources about the art of teaching.
Strategy # 3: Foster curiosity in every lesson.
Incite student participation.
Here are two quick techniques I've used hundreds of times to improve participation. First, start a class discussion by asking a question or two. Next, give students a chance to talk the question amongst themselves in pairs for two minutes. Congratulations, you have purposefully setup each student with something to share, so now call on students -one at a time – to share. Be sure to acknowledge each answer as a contribution – there are no wrong responses. There is a potent site for learning about teaching with inquiry here. On Edutopia you'll find an informative article about cooperative learning.
Etch a minimum of one activity in class per lesson.
A definite skill for any career choice students make is being able to work and communicate with other people. I consider my class activities, where students work in small groups, as precious time in preparing students with lifelong learner skills. Project based learning is an excellent method for invoking collaborative (aka cooperative) learning. To see a real example of active, applied, participative, and collaborative learning in action visit the Gever Tulley TED presentation.
Students today are the leaders of tomorrow, make sure they get some peeks at what is coming.
Bring the future into your class today. Reminding students that they'll be inventing and leading the future brings the power of "being all you can be" to everyone's front door. One simple way to accomplish this is current events. What will _______ (fill in the blank from what you're studying) be like in the future? Seriously, twenty or even ten years ago, who would have guessed that technology will play such an important role in education? Today, the Swiss are designing new technology just for schools – read about it here. Stephen Hawking, one of the great scientists of our time, says humans are beginning a new phase of evolution. Maybe students will improve performance using their genes, since picture perfect memory is inherently in every person according to recent news. In closing, if everything else I've mentioned doesn't work for you then I have one last suggestion to blast creativity into your lessons. Read Richard Louv. He compellingly writes and speaks about the dilemma facing digital students, whose lives – he has corroborated with research – are being electronically hijacked. Yes, if all else fails then reconnect your students with being outdoors. I can attest to the power of his ideas from the club sponsorship I completed with volunteering high school students.
NOTE : to read this article with the mentioned links intact visit http://www.educationreporting.com/article-how-to-uncork-creative-instruction.php .